Sunday, September 24 2023

We’re one-third of the way into the 2023 campaign and there have been surprises everywhere. But most of the top candidates for MVP, Cy Young and Rookie of the Year in both leagues are who we predicted before the season. Here’s a look at the favorites, contenders and dark horses for MLB’s major awards through the season’s first trimester.


The Co-Favorites: Shohei Ohtani, Aaron Judge

Here we go again. Judge is carrying the Yankees amidst a rash of injuries; Ohtani is blowing our mind on a daily basis with skyscraping homers and pure dominance on the mound. How does one choose? Should Judge merely end up with 50-something homers instead of another AL record of 63-plus or whatever, I’m not sure how much enthusiasm there will be to vote for him again when Ohtani continues to do things we’ve never seen before (except from him) and may never in the future. But just as I felt a year ago, regardless of the landslide victory in Judge’s favor, I don’t think there’s a wrong answer here.

The Contenders: Wander Franco (or one of his Rays friends), Marcus Semien (or Corey Seager), Yordan Álvarez

As unbelievable as Ohtani and Judge are, perhaps the fatigue over debating between the two opens the door for some other candidates performing for some of the best teams in baseball. With how ridiculously good the Rays have been, it’s somewhat challenging to pick just one player who stands out as the MVP the way Judge towers over his New York teammates in every sense of the word. Three different Rays — Franco, Randy Arozarena and Yandy Díaz — have already been worth 2.2-plus fWAR, accounting for half of the top six on the current AL fWAR leaderboard

Franco feels like the obvious choice as the best all-around player, but Arozarena is the face of the team, and Díaz has been the best overall hitter (his 186 wRC+ is behind only Judge in the AL). I can’t say for sure which one is the best bet to be challenging Judge or Ohtani down the stretch — or at least competing for third place behind them — but it’s one hell of a trio. 

The 35-19 first-place Rangers also surely deserve a candidate in this discussion, and Semien appears the strongest at the one-third mark of the season — but mostly because Seager missed so much time on the IL. The way Seager has been swinging it both before and after his injury — his 158 wRC+ is sixth-best in the AL among players with at least 100 plate appearances — he may force his way back into the conversation as well. 


Alongside Judge, Álvarez has the strongest case for most fearsome hitter on Earth and has carried over his heroics from last postseason into this year as Houston’s most reliable run producer, which has proven all the more valuable in José Altuve’s absence, and amidst slow starts for Alex Bregman and Jose Abreu

The Dark Horses: Mike Trout, Adley Rutschman, Bo Bichette

Can you believe it’s been four whole years since Trout last won an MVP? I don’t want to believe that was the last MVP he’ll ever win, but I also recognize he has been merely very good this year and him winning over Ohtani would require something extraordinary, even if the Angels were to finally return to the postseason. On the other hand, did you see the home run he just hit?

He’s still Mike Trout! 

Mike Trout smashes 476-foot home run, giving Angels 2-0 lead vs. White Sox

The Contenders: Bryce Miller, Zach Neto, Masataka Yoshida, Taj Bradley, Yennier Cano

Miller and Neto are two more AL West studs who will continue to be crucial in their teams’ efforts to chase down the Rangers and Astros atop the division. That Neto has been able to hold his own at the plate — and even start to thrive lately — despite so little MiLB experience has been tremendously impressive. The dude was playing in the Big South Conference a year ago! Miller’s fastball already stands out as elite and only just had his first clunker this week against the Yankees after a historically dominant first five starts. Yoshida will likely be graded on a curve as a 29-year-old rookie with NPB experience, but he’s been one of Boston’s best hitters and proven a lot of doubters wrong. The ultra-talented Bradley has hardly looked fazed slotting into the best team in baseball’s rotation as the youngest pitcher in the American League. If a bulk of these contenders ultimately regress and Cano continues having one of the better relief seasons we’ve seen in years, he could have a legitimate argument too — especially if Baltimore makes the postseason.  

The Dark Horses: Gunnar Henderson, Anthony Volpe, Tanner Bibee, Logan Allen, Royce Lewis, Esteury Ruiz, Ryan Noda

The production hasn’t quite been there yet for Volpe or Henderson, but their important roles on postseason hopefuls will have them in the spotlight enough to keep them in the ROY conversation if their numbers tick up down the stretch. Bibee and Allen have made an immediate impact in Cleveland’s rotation — and right-hander Gavin Williams might join them soon — but it’ll be hard to see them jump into the contender mix for ROY as long as the club isn’t much of a contender as a whole. Lewis would be an awesome story for the first-place Twins, but he’s got a lot of time to make up for having only just made his season debut this week. Ruiz and Noda have each been quietly great, but good luck winning an award on a team with 110-plus losses.

— Jordan Shusterman

Yankees’ Anthony Volpe crushes home run vs. Mariners

The Dark Horses: Mookie Betts, Luis Arraez, Bryce Harper, Matt Olson 

Betts is heating up in May, and there aren’t many (any?) Gold Glove outfielders who can also step in at shortstop. In 2020, DJ LeMahieu became the first player in the modern era to win a batting title in each league; Arráez looks poised to do the same. Harper isn’t lifting the ball like we’re used to, yet the quick healer still has an OPS near .900. Just imagine when he’s all the way back. Olson is more three true outcomes than Alonso, but the numbers are comparable, and the former is hitting the ball exceptionally hard.

The Favorite: Spencer Strider 

This is as wide-open a field as any NL award. The starter with the most wins, the best ERA and the most strikeouts are all different people, but Strider’s stuff is the nastiest, as evidenced by his 106 strikeouts in 63.2 innings. His 15 strikeouts per nine innings would represent the highest mark ever by a starting pitcher over a full season.  

The Contenders: Zac Gallen, Bryce Elder, Logan Webb, Mitch Keller, Zack Wheeler  

This award could go back and forth all year between Strider and Gallen, who has the most wins in the NL and is already worth 3 fWAR — the highest mark of any pitcher in either league this year. Or, it could also be a battle between Braves teammates. Elder did not begin the year in Atlanta’s rotation, but the 24-year-old has taken advantage of his opportunity since getting called up, posting MLB’s best ERA. (Just don’t look at his Statcast page if you’re a believer.)  

After a poor start to the season in which Webb peculiarly allowed exactly four runs in each of his first four outings, he has a 1.68 ERA over his past seven. Shoutout to Mitch Keller, who emerged as the Pirates ace and, until his last start, looked like the best pitcher in the NL. Wheeler is pitching better than his 3.60 ERA would indicate, and he’s starting to put it together

The Dark Horses: Clayton Kershaw, Marcus Stroman, Justin Steele, Hunter Greene, Jesus Luzardo 

If Kershaw gets back to the April version of himself, he could contend for his first Cy Young since 2014. Stroman and Strider are the only NL starters with a sub-1.00 WHIP. Stroman’s teammate Steele had a 1.82 ERA through his first eight starts (5.74 over his past three). Only four players have at least four 10-strikeout games this year: Strider, Ohtani, Gausman and … Greene. 

The Favorite: Corbin Carroll 

No rookie has impacted the game in more ways. Carroll personifies everything that makes the electrifying, upstart Diamondbacks fun to watch. He leads all qualified MLB rookies with an .894 OPS and all NL rookies in steals (16). 

The Contenders: James Outman, Francisco Álvarez, Kodai Senga, Matt McLain

Outman’s rookie season has been a tale of two months (.966 OPS in April, .552 OPS in May). If it starts to look more like the former, the reigning Rookie of the Month could compete with Carroll. Álvarez has the highest slugging percentage among qualified rookies after launching five homers over an eight-game span. His teammate Senga is also progressing as the year continues with a 2.00 ERA with 27 strikeouts in 18 innings over his past three starts. McLain doesn’t qualify yet after a mid-May call-up, but the 23-year-old started his MLB career 20-for-56 (.357) with seven extra-base hits. 

The Dark Horses: Spencer Steer, Elly De La Cruz, Miguel Vargas, Eury Pérez, Bobby Miller 

Steer has the highest batting average among all qualified NL rookies. De La Cruz is a projection — he has not yet debuted — but there isn’t a more exciting prospect in baseball; he’s tearing the cover off the ball at Triple-A, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the 21-year-old up at some point. In Pérez, there’s an even younger player already proving he belongs in the bigs; he may not pitch enough innings, but the 20-year-old has the stuff to compete for the award. Miller has made only two starts, but the hard-throwing righty featured enough to put him in the conversation. 

Rowan Kavner 

Jordan Shusterman is half of @CespedesBBQ and a baseball writer for FOX Sports. He has covered baseball for his entire adult life, most notably for, DAZN and The Ringer. He’s a Mariners fan living in the Eastern Time Zone, which means he loves a good 10 p.m. first pitch. You can follow him on Twitter @j_shusterman_.

Rowan Kavner covers the Dodgers and NL West for FOX Sports. He previously was the Dodgers’ editor of digital and print publications. Follow him on Twitter at @RowanKavner. 


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