If there was a moment that shaped Jonathan India’s rookie season, it was June 5 when Cincinnati Reds manager David Bell wrote his name in the leadoff spot for the first time all year.
India drew a walk in his first plate appearance. He homered two innings later. His third plate appearance was a leadoff double. For the final four months of the 2021 season, India always found a way to make an impact. When he played well, the team usually followed.
India’s impact from the leadoff spot made him the Jackie Robinson Award-winner as the National League rookie of the year on Monday, beating out finalists Trevor Rogers (Miami Marlins) and Dylan Carlson (St. Louis Cardinals) in a vote from the Baseball Writers Association of America. India is the Reds’ first Rookie of the Year winner since Scott Williamson in 1999 and the franchise’s first position player to win the award since Chris Sabo in 1988.
‘HE’S BEEN UNDENIABLE’: The oral history of Jonathan India’s impressive rookie season
“I can’t imagine someone being more deserving than Jonathan,” Bell said. “He’s done everything in his power to make our team better and he has done that. He’s personally had a great season, great accomplishments, but he simply made us a much better team by being in our lineup every day and I think that’s what it is all about.”
India, who will turn 25 in December, finished his rookie season with a .269 batting average, .376 on-base percentage, 34 doubles, 21 homers, 69 RBI and 98 runs. He became the first rookie in MLB history with at least 20 homers, 20 hit by pitches and 10 stolen bases.
Fans loved his hustle and the energy he played with. Teammates respected the way he played through injuries. He became the Reds’ eighth rookie of the year winner in franchise history, joining Williamson, Sabo, Pat Zachry (1976), Johnny Bench (1968), Tommy Helms (1966), Pete Rose (1963) and Frank Robinson (1956).
“He’s been undeniable this year,” Joey Votto said. “More than anything, he’s played hurt. He gets hit all the time. He plays dirty. He plays with effort. He’s always playing hard, always diving. If I was a coach in ladies softball or boys baseball or whatever version of the game, I would most certainly put my eyes on a player like India because he plays the game to win. He plays the game with intensity.”
India set only one personal goal for himself at the beginning of the season: Winning Rookie of the Year. The way he took advantage of every opportunity this year, it wasn’t a surprise he made it happen.
He earned an everyday starting job at second base in spring training when he was the talk of camp, which shuffled Eugenio Suárez and Mike Moustakas to other positions. He hit well enough to move into the leadoff spot, batting in front of All-Star starters Jesse Winker and Nick Castellanos. Then he reached base in 50 of his first 55 games as the team’s leadoff batter.
“Coming into the season, I told myself what’s one thing I really want to set for my personal goals?” India said. “I said, you know, there’s nothing statwise I really care about. I just want to be Rookie of the Year and that was it. It just came to my mind. I said, ‘This is what I want and I’m going to do it.’”
The Reds weren’t surprised by India’s talent. He was the No. 5 pick in the 2018 MLB Draft out of the University of Florida. He was the SEC Player of the Year in his final collegiate season. He turned heads at the club’s alternate site in 2020 when the minor-league season was canceled.
If anything, the Reds were just impressed by how quickly India felt comfortable in the Major Leagues.
“Since Opening Day, they treated me like I was a veteran,” said India, crediting his teammates. “They didn’t treat me like a rookie. That’s why I think I was so comfortable out there every day and competing at their level and competing to win for the team. I really can’t say enough about those guys, they really helped me.”
By the end of the season, some of India’s teammates predicted he’d be a future All-Star. Shortstop Kyle Farmer said he wouldn’t be surprised if India won a Gold Glove with how hard he works on his defense at second base, a position he didn’t play regularly before this year.
Votto, a six-time All-Star and the 2010 NL MVP, wanted to keep his predictions to himself, but it’s easy to see his excitement about his rookie teammate.
“He always wants to play,” Joey Votto said. “He’s played when he wasn’t 100%. He doesn’t complain. He plays hard. He takes pride in his defense. He wants to be better at every single aspect of the game. I wouldn’t be surprised one day if he’s in the conversation for … I don’t like putting pressure on players … he’s got a lot of potential. I think he’s just scratching the surface.”
This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: Cincinnati Reds’ Jonathan India named NL rookie of the year
Source: Yahoo Sports