The AL Rookie of the Year race is absolutely loaded this year, isn’t it? What about the NL MVP chase with Shohei Ohtani resigned to a DH role in 2024?

Most years, a guy like former No. 1 overall pick Jackson Holliday of the Baltimore Orioles would be the runaway AL Rookie of the Year favorite even though he’s starting in the minors. But Wyatt Langford of the Texas Rangers feels like a truly special talent. And we haven’t even talked about Langford’s teammate, Evan Carter.

All “Full Count” Carter did last year was post a .413 on-base percentage in 75 September plate appearances after his call-up, then become a fixture in Texas’ improbable run to the World Series title, with a .417 on-base percentage in the 72 playoff PAs.

In the NL MVP race, Ohtani still could put up big enough numbers to secure his third award in four years. But there’s no doubt his inability to pitch due to injury has opened things up a bit. Who do we like to win the award in 2024? What about all the other honors?

MLB writers Ryan Fagan and Zach Crizer make their selections for all the major awards — MVP, Cy Young and Rookie of the Year, plus Comeback Player of the Year:

The Pick: Julio Rodriguez, Seattle Mariners

Call it a natural progression. The all-everything 23-year-old outfielder helped break Seattle’s postseason drought in 2022 en route to AL Rookie of the Year honors. He labored through what looked like a sophomore slump early in 2023 before busting out with a memorable Home Run Derby performance, a scorching hot streak and a fourth-place AL MVP finish. Now, he has convinced projection systems at FanGraphs, for the first time since 2013, that someone other than Mike Trout will be the game’s best center fielder.

It’s all tracing the shape of a superstar’s ascent. One of only eight hitters (min. 500 plate appearances) to post both a 100 contact+ (101.4) and a 150 BIP+ (150.4) in 2023 – meaning above average contact, with elite damage – Rodriguez is also a strong defender and a top-flight baserunner. The only hitter with 60 homers and 60 steals over the past two seasons and a top-10 all-around position player by whatever WAR you can find since he stepped foot in the majors, Rodriguez is charting skyward. He’s an MVP waiting to happen.

The Dark Horse: Royce Lewis, Minnesota Twins

MVP winners don’t come out of nowhere. Notching a surprise run at this level of the game mostly means getting there ahead of schedule. Lewis is a former No. 1 overall pick whose career has been delayed by injuries. But his short track record in the majors is eye-popping. If the third baseman plays something like a full season, the numbers could be remarkable.


The Pick: Mookie Betts, Los Angeles Dodgers

Yes, Betts would have been my NL MVP pick even before he got a jump start on the rest of the field with a homer and seven RBIs as the Dodgers split the two games with the San Diego Padres in South Korea. Last season, batting in front of Freddie Freeman, Betts’ raw value+ ranked second in the National League, behind only Ronald Acuna, Jr. L.A.’s leadoff batter had a .408 on-base percentage and 163 OPS+; both were the second-best marks of his career, only behind his MVP season of 2018.

And now he’s batting in front of Shohei Ohtani (No. 2 spot) and Freeman (No. 3)? It’s basically a dream scenario for an already incredibly talented player. And if he’s even passable at shortstop, that’ll be another feather in his cap, too.

2023 NL raw value leaders

The Dark Horse: Elly De La Cruz, Cincinnati Reds

Let’s see what the shortstop does for the Reds with a full season of experience in the bigs under his belt. It’s doubtful his on-base percentage will be high enough to compete for the top spot, but a season with at least 25 homers and at least 40 stolen bases isn’t a stretch if he’s healthy.

– Fagan

The Pick: Tarik Skubal, Detroit Tigers

Staying healthy just might be Skubal’s biggest challenge in 2024. The left-hander’s been brilliant when healthy over the past two seasons, fashioning a 3.23 ERA and 2.57 FIP over 36 starts since the start of the 2022 season. Only one pitcher with at least 175 innings has a better FIP — Spencer Strider is at 2.43. Last year, Skubal’s raw value- of 42 was, by far, the best for any starting pitcher, though he only made 15 starts and finished 80.1 innings. His whiff+ of 133 is well above average, and his other metrics track well, too.

The lefty feels like a sleeper on the national stage — partially because the Tigers haven’t been very good — but when you look at the Vegas odds, he’s consistently ranked in the top five or six Cy Young candidates, so hard to call him a dark horse. In an era where 175 inning is enough to win an award, Skubal feels like a good bet.

The Dark Horse: Grayson Rodriguez, Baltimore Orioles

The uber-talented Rodriguez was very hit-and-miss in his first stint in the big leagues last season — two starts of five shutout innings, three starts with at least six earned runs — but boy did he made adjustments when he came back up after the All-Star break. The right-hander had a 2.26 ERA/2.75 FIP in his final 12 starts, with 69 strikeouts and only three homers allowed in 71.2 innings. If the O’s get that version of Rodriguez all season, watch out.

– Fagan

The Pick: Zack Wheeler, Philadelphia Phillies

Fresh off signing a contract extension in Philadelphia, the 33-year-old right-hander has become one of the most reliable frontline arms of his generation. Already fourth among all starters (min. 80 innings) with a 138 whiff+ last season, he added a splitter over the winter. Wheeler is the total package for a modern pitcher. Efficient, adaptable and durable, he ranks fourth since 2020 in innings, and fourth among qualified starters in HR/9, which helps explain his terrific 84 BIP+ against.

whiff+ leaders

There are flashier options, but there might not be any National League hurlers operating at a higher cruising altitude than Wheeler entering 2024.

The Dark Horse: Chris Sale, Atlanta Braves

Injury-addled? Yes, at least in recent years. Aging? Absolutely, he’ll turn 35 before he makes his first start for the Braves. Yet there’s another question about Sale we still must answer in the affirmative: Is he still nasty? This animatronic Halloween skeleton once again looks like a hitter’s worst nightmare in spring training, where he has struck out 34.7% of the batters he has faced. With a little health luck and a change of scenery, Sale still has the oomph to post elite numbers.

– Crizer

The Pick: Wyatt Langford, Texas Rangers

Less than a year removed from playing college baseball, Langford has blitzed his way to the defending champs’ opening day roster, and no one has any good argument against it. In his first 44 games as a pro last season, hop-scotching up four levels, Langford batted .360/.480/.677. In his first spring training, Langford has posted a .375/.429/.732 line with six homers.

What we have here is impact all-fields power without sacrificing contact, and a lineup spot from Day 1 despite his murky long-term defensive potential. Perhaps if the Orioles were carrying shortstop Jackson Holliday on the roster it would be a discussion, but Langford’s bat is probably the best thing any rookie can offer this season.

The Dark Horse: Ceddanne Rafaela, Boston Red Sox

If the best rookie contribution isn’t Langford’s bat, perhaps it will be Rafaela’s glove? Capable in the middle infield and transcendent in the outfield, Rafaela is heading north as Boston’s center fielder. If his approach at the plate matures enough to keep his strikeout rate near where it was in Triple-A (21.9%), the dynamic Rafaela has All-Star (and Rookie of the Year) potential.

– Crizer

The Pick: Yoshinobu Yamamoto, Los Angeles Dodgers

Won’t be long until that rocky debut in Korea will be a footnote to Yamamoto’s start to his big-league career. “Hey, remember when the guy who made the NL All-Star team didn’t last more than one inning in his first start of the season?” The right-hander will be just fine. His track record in Japan is impeccable — a 1.72 career ERA in seven seasons, including an 1.16 ERA last year that feels like a typo every time I see it.

He gets swing-and-misses, he doesn’t walk many batters and he limits hard contact. He gave up just two homers in 171 innings last year, and his new home ballpark is historically very pitcher-friendly.

The Dark Horse: Paul Skenes, Pittsburgh Pirates

If the Pirates had chosen to start Skenes in the opening day rotation, he’d probably be the overall pick. But he’s beginning the season in the minors he did only face 28 batters as a pro last summer and spending even a month or two mowing down Triple-A hitters will give everyone else a pretty big head start.

– Fagan

The Pick: Casey Mize, Detroit Tigers

Spring training numbers are more important for some players than others. Like, for example, pitchers returning from Tommy John surgery. Mize didn’t just miss all of 2023, he only made two starts in the 2022 season after posting a 3.71 ERA in 30 starts in 2021. While the right-hander was out with TJ surgery, he had a back procedure to get his entire body back to full strength. He’s back at full strength, and throwing 15.1 innings over five appearances this spring was huge. There are some issues to be ironed out, of course he walked nine batters this spring but you’d be hard-pressed to find someone too worried about that.

Mize, now 26 years old, looked very much like the pitcher the Tigers hoped they’d be getting with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 MLB Draft.

The Dark Horse: Tyler O’Neill, Boston Red Sox

Wouldn’t be the first time a former Cardinals outfielder went on to great success elsewhere, would it? O’Neill needs to stay healthy, but has the power and swing to take full advantage of the Green Monster in his new home ballpark.

– Fagan

The Pick: Edwin Diaz, New York Mets

As anyone with a busted March Madness bracket will tell you, sometimes you have to go with the chalk. Diaz posted one of the best closer seasons of all time in 2022, went down with a crushing knee injury while celebrating a save in the World Baseball Classic in 2023, and is now returning to the Mets with the trademark trumpets blaring behind him during each entrance.

Projections view him as the best relief pitcher in baseball, and it isn’t particularly close. Another dominant season in the ninth will win Diaz some bronze to go with his brass.

The Dark Horse: Rhys Hoskins, Milwaukee Brewers

Another fan favorite felled by a spring knee injury in 2023, Hoskins has since switched teams via free agency. Bringing much-needed pop to Milwaukee’s lineup at first base, a 30-homer return would be a great start to his case.

– Crizer

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