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How Are We After The First Leg?

As the season is quickly moving towards Memorial Day, we can say we are basically one quarter of the way through the season. If this were a track and field relay then the baton should have been passed. It is past the time here players and managers can get away with saying it is still early in the year. I am going to be positive here and focus a bit on players who have surprised me to this point in the season. The surprise could be derived from being more productive than I expected or playing more than I thought. These guys could turn into a pumpkin once the clock strikes midnight, but for now, they are making hay while the sun still shines. For this one, I will look at the hitters who have

Mets: Luis Guillorme. In 72 plate appearances, the usually light-hitting infielder has slashed .323/.400/.435. He has helped offset the slow start by Eduardo Escobar, the Mets’ big infield acquisition this winter.

Braves: Ronald Acuna. We all know Ronald Acuna is good. The surprise here is he is hitting .283/.424/.453 since he has returned from injury. The surprise for me is he has 8 stolen bases in only 14 games. The knee is just fine.

Phillies: Johan Camargo. He is a career backup, but .263/.314/.389 combines for a 101 wRC+. In other words, he is a league average player, when he has been about 40% below average for his career to this point.

Marlins: Joey Wendle. He has been a solid pro prior to this year. The .304/.368/.456 is far in excess of what the Marlins were hoping for when they acquired him from the Rays.  So far, this deal is a win for Kim Ng.

Nationals: Josh Bell. This .301/.392/.434 slash line is a bit of resurgence from Bell to remind us of his 2019 season in Pittsburgh. This type of production might shorten his time in the Nation’s Capital. But Juan Soto still has some help while he is still there.

Brewers: Rowdy Tellez. He is making quite the bit to be the more famous Tellez (His cousin is a news anchor for the Los Angeles affiliate). I have always liked Rowdy. Slugging .527 while being on pace for over 30 home runs and 120 runs batted in might make him a household name if he keeps it up.

Cardinals: Juan Yepez. From what was seen as an organizational bat, Yepez has blown through that glass ceiling as he is hitting .317/.388/.517. The Pujols retirement tour might be in full swing, but Yepez might give the Cardinals a possible glimpse of their first baseman of the future.

Cubs: Seiya Suzuki. The Japanese import started off hot, then went cold. He has leveled off at .246/.345/.451. The 30.3% strikeout rate might be cause for concern, but the Cubs are not regretting Mike Trout’s number one fan (Suzuki wears 27 in Trout’s honor).

Pirates: Michael Chavis. Chavis washed out of Boston before he really got going. The .296/.321/.510 is more than what he had shown to this point in his career. He is walking slightly more and striking out slightly less. This just might work out.

Reds: Brandon Drury. He has bounced around a bit in his career (4 teams in under 7 seasons), but he might have found a home in Cincinnati. He is slugging .509 and could wind up with close to 30 home runs. His defensive versatility makes him especially useful.

Dodgers: Austin Barnes. Everybody loves the backup catcher. Well, Barnes has a 164 wRC+ and has hit 4 home runs in his limited playing time. Will the .578 slugging percentage last? I have my doubts but he already has shown more than I would have expected.

Giants: Austin Slater. He is known more for his glove than his bat, but he has been exceeding his norms with the bat to this point in the season. The 19.2% walk rate is fueling his .397 on-base percentage. This is making him a valuable contributor as a platoon bat in San Francisco.

Rockies: Connor Joe. This Pirates, Braves, Dodgers, and Giants farmhand has found a home in Colorado. .287/.370/.441 is something that will play anywhere. He adds some defensive versatility. He put up similar numbers in a limited role last season, so it looks like this just might be who he matured into.

Diamondbacks: Christian Walker. .201/.294/.458 isn’t much, but when it is combined with a 40 home run pace, then this is the true definition of a boom or bust player. It takes the home runs to provide league-average value, but he has done it so far. I think the other number will catch up soon enough.

Yankees: Anthony Rizzo. He isn’t done yet. He is on a 40 home run; a 100 RBI pace. The slow time he had after the trade last season looks like a thing of the past. The advanced metrics indicate these numbers could hold.

Blue Jays: Santiago Espinal. His .353 BABIP is identical to what he put up last year in a limited role. His strikeout rate is up, but so is his isolated power. .295/.350/.434 is the sort of thing that may leave Cavan Biggio surplus to requirements.

Rays: Manuel Margot. I am calling anyone who had him hitting .348/.412/.500 through a fourth of the season a liar. The .382 BABIP is up 100 points on last year, so it remains to be seen if this is real or a mirage. The line drive rate is up, so his approach may have changed.

Red Sox: Trevor Story. What a difference a good homestand makes. His 109 wRC+ to this point is just above league average, but it was a lot worse two weeks ago. From no homers in April to having six in may might be a sight he has finally joined the party.

Orioles: Anthony Santander. He has been a low key decent second-division slugger. This year his walk rate has more than doubled (5.3% to 13.1%), while the power has remained the same. The 7 home runs so far means he will likely pass his career-high of 20 from 2019.

White Sox: Andrew Vaughn. The perfect post-hype sleeper. His 127 wRC+ is up from the 94 wRC+ from his rookie year. His .263 batting average is not too far off from his .288 BABIP, so he isn’t getting lucky to do what he has done so far.

Twins: Max Kepler. The German import has seen his strikeout rate go down from 19.6% to 15.8%, but he has also seen his isolated power go down from .202 to .163. This is surely a sign the approach has been modified for 2022.

Guardians: Josh Naylor. This one has danger written all over it. He is only walking 3.9% of the time, so he is only hitting his way on base. However, if he is going to hit .347/.377/.611 all season then walking might be detrimental to the Guardians’ offense.

Royals: Andrew Benintendi. He has been on the same plan as Josh Naylor, but with .099 ISO he is doing a lot less damage. A slash line of .317/.377/.415 makes him a prime candidate to find another zip code come the end of July. His .361 BABIP is running hot in my opinion; he has done better than I figured though.

Tigers: Miguel Cabrera. It is remarkable he is still basically a league-average player as he goes along his victory lap. His .276 batting average against a .360 BABIP means his numbers could crater at any moment, but we can still enjoy it one last time.

Astros: Jeremy Pena. Carlos Correa who? Pena is slugging .508, so the gains he made last season in his ability to drive the ball seem to be real. .314 BABIP might just mean this is who his, so fair play to the Astros front office for making the tough call.

Angels: Taylor Ward. Why have one Mike Trout when you can have two? This is not sustainable as no one is going to hit .425 on balls in play for an entire season. .370/.481/.713 (!!!) are the kind of numbers a person only sees on video games.

Rangers: Jonah Heim. He can retire saying he hit the first grand slam off of Shohei Ohtani. He might have found a home in Texas. Any team will take .272/.359/.481 with a 150 wRC+ from their catcher’s spot. The walks are up and the strikeouts are down, so the Rangers might have found their guy.

Mariners: J.P. Crawford. He might have finally grown into his own. His strikeout and walk rates have not changed all that much. The one change has been an increase in his power output. His ISO has increased from .103 last year to .161 so far this season. The man strength has arrived.

Athletics: Shelton Nuese. After seeing him during his cameo on the Dodgers last season, the fact he is a league-average player represents a marked improvement. He put a 33 wRC+ in Los Angeles last year but has upped it to 112 in Oakland. The .366 BABIP might not last though.

These are some guys who are flying higher than I expected. Whether they can sustain it for the entire season is the $64,000 question. My hunch is the vast majority of them will come back to Earth, but they all can say they had fun through May.

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