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Featuring Luis Gonzalez and Nick Plummer: Top 5 surprise MLB Rookie of the Year candidates

Luis Gonzalez of the San Francisco Giants hits a two-run double against the Philadelphia Phillies.
Luis Gonzalez of the San Francisco Giants hits a two-run double against the Philadelphia Phillies.

If there's anything to be learned from the 2022 MLB preseason predictions, it's not to take them seriously. We can all speculate on what could happen, but such projections have proven to be less than reliable guidelines for what's to come. What matters is the here and now. Two months into the season, there are a handful of unknown names overtaking the preseason Rookie of the Year candidates. Names that weren't even registered in MLB's top 100 prospect pipeline are proving to be more solidified candidates for the award. Here is a list of surprise candidates who are the frontrunners to take home the honor of being the best first-year player.

Top 5 surprise MLB Rookie of the Year candidates

#5 Nick Plummer

Washington Nationals v New York Mets
Washington Nationals v New York Mets

Yes, his sample size is most certainly not enough to gauge a player's major league outlook, but the New York Mets couldn't ask for a better replacement for the recently injured Brandon Nimmo than Nick Plummer right now. In just nine at-bats, the .444-hitting Nick Plummer has put himself on the map by homering on two of his four hits. At the latter end of age 25, this is a make-or-break year in many ways for Plummer at the MLB level. That's why I'm going to go out on a limb here and call Nick Plummer a possible outside darkhorse candidate. The hot start to his career gives him respectable recognition.

#4 Gilberto Celestino

Gilberto Celestino of the Minnesota Twins runs home after being batted in.
Gilberto Celestino of the Minnesota Twins runs home after being batted in.

It's fitting that a player on this list will come from one of the biggest surprise teams of the MLB season, the Minnesota Twins. With that said, Gilberto Celestino is just one of the many surprises the American League Central-leading Twins have to offer. In his first full season of big league ball, Celestino's .324 batting average across 31 contests has served the Minnesota Twins underrated offense well. He may have only four RBIs to his name, but his 10 runs scored have been a large reason for his team's early season success.

#3 Spencer Strider

Spencer Strider pitches for the Atlanta Braves.
Spencer Strider pitches for the Atlanta Braves.

Not many players are good enough to make the leap from single-A ball to MLB from one season to the next, but that's exactly what the fourth-round 2020 amateur draft pick Spencer Strider did this season. The good news for the Atlanta Braves is that their 23-year-old right-hander only seems to progress as the season wears on. Though he's been predominantly utilized as a bullpen arm, that's mainly for developmental purposes to ease him into a starting role. What gets him on this list is not as much his respectable 3.45 ERA as it is his 44 strikeouts through 28.3 innings of work. A large part of what makes the right-handed hurler so successful is the two-seam grip on his fastball that burrows in on right-handers and freezes left-handers with its screwball-like movement.

"Ridiculous stuff. @SpencerSTRIDer is for real." - @ Bally Sports: Braves

Recent bullpen injuries have forced the Braves to utilize Strider as a long-to-mid-relief pitcher. However, if he can continue to progress into an eventual everyday starter, Atlanta may just have a Rookie of the Year winner and a future MLB ace on their hands.

#2 Joe Ryan

Joe Ryan is on the mound for the Minnesota Twins.
Joe Ryan is on the mound for the Minnesota Twins.

Over the past few seasons, there wasn't a lot of faith that Joe Ryan of the Minnesota Twins could translate his minor league success to the MLB level. This doubt stems from the supposed overuse of his low-90s fastball, but he's adapted well by applying a mix of other pitches to magnify the efficiency of his upward-breaking fast pitch. This has resulted in 42 strikeouts through 43.1 innings en route to a 2.28 ERA that's among the league's best.

By studying his opponents and the in-game tangibles, the 2018 seventh-round draft pick is always looking to outwit his opponent. That self-proclaimed midset bodes well for the long-term outlook of his MLB career and an opportunity at Rookie of the Year honors.

#1 Luis Gonzalez

Luis Gonzalez of the San Francisco Giants hits a two-run double against the Philadelphia Phillies.
Luis Gonzalez of the San Francisco Giants hits a two-run double against the Philadelphia Phillies.

The preseason fantasy outlook projected the 26-year-old San Francisco Giants rookie to be a platoon player at best, yet in his 30-plus games in the big leagues, Luis Gonzalez has done nothing but loftily exceed expectations. It's not just the fact that he's surpassing them, but the way he's doing it that's turning heads. With a .347 batting average to lead all rookies by a wide margin, his elevated level of play in big game situations is what really stands out.

Gonzalez seems to thrive with the game on the line. twitter.com/pavlovicnbcs/s…
"Gonzalez seems to thrive with the game on the line." - @ Joshua Fitzpatrick

With runners in scoring position, his batting average takes a considerable jump to .435 with 10 hits in 23 at-bats. His three stolen bases in the latter innings exhibits his ability to manipulate the situation with his high baseball IQ. He's a player who understands the situation and that translates well at the MLB level.

Even with a limited sample size of 31 games played, his 19 RBIs rank fifth among first-year players. There is so much baseball left to be played and a lot of things can change. However, if he continues on this torrid trajectory, he could run away with the race for Rookie of the Year.

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Edited by Jodi Whisenhunt
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