The Atlanta Braves have produced National League Rookie of the Year Award winners eight times with Ronald Acuña Jr., Craig Kimbrel, Rafael Furcal, David Justice, Bob Horner, Earl Williams, Sam Jethroe, and Alvin Dark, and in 2021 will have one of the early favorites to win their ninth, along with some others who could be in the mix.
Today we will take a look at anyone with the Braves who has a chance to win the ROY, and talk about why it is that they might actually win the award.
The Top Candidate
Ian Anderson- Anderson was already going to be one of the leading candidates in the league after just staying under rookie eligibility this year when he went 3-2 with a 1.95 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, and 41 strikeouts in his 32.1 innings pitched over six starts. Then yesterday happened and he put people on notice that he may just be the favorite, as the 23 year old rookie went into a playoff start and completely shut down the Reds, striking out nine over six scoreless innings for the Braves to win the game and series. Anderson has shown no fear of big situations, making his debut against the Yankees and dominating, pitching against his childhood favorite team in Boston at Fenway in his second start and continuing the domination, and showing up big for what was essentially prime time yesterday- a lone playoff game on television going up against Cincy ace Luis Castillo and a team facing elimination.
Anderson is not only very good with the real emergence of his changeup this year, but he has proven there hasn’t been a spot too big for him, and has shown a knack for limiting damage against him when he gets himself into trouble. Sixto Sanchez may have been getting more national recognition before the playoffs, but Sixto has also struggled with his mechanics lately and led to some tough results.
Cristian Pache- It seemed like this was going to be the year we finally saw plenty of Cristian Pache in Atlanta, but a series of events prevented that from happening. His ankle injury in the intra-squad game kept him out a few weeks to start the year, putting him behind since we were still early into camp overall. Then shortly after that Nick Markakis opted back into the season, taking away additional playing time. It also didn’t help Pache that Adam Duvall played at such a high level, and essentially locking up one of the outfield spots. Pache was limited to just two games and four at bats, where he did produce his first big league hit against Philly.
Pache is getting closer and closer to being ready to run out there every day. With six more months to work for him, we should be at the point his bat is ready for big league at bats in the minds of the front office.
To win the ROY, all Pache needs is at bats and some success with the bat. Pache is one of the most exciting players in the game already, an elite defender with plus plus speed and developing power in his bat. He may not even need the best triple slash line to win the award next year, because a player as exciting as Pache will get extra media attention from his highlights and press clippings. Of course he is going to need to at least hold his own with the bat, and the fact he was limited to just four at bats this year says the Braves likely didn’t think he was ready for that in 2020.
William Contreras- It isn’t going to be easy for William Contreras to win the ROY in 2021, but that has less to do with him and his talent and more to do with his lack of opportunity. Barring disaster, it is a near certainty that Contreras doesn’t open the year as the starting catcher- though he likely opens on the big league roster. Simply put contending teams prefer not to turn over the bulk of their 162 game schedule to a rookie catcher that will only be 23 years old. That’s not to say Contreras can’t take the job at some point next year, either through his own success, injury, or if Travis d’Arnaud’s recent struggles carry over into next year.
Contreras is very talented, and like Anderson has shown no fear in big spots. In his brief debut this year, following fairly last minute promotion when d’Arnaud and Tyler Flowers missed the start of the season ill, Contreras went 4-10. More important than the .400 batting average is he looked like he belonged at the plate and was making good contact. There shouldn’t be any doubts that Contreras is one of the better catchers in the league at some point, but it is fine to have doubts he is going to get that opportunity in 2021.
Kyle Muller- Kyle Muller was a tough call to list here or on the next portion of the list. He’s certainly a longshot to win it no matter where he gets listed, but his upside is so huge that it felt like he could put things together and make a run at the ROY. Muller has big stuff out of an even bigger lefty frame. The only problem with Muller is his command can be a real issue at times, partly because that large frame leads to him getting out of sync mechanically.
Without a minor league season this year it is hard to judge where Muller is at in his development. Sure he wasn’t the guy who got the call for Boston, but he wasn’t on the 40 man nor does it say that he wasn’t close to figuring things out.
Drew Waters - Waters is listed because his bat has the upside to go on a tear and win him the ROY. However he’s listed with the other group because it is just hard to see him getting the playing time needed to win this award. Not only did Waters not get a chance to debut this year, but it was telling that the Braves weren’t ready to promote him and use him in intra-squad and preseason games very much during Spring Training 2.0. Waters has some questions about the hit tool and the amount of swing and miss in his game, so that may have very well been some or part of the reason. Should Waters find a way into a crowded outfield next year featuring Acuña, Pache, Duvall, and maybe even Ozuna- if he returns and if the DH is gone, he would immediately rise a tier.
Tucker Davidson - This is another case of opportunity and questions keeping a player from being a tier above. Tucker Davidson is a promising prospect, but for me personally after seeing him in AAA in 2019 I questioned if he had the stuff to be an impact starter- and that was before a rough big league debut against Boston. Davidson would be an excellent option out of the pen, particularly able to go 2-3 innings at a time when needed- but to even get considered for ROY from a bullpen you need to be as dominant as Devin Williams has been for the Brewers this year, and that may not even be enough.