Even though it seems like the 2020 MLB season just ended, baseball fans are already preparing for the start of the first 162-game schedule of the COVID-19 pandemic.
After one of the quickest campaigns in MLB history, each of the league’s 30 teams are back in full force for the 2021 season, which will also see the return of fans in many of the stadiums around the country.
When those fans plop down in their seats, they’ll get to see a variety of young talent from around the league, including some of the stronger rookies in recent memory.
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Many of those rookies will be familiar faces for fans that tuned into the 2020 season, given the league’s rules for who qualifies as a rookie and the inherent lesser amount of in-game reps that prospects could have accumulated in the shortened schedule.
Regardless of whether it’s a player that fans have seen before, or fresh blood for viewers to become accustomed to, there’s plenty of hype to sift through heading into 2021.
To get the right players on your radar, we picked out five rookies to watch out for throughout the 2021 MLB season.
- Ke’Bryan Hayes, Pittsburgh Pirates
There are a lot of clear-cut favorites when evaluating the award scene across the American League and National League, so it makes sense to start off this list with the frontrunner for the 2021 National League Rookie of the Year: Pirates third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes.
He recorded 24 games in the shortened 2020 season, with a .376 batting average and 32 hits in 85 at-bats. He was on fire throughout Spring Training, clocking a .431 batting average with 22 hits and two homers in 51 at-bats.
The Pirates may not be the team to beat in the NL Central, but Hayes will at least ensure that Pittsburgh is a team to watch throughout 2021.
- Ian Anderson, Atlanta Braves
Pitching depth is going to be a major factor this year after 2020’s shortened schedule created limited reps on the mound. For the Braves, they can take pride in the fact that they can trot out right-handed rookie Ian Anderson in 2021.
Anderson was incredibly impressive during his six regular-season starts in 2020, finishing with a 1.95 ERA and a rate of 11.4 strikeouts per nine innings. When the Braves looked to make noise in the playoffs, he had a 0.96 ERA in four postseason starts, allowing just two earned runs total throughout his appearances.
If he can be consistent throughout the entirety of a season, Anderson could make a serious case as an NL Rookie of the Year contender in 2021.
- Randy Arozarena, Tampa Bay Rays
Many baseball fans will know the name Randy Arozarena at this point, after he became a hero of sorts for the Tampa Bay Rays en route to their 2020 World Series appearance against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
He was a batting machine throughout the postseason, clobbering 10 home runs, recording a .377 batting average, and earning ALCS MVP honors in the process. Even that came after a regular-season stint that included seven homers in 64 at-bats.
It’ll be tough to replicate, or even maintain, that type of pace in 2021, but if he can do it, both he and the Rays in general will be in great shape.
- Andrew Vaughn, Chicago White Sox
White Sox fans were likely devastated to see up-and-coming outfielder Eloy Jimenez get hurt in Spring Training, with surgery on a torn pectoral likely taking him out of action for five to six months.
But, fans and the team alike should be excited about the fact that they have Andrew Vaughn, their third overall pick from the 2019 MLB Draft, to step into a bigger role as a result.
While he’s naturally a first baseman, Vaughn’s ability to play in the outfield will give him loads of reps in 2021, and a chance to build on a spring that saw him hit .271 with two home runs.
He’s likely the player with the most to prove out of these five rookies, but he could turn into an underrated part of a loaded White Sox lineup as the team looks to win the competitive AL Central in 2021.
- Bobby Dalbec, Boston Red Sox
If you’re looking for a powerful rookie heading into 2021, look no further than Red Sox first baseman Bobby Dalbec.
The 25-year-old rookie smashed eight home runs in 2020 throughout his 80 at-bats, averaging a homer per every 10 at-bats. He launched seven more in 45 at-bats during Spring Training ahead of his 2021 campaign, adding in a solid .311 batting average along the way.
The Red Sox don’t seem like a top-tier contender in the AL East, considering the talent that the New York Yankees, Tampa Bay Rays and Toronto Blue Jays bring to the table.
But, Dalbec should be a fun storyline to follow throughout the year, and could easily make a run at the American League Rookie of the Year if he meets his full potential.