Red Sox outfielder Masataka Yoshida is running away in the Rookie of the Year race
By Sean Penney
The clear favorite for the American League Rookie of the Year is a member of the Boston Red Sox, but it's not the one who many projected to be a candidate in this race. Top prospect Triston Casas has almost been an afterthought behind emerging star Masataka Yoshida.
Despite being a veteran of the Nippon Professional Baseball league in Japan, Yoshida still qualifies as a rookie since this is his debut season in Major League Baseball. While many were quick to question the financial commitment that the Red Sox made to a player who was unproven at this level, Yoshida is silencing his critics with a stellar rookie campaign.
Red Sox rookie Masataka Yoshida gets recognized for an outstanding week
On Monday, MLB named Yoshida as the AL Player of the Week. In six games to begin the month of May, Yoshida is hitting a scorching .480/.519/.800 with two home runs, two doubles and eight RBI. He's currently riding a league-high 16-game hitting streak and has multiple hits in five of his last six games.
After a slow start, as he adjusted to life in the big leagues, Yoshida caught fire. He now ranks fifth in the AL with a .321 average and sixth with a .939 OPS, both of which lead all rookies with a minimum of 50 at-bats.
The 5'8'' outfielder doesn't project to be a massive power threat but Yoshida is still second among rookies with six home runs and he's impressed with his ability to drive the ball. Yoshida ranks in the 80th percentile in Hard Hit% and the 84th percentile in Max Exit Velocity, per Baseball Savant.
Perhaps most impressive about Yoshida's approach at the plate is his uncanny eye for the strike zone, which has resulted in more walks (13) than strikeouts (11). He's in the 98th percentile in strikeout rate and we rarely see him swing and miss, ranking in the 90th percentile in Whiff% this season.
With his patience at the plate combined with his ability to put the ball in play and drive it into the gaps, Yoshida has all the tools to be an elite hitter. His bat will eventually cool off from his current pace but he's sufficiently proven that he can handle major-league pitching. If he can maintain anything close to what we've seen from him so far, Yoshida's Player of the Week award will lead to a Rookie of the Year award by the end of the season. He's now listed as the betting favorite to win the ROY, according to DraftKings Sportsbook.
While Yoshida is doing everything possible to earn the honor, it helps that the competition has been underwhelming in the early going. This rookie class was littered with top prospects but the pre-season darlings expected to compete for the ROY have yet to break out.
Baltimore Orioles infielder Gunner Henderson has been drawing walks at a healthy clip but he's sporting a woeful .174 batting average and .304 slugging percentage. New York Yankees shortstop Anthony Volpe has his batting average barely above the Mendoza Line and hasn't shown much power. Henderson ranks eighth among AL rookies with 50+ at-bats with a .643 OPS while Volpe is right behind him with a .627 OPS. Texas Rangers third baseman Josh Jung leads the rookie class with eight home runs but his mediocre batting average and reluctance to take a walk have left him with a sub-.300 OBP.
Then there is Casas, who was widely considered to be among the top Red Sox prospects entering the season. While he's shown flashes of the prolific power he's projected for and has collected four home runs this year, Casas is hitting a pitiful .163 with a .621 OPS. His keen batting eye has led to plenty of walks but he's striking out at an alarming rate (27.7 K%) that was unexpected from a hitter with his reputation.
These hitters were all top prospects for a reason, so they will undoubtedly make the proper adjustments and go on to have successful careers. However, it would be a tall task to expect them to recover in time to catch Yoshida in the ROY race considering the canyon-sized gap he's already created.
Yoshida's strongest competition for the ROY comes from the pitching side. Houston's Hunter Brown is 3-1 with a 3.23 ERA and leads AL rookies with 39 innings pitched. Oakland's Mason Miller is 0-2 but his record is the result of starting for the lowly A's. He owns a 3.38 ERA, 0.98 WHIP and has struck out 22 batters with only seven walks in 21 1/3 innings.
The young starters are making their own case to be in this race but Yoshida remains the clear frontrunner. If he keeps performing at anything close to this level, we'll be looking at Yoshida as one of the best hitters in the league rather than merely the best rookie.