2021’s MLB season is in full swing, and that means that many people are now looking out for the most interesting and exciting rookies. Due to 2020’s corona-shortened season, some players who actually made their big league debut last season are still eligible for rookie honors. That means we’ve had an unusually extensive glimpse of what many of these players are capable of.
If you’re on the hunt for high-impact newcomers for your fantasy league, smart bets for Rookie of the Year or the future Hall of Famers who may one day grace their own MLB cardboard cutouts, look no further. From players who had hot seasons in 2020 to the most anticipated call-up prospects, these are eight MLB rookies who have the potential to do big things in the league this year.
1. Yermin Mercedes, C/DH, Chicago White Sox
Andrew Vaughn’s call-up was supposed to be this year’s big rookie story for the White Sox, but only a few games into the season, it’s Yermin Mercedes who’s setting the world on fire instead. The Dominican rookie has been slugging his heart out, putting up absolutely insane numbers in the early games. One key factor: Mercedes is 28 years old and has played hundreds of minor league games, giving him experience and polish that the Sox are clearly still looking for from Vaughn. And since they’re probably not getting Eloy Jimenez back any time soon, “the Yerminator” has suddenly become one of the season’s biggest players to watch.
2. Ian Anderson, RHP, Atlanta Braves
Making your MLB pitching debut in a near-shutout victory over the Yankees is probably enough to get you on some kind of baseball wall decor by itself, but the Braves’ Ian Anderson isn’t going to rest on the laurels of that 2020 game. He packs a murderous fastball and change-up combo that benefit from his unusual overhand delivery and high angle. Anderson’s 2021 early season performance has been relatively strong, and he’s certainly on the right track as a developing young player. But the Braves in general have been shaky thus far, even in the middling NL East, so Anderson will have his work cut out for him.
3. Randy Arozarena, OF, Tampa Bay Rays
The cinematic quality of Arozarena’s 2020 postseason (from a COVID-19 case to a smashing World Series performance) was so apparent that he already sold the rights to a movie about his life story. He hasn’t caught fire in quite the same way in 2021, but managing expectations is a crucial part of developing rookies with impressive debuts. And it’s not that his stats have been bad. At worst, he’s been a consistent performer on a team that remains a strong playoff contender. Arozarena is here to stay, even if he falls back to earth a little bit.
4. Adley Rutschman, C, Baltimore Orioles
Rutschman is the Os’ most exciting young prospect, an all-arounder who shows good potential on both offense and defense. He’s a mature and disciplined player with a solid batter’s eye that should help him boost his thus-far modest percentages. His only real fault is that he’s the speediest guy on the field, but for a catcher, that’s about as non-fatal a flaw as you’ll get. The big question is whether he’ll get the call-up and, currently, it seems unlikely until at least the fall. However, some of that may hinge on whether fellow rookie Ryan Mountcastle, who’s already debuted, can earn a permanent spot.
5. Wander Franco, SS, Tampa Bay Rays
Buzz has been wild around 21-year-old Dominican shortstop Wander Franco, but it took a confusing turn when the Rays sent him back to the minors before the season began. However, many expect the call-up to come this summer at the latest. The Rays have something of a pleasant problem: Their lineup and farm system are both so deep that fitting in another hot young prospect is actually kind of challenging. (Frankly, it’s a little surprising that Arozarena-mania has left any oxygen at all for Franco.) But there’s little doubt that when he’s ready, Franco will make the world sit up and watch.
6. Ke’Bryan Hayes, 3B, Pittsburgh Pirates
The woeful Pirates need a spark of life, and Hayes might be just the guy to provide it. His glove ability at 2B alone would make him worthwhile, but he’s also a powerful hitter whose swing is maturing nicely in his first full season in the bigs. Unfortunately, he’s coming into the season attempting to recover from a wrist injury and, without him, Pittsburgh doesn’t have a lot. “Get well soon” doesn’t begin to cover it when it comes to Hayes, and that’s not an enviable position to be in as a rookie.
7. Jarred Kelenic, OF, Seattle Mariners
Kelenic is one of the 2021 season’s most intriguing call-up question marks. The Mariners seem intent on giving him more time to mature in the minors, which is rarely a bad thing for a guy who’s only 21. But with the team showing possible signs of life in the early season, calls for Kelenic to enter the roster may mount sooner rather than later. If this ends up being a year that Seattle might actually compete, they’ll need all of their firepower to compete with the Angels and Astros.
8. Akil Baddoo, OF, Detroit Tigers
Akil Baddoo did what every MLB player dreams of: He blasted a homer on the first pitch of his first major league at-bat. And it doesn’t seem like beginner’s luck, either. Baddoo’s production has kept rolling with barely a hitch. He’s posted a walk-off, a grand slam and RBIs by the bucketload just a few games into the season. However, the unpolished nature of a rookie has shown its face, too, as in the incident in which he mistook a deep fly for a homer and barely avoided an out.