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Sept. 30, 2017 - Source: Rich Schultz/Getty Images North America

TJ Knapp

An Early Look at the 2018 Rookie of the Year and Comeback Player of the Year Awards

Building on last week’s MVP and Cy Young predictions, TJ Knapp predicts who will take home Rookie of the Year and Comeback of the Year honors in 2018.

Last week, I made predictions for 2018 MVP and Cy Young winners. This week, I will be making my early predictions for the 2018 Rookie of the Year and Comeback Player of the Year awards. The only difference this week is that there will be no “easy pick” for the Comeback Player of the Year award since it’s rather unpredictable. Let’s do this.

AL Rookie of the Year

Easy pick: Shohei Ohtani, Angels

If you haven’t heard about Ohtani by now I recommend you go get your ears checked, because the hype for this man is LOUD. They call him the Japanese Babe Ruth for a reason (happy birthday to the Bambino by the way). He has the ability to throw 100 mph+ and literally hit balls through the roof.

He is MLB.com’s #1 overall prospect and it’s not even close. At this point, if he doesn’t win the ROY it would be a disappointment.

My pick: Gleyber Torres, Yankees

Playing time is going to play a huge role in determining who will take home the hardware in 2018. Luckily for Torres, the Yankees look like they’re going to enter the season with openings at both second and third base. Torres, the Yankees #1 prospect and #5 overall prospect according to MLB.com, has jettisoned through the Yankees system since coming over in the Aroldis Chapman trade in 2016.

He made a grand entrance into the baseball world by taking home Arizona Fall League MVP honors at the age of 19 by casually hitting over .400. When Didi Gregorius went down in the World Baseball Classic there were some members of the Yankees front office who lobbied for Torres to open the season as the shortstop. While Brian Cashman shot that down, he did admit that had Torres not had his season cut short due to injury, they might not have traded for Todd Frazier to man the hot corner.

The bottom line is that Torres has impressed at every level and everyone agrees that his bat is special. He should get an opportunity in 2018 and he has a chance to give the Yankees back-to-back ROY’s for the first time.

Sleeper: Chance Sisco, Orioles

Chance Sisco is a left-handed hitting catcher who holds a career .313 average in the minor leagues. However, he has fallen off of MLB.com’s Top 100 after one so-so year. He has a clear path to playing time in Baltimore which as noted previously, is huge.

He brings a left-handed bat to a righty-heavy lineup, seemingly giving him more at-bats against right-handed pitchers, and he plays a vital position. Success as a rookie opens eyes, success as a rookie catcher turns heads.

Now, he will have to deal with some of the best pitching in the MLB since he plays in the AL East, but that could potentially further advance his credentials.

Remember this name in 2018 and give Sisco a chance.

NL Rookie of the Year

Easy pick: Ronald Acuna, Braves

Ranked as the #2 prospect by MLB.com, Acuna is heralded by many as the prospect with the highest ceiling. Some even compare his tools to that of Mike Trout. In 2017 Acuna made it to Triple-A at the age of 19 and absolutely raked to a slash of 344/.393/.548 while also slugging 21 dingers across three levels.

If that wasn’t enough, he then took his talents to the Arizona Fall League and took home the AFL MVP award and crushed two homers on national TV. The biggest factor is of course how much playing time Acuna will see in 2018. The general consensus is that he is big league ready right now, but at 20 years old it shouldn’t surprise anyone if the Braves decide to send him back to the farm until he forces their hand.

Personally, I see a glaring hole in Atlanta’s outfield that I think Acuna could fill right out of the gate.

My pick: Lewis Brinson, Marlins

Yes, Marlins fans might actually have something to be excited about in 2018. Brinson was the crown jewel brought over in the Christian Yelich deal and he is expected to step into a starting spot right away. He is the #27 prospect in baseball and is a hometown kid. Brinson boasts 30-30 potential and while he may not meet that this year, I think 20-20 is within reach due to what should be a lot of playing time.

He struggled during his brief call-up in 2017 but I wouldn’t look too much into that. Rather, I’ll be rooting for the kid who could be the foundation of the future in Vice City.

Sleeper: Jesse Winker, Reds

Winker fell just short of exceeding his rookie status in 2017 by accumulating 121 of the required 130 plate appearances, thus giving him a shot at the hardware in 2018. In those 121 PA’s he slashed .298/.375/.529 while launching seven long balls, so not too shabby.

He doesn’t strike out a lot (never more than 83 in the minors) and he gets on base at a solid clip (career .398 OBP). The only knock on the #82 prospect in baseball is that his power seemed to disappear. After clubbing 44 homers from 2013-15, he’s only hit 14 since (including his time in the big leagues).

However, I think he has a good shot at rediscovering his power because Great American Ball Park is a launch pad and I actually played against Winker in high school and witnessed the pop first hand.

The biggest obstacle Winker faces in 2018 is playing time. Adam Duvall, Billy Hamilton, and Scott Schebler currently make up the Cincinnati outfield, but Winker could certainly change that with a strong spring.

AL Comeback Player of the Year

My pick: Michael Brantley, Indians

“Dr. Smooth” has been limited to 101 games over the past two seasons due to shoulder injuries. It’s a shame too because the Tribe have been one of the most exciting teams to watch over the past two seasons and one could only imagine what they could’ve been capable of with a healthy Brantley. Hopefully, we’ll get our answer in 2018.

Prior to his injury, Brantley hit .300 or better in back-to-back seasons and put up a 20-20 year in 2014. He’s 30 years old, and while he hasn’t necessarily passed his prime, he also isn’t getting any younger. The time is now for Dr. Smooth to reemerge.

Sleeper: Troy Tulowitzki, Blue Jays

Another player that was hampered by injuries in 2017, I feel like a lot of people have forgotten about Tulo. The dude was an absolute monster in Colorado (I know I know, altitude) and had a pretty decent year in 2016, yet I feel like he has faded out of everyone’s mind.

I haven’t forgotten about Tulo and I think he has a shot to come back strong in 2018. He plays in a great hitters park, players have proven that they can succeed there into their 30’s (see Bautista, Jose), and he can still pick it at short.

Toronto has made some insurance moves this offseason by acquiring Aledmys Diaz and Yangervis Solarte to shore up their infield and with Tulo expected to be healthy for Spring Training, I think he’ll come in to show everyone that shortstop still belongs to him.

NL Comeback Player of the Year

My pick: Noah Syndergaard, Mets

As a Yankee fan, I don’t usually enjoy anything about the Mets. However, I love watching Thor do his thing. I was actually sad when he went down last year because he is so much fun to watch. When healthy, he is one of the most dominant pitchers in the game. In 2016 he threw 183 2/3 innings, struck out 218 batters, and posted a 2.60 ERA.

Oh, and by the way, he’s still just 25. A return to dominance seems to be in the cards for the God of Thunder, giving him an early edge on Comeback Player of the Year.

Sleeper: Ian Desmond, Rockies

Desmond’s 2017 was largely underwhelming. He was limited to 95 games due to injury but only posted a .701 OPS in those 95 games. Considering he plays in Colorado that number should be way higher, especially after signing a five-year contract.

Prior to 2017, Desmond was one of the most consistent bats in baseball. He had four 20-20 seasons between 2012-2016.

It remains to be seen where he will play defensively in 2018, but if he can stay healthy another 20-20, maybe 30-20 season should be well within reach.

Main Photo: Sept. 30, 2017 – Source: Rich Schultz/Getty Images North America

Product of Ohio University. Also writes for Pinstripe Alley and Pinstriped Prospects

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