Just a week-plus into the season, suffice it to say, no one is celebrating their impending World Series title or already looking toward the offseason. In a way, with this season so new, everything feels like a surprise.
But certain surprises are already standing out. Every team has one player who has been a pleasant, positive contributor. Maybe the player didn’t come out of nowhere, but it’s fair to say his team wasn’t exactly expecting this. This week at the Thirty, we look at every team’s early surprise.
Blue Jays: Julian Merryweather, RHP
Coming into the year, Merryweather had thrown 13 sorta-fine innings for the Blue Jays last year, and he otherwise had just bounced around. (He’s already 29.) Now, he has struck out half the batters he has faced and has locked down the closer job on a team that may have plenty of opportunities for him. And man, he throws hard.
Orioles: Cedric Mullins, OF
Mullins was a fort-holding semi-regular last year who did enough to keep a starting job … but one week into the season, he’s an absolute monster, leading the league in hits.
Rays: Jeffrey Springs, LHP
So, let’s see, which journeyman reliever have the Rays turned into a shutdown guy this year? How about Springs, who has a 5.20 career ERA but has suddenly shown up and thrown 3 2/3 perfect innings over four games? Why not him?
Red Sox: Garret Whitlock, RHP
Boston’s pitching has been one of the biggest surprises in baseball so far, and the rookie Whitlock looks like the real deal, throwing 5 1/3 scoreless innings after being plucked from the Yankees, of all teams, in the Rule 5 Draft.
Yankees: Gary Sánchez, C
So, who had the polarizing catcher leading all Yankees hitters in slugging, OPS and homers?
Cleveland: Emmanuel Clase, RHP
The guy is throwing 100 mph fastballs like they’re nothing and making that Corey Kluber trade look better and better.
Royals: Jakob Junis, RHP
He has been all over the place for the Royals in the past, but he has started the season with seven scoreless innings, while working as both a starter and as a reliever.
Tigers: Akil Baddoo, OF
Who else? I’m going to start lobbying MLB Network for a Baddoo family cam. Baddoo homered on the first pitch of his career on April 4, then added a grand slam the following day and a walk-off hit the next day.
Twins: Byron Buxton, OF
Sure, everybody knows how good Buxton can be when healthy. But did anyone see him launching homers like this (he’s tied for the MLB lead with five home runs)? He might … be the best player in baseball right now?
White Sox: Yermín Mercedes, C
By his fourth game, you were honestly surprised to see any pitcher get him out at all. He’s hitting .536 with a .594 OBP and 1.451 OPS through seven games.
Angels: Jared Walsh, 1B
He made it clear last year that he was going to make it difficult for Albert Pujols to get at-bats. But did you realize he was going to turn into Albert Pujols? Walsh is hitting .385 with three homers and a 1.274 OPS in eight games.
Astros: Cristian Javier, RHP
He was just optioned to the alternate training site to get some more work, but his promising start — 2.08 ERA with 11 K’s over 8 2/3 innings — points to plenty of opportunities with the big league club throughout the season.
Athletics: Lou Trivino, RHP
It has been a tough start for the A’s, but Trivino (one run off one hit with eight strikeouts over 6 2/3 innings) might be establishing himself as Oakland’s best reliever after an offseason when the team went searching for any bullpen help it could find.
Mariners: Ty France, INF
He has never gotten much extended play in his career, but he sure has taken advantage of his spot in the Mariners’ lineup (.324 BA .910 OPS), a useful piece who is going to come quite in handy all year.
Rangers: Nate Lowe, 1B
He cooled a bit after his insane start (14 RBIs in the first five games), but he’s still on pace to break Hack Wilson’s RBI mark!
Braves: Huascar Ynoa, RHP
The first two appearances, one as a starter and one as a reliever, went so well (six scoreless innings) for Ynoa that he will get two starts this coming week.
Marlins: Dylan Floro, RHP
The Marlins’ pitching has been as advertised this year — unfortunately, so has the hitting. But Floro has stood out with five appearances and no earned runs allowed, something that might just win him the closer’s job.
Mets: Brandon Nimmo, OF
The Mets have barely played enough to have too many surprises, and obviously Nimmo has been a key to this team for a while, but he has reached in 13 of his 23 plate appearances so far for a team that hasn’t hit yet like everyone was hoping.
Phillies: Connor Brogdon, RHP
The Phillies’ bullpen has looked better this year, in no small part to Brodgon, who earned the win in each of his first three appearances.
Nationals: Joe Ross, RHP
The Nationals, like the Mets, are tough to nail down a “surprise” player, but Ross was terrific over five scoreless innings in his one start … which is more surprising than, say, Stephen Strasburg being terrific in his, or Juan Soto being awesome.
Brewers: Omar Narváez, C
A team that struggled scoring runs throughout 2020 is off to a better start in ’21, thanks in large part to Narváez, who has a .520 OBP and leads the team in homers.
Cardinals: Yadier Molina, C
You thought he was running out of gas? Yadi has been destroying the ball early, hitting .367, including two clutch hits in the series sweep over Miami. He has started every game, of course.
Cubs: Jake Arrieta, RHP
Arrieta has been his Cy Young-winning Cubs self in two starts, winning them both. (He has half of the Cubs’ four wins right now.)
Pirates: Phillip Evans, 3B
It looked like the Pirates’ only quality player went down when Ke’Bryan Hayes hit the injured list … until Evans went on a tear as his replacement, smashing three homers.
Reds: Tyler Naquin, OF
Cleveland fans have to be bashing their heads against the wall as Naquin is crushing the ball for the Reds. He’s tied for the MLB lead with five homers while leading all players with a 78.3 hard-hit percentage.
D-backs: Asdrúbal Cabrera, 3B
You might not have realized that Cabrera was still in baseball, but he is, and he’s hitting homers. (Well, two so far.)
Dodgers: Corey Knebel, RHP
Remember when the Dodgers signed Knebel, and we all thought, “Oh, if the Dodgers signed him, he’s about to have a fantastic year?” Here we are. Knebel has yet to allow a hit in four appearances, while even notching a pair of saves.
Giants: Evan Longoria, 3B
Well, well, well, look who suddenly looks like his old MVP-contender self again? Longoria is hitting .333 with three homers and a 1.061 OPS through eight games. Makes you want to dig out this old commercial again.
Padres: Joe Musgrove!, RHP
It’s a wonderful story, clearly, but did anyone think it would really be Joe Musgrove who would end the Padres’ no-hitter drought? Even more so: He’s their best starter right now.
Rockies: Ryan McMahon, 2B
The Rockies have been waiting for McMahon to explode for years. With five early home runs (tied for most in the Majors), maybe he just needed Nolan Arenado to leave?