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Rookie of the Year: Who will be named MLB’s top young guns for 2021?

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Prominent rookies come in all ages, shapes and sizes, as evidenced by this year’s Rookie of the Year finalists.

The AL representatives come from the past two pennant-winning clubs (the rich are getting richer, it seems), while the NL side is highlighted by one of the best rookie pitching seasons of this millennium.

Here’s a closer look at all six young guns up for Rookie of the Year honours:

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Ben Nicholson-Smith is Sportsnet’s baseball editor. Arden Zwelling is a senior writer. Together, they bring you the most in-depth Blue Jays podcast in the league, covering off all the latest news with opinion and analysis, as well as interviews with other insiders and team members.

AL Rookie of the Year candidates

Randy Arozarena — Tampa Bay Rays

141 G | .274 BA | 20 HR | 69 RBI | 131 OPS+ | 3.3 fWAR

Wait, seriously? This guy again? The one who poured kerosene all over the 2020 playoffs and lit a match?

Yes, the same Arozarena who blasted an MLB-playoff-record 10 home runs last October is still eligible to win AL Rookie of the Year. He debuted in 2019, shined in the 2020 playoffs, and then compiled an excellent first full season in 2021.

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The 26-year-old was one of just 10 players to produce 20-plus home runs and steals this year, though he was also caught stealing a league-high 10 times. He was the Rookie of the Year frontrunner entering the season, and to his credit, he lived up to that hype by at least becoming a finalist for the award.

Then again, he might not even be the most deserving player from his own team …

Wander Franco — Tampa Bay Rays

70 G | .288 BA | 7 HR | 39 RBI | 129 OPS+ | 2.5 fWAR

Franco was the consensus top prospect in baseball when 2021 began, and it was easy to see why once he finally debuted. The 20-year-old smacked a home run in his very first game.

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About a month later, Franco ripped off a 43-game on-base streak, tying Frank Robinson’s MLB record for a player aged 20 or younger. In that time, the shortstop batted .329 with 24 extra-base hits.

We’re talking about a guy who still can’t (legally) buy a Bud Light at the ballpark. A guy who hadn’t played above A-ball prior to this year. His 70-game sample might not be enough to win the award, but Franco was almost certainly the most valuable per-game rookie in the majors this season.

Luis Garcia — Houston Astros

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30 G (28 GS) | 155.1 IP | 3.48 ERA | 167 K | 123 ERA+ | 3.1 fWAR

Garcia paced MLB rooks in innings, wins (11) and strikeouts, and he aims to be the first Astros pitcher to win this award. He could also become the first full-time pitcher to win on the AL side since Detroit’s Michael Fulmer in 2016 (two-way star Shohei Ohtani won in 2018).

Our most recent impression of Garcia is not the most flattering: he allowed 14 runs in 17 2/3 playoff innings (7.13 ERA), which includes a pair of losses in the World Series.

But that shouldn’t cloud his accomplishments during the regular season, when his stellar play contributed to a stout Astros rotation.

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NL Rookie of the Year candidates

Trevor Rogers — Miami Marlins

25 GS | 133.0 IP | 2.64 ERA | 157 K | 158 ERA+ | 4.2 fWAR

Starting pitchers strive for consistency from outing to outing, but few find it in the early years of their careers (if at all). And yet Rogers found it right away, in his first full season, which led to an all-star bid and potentially some end-of-season hardware.

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The 6-foot-5 left-hander allowed two or fewer earned runs in 22 of 25 starts, and he led all qualified rookies in ERA and strikeouts-per-nine (10.62). His ERA was the third-lowest among rookies with 130-plus innings in this millennium (only Marlins’ José Fernández, 2013, and Dodgers’ Walker Buehler, 2018, had lower ones).

Fernández won Rookie of the Year, but Buehler did not. For whatever that’s worth.

Jonathan India — Cincinnati Reds

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150 G | .269 BA | 21 HR | 69 RBI | 113 OPS+ | 3.9 fWAR

India was the final member of the 2018 draft’s top-five to debut, and he was well worth the wait. The second baseman finished fifth in the NL in on-base percentage (.376), just ahead of fellow Red Joey Votto, and he had the highest OPS (.835) among rookies with 250-plus at-bats.

The last time Cincinnati celebrated a Rookie of the Year winner (Scott Williamson, 1999), India was about a month shy of his third birthday. So he probably doesn’t remember that.

And he certainly wouldn’t remember Chris Sabo, the last position player to win the award for the Reds (1988). Cincinnati appears to be destined for a rebuild, evidenced by the Luis Castillo trade rumours, but India could be a cornerstone for many years to come.

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Dylan Carlson — St. Louis Cardinals

149 G | .266 BA | 18 HR | 65 RBI | 117 OPS+ | 2.8 fWAR

It’s pretty clear based on the above numbers (and others) that Carlson will likely finish third in this group. But his first full season, after debuting in 2020, was worth the recognition of a top-three finalist.

A key to Carlson’s value in 2021 was his versatility in the Cardinals’ lineup. He started in all three outfield spots for the Cardinals at least eight times — including 50-plus starts in both center and right — and he made starts in seven of the nine batting order spots.

And during St. Louis’s epic 17-game win streak in September, Carlson turned up his game, posting a .283/.310/.547 slash line with seven extra-base hits and 12 RBIs.

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