One of the best things about Major League Baseball is the fact that guys who were never on the map pop up like Punxsutawney Phil on Ground Hog Day. I’m not talking about the guys casual fans already know. Bryce Harper is having a hot start but he isn’t even close to the category these guys are in. I’m talking about guys who no one expected things from. April in the MLB usually brings about breakout players. Some who stick and some who do not. So far in the 2017 season the players popping up are both new and old. It ranges from washed up veterans to former prospects who look like they have finally put it all together. So let’s take a look at who is surprising so far this season. . .
Aaron Judge RF, New York Yankees- Aaron judge has something to say about Andrew Benintendi being American League rookie of the year. Batting just over .300 with 11 homers this year, you can’t say enough about the gigantic Judge. Standing at 6’7″ Judge certainly looks like a bigger version of Giancarlo Stanton. The MLB better be ready for Judge to lay down the law.
Jason Vargas SP, Kansas City Royals- Jason Vargas owns a career 4.11 ERA. This season he has a 1.42 through 5 starts. After only starting in 12 games the past two years for the Royals, Vargas is 4-1 and looks poised to bounce back from injury. He owns a WHIP below 1 and is striking out a little over 8 guys per 9 innings. The strikeouts probably won’t stick ,considering he has averaged 6 per 9 in his career, but don’t be surprised if you see the 34 year old Vargas as one of the hottest commodities at the trade deadline this year.
Mike Leake SP, St. Louis Cardinals- Leake’s first year in a Cardinal uniform was ,in a word, forgettable. After signing a 5 year deal with the red birds Leake posted a 4.69 ERA but that is in the past. So far this year he has a 1.35. Leake is definitely on the rebound. At only 29 years old, Leake may be on to his best stuff yet so be ready: Leake may stick around.
Ivan Nova SP, Pittsburgh Pirates- Ivan Nova used to be a promising young pitcher for the New York Yankees but after a good rookie season, he took a few steps back. Nova finished his Yankee career splitting time between the bullpen and rotation showing the Yankees lack of faith. The Pirates saw an opportunity on the free agent to be and traded for him at the 2016 trade deadline. Once he got to Pittsburgh, pitching coach Ray Searge worked his magic. Nova started 11 games for the Pirates going 5-2 while tossing 3 complete games. The Pirates resigned Nova this offseason after this encouraging stint and it looks like it’s going to pay off. Nova has already tossed two complete games in 5 starts helping him lower his ERA to a minuscule 1.50. I believe in Nova’s ability to keep it up. He has the stuff and he has been controlling the strike zone. In 16 starts for the Bucs he has only walked 4 batters. Pretty impressive.
Ervin Santana SP, Minnesota Twins- Ervin Santana has had a pretty decent career before his stint with the Minnesota Twins but this year he looks like a beast on the rubber. Let me list off some stats: 0.657 WHIP, 0.77 ERA, 4-0. That is pretty damn good.
Greg Holland CP, Colorado Rockies- Greg Holland was an elite closer with the Kansas City Royals but an injury to his elbow almost derailed his once promising career. Holland caught on with the Rockies this season after a year out of the MLB and is 11/11 in save opportunities helping sure up one of the worst bullpens from 2016.
James Paxton SP, Seattle Mariners- James Paxton has always been one of those, “he’s going to breakout at some point” guys. He has had trouble staying healthy but this season he has stayed in tip top shape so far. 39 strikeouts in 32.1 innings while going 3-0 with a 1.39 ERA. This may be the year Paxton gets over the hump.
Chris Owings SS/OF, Arizona Diamondbacks- Owings used to be a pretty good prospect for the D-Backs but never really put it together in the majors but after they trade Jean Segura, Owings has filled the hole at shortstop in tremendous fashion. In 25 games Owings already has 4 home runs after hitting 5 last year while swiping 7 bags and hitting .311. Owings was called up to the majors at only 21 years old. He was barely able to get into a bar and then he was playing shortstop in the MLB. Now at 25, it looks like Owings is on the verge of a wonderful season.
Mitch Haniger RF, Seattle Mariners- Haniger came over in the Jean Segura trade with the Diamondbacks. Unfortunately, Haniger is on the DL right now but to start the year he was hitting .342 with 4 bombs and 16 RBI’s in only 21 games. Haniger spent last season in the Diamondbacks’ farm system hitting .321 with 25 home runs in 129 games. At 26, it looks like Haniger is ready to replicate that minor league success at Safeco Field.
Ryan Zimmerman 1B, Washington Nationals- What the hell is up with Ryan Zimmerman? Probably the biggest surprise of the young MLB season, the former face of the Nationals is hitting .420 with 11 home runs and 29 RBI’s. Zimmerman was a former big time player but looked washed up after hitting only .218 last season but apparently after talking hitting with teammate Daniel Murphy, Zimmerman flipped a switch. If he keeps it up the Nats lineup may be unstoppable.
Avisail Garcia RF, Chicago White Sox- Being dubbed “mini Miggy” gives a player some pretty big shoes to fill. Avisail Garcia’s feet are starting to grow a little bit. Garcia was traded from the Detroit Tigers to the Chicago White Sox at the 2013 trade deadline that included Jose Iglesias going to Detroit and Jake Peavy going to the Boston Red Sox. Garcia has not been close to what the White Sox expected. They thought they were getting a number 3 hitter but ended up with a guy who should probably hit 7th. But when you hit .368 in April get ready to shoot up the lineup. Garcia has more home runs this April (5) than he did in his last two Aprils combined (4). Like Owings, Garcia is only 25 and may be ready to take that next step. The future is still bright for 6’4″ 240 outfielder.
Steven Souza Jr. Tampa Bay Rays- Souza was once a top prospect. So much so that he was the main return the Rays got when they gave up Wil Myers to the Padres in the 3-team deal with the Nationals. Souza came from Washington and didn’t exactly light the world on fire. only hitting .237 as a member of the Rays, Souza looks like he has turned the page .313 through April. Souza plays a good right field, has some speed, and some power in the bat. If Souza keeps hitting like he is, the 28 year old may show us why he was once considered a 5 tool prospect.
Eugenio Suarez 3B, Cincinnati Reds- Suarez was traded to the Reds in the 2014 offseason for Alfredo Simon. Once considered a shortstop, Suarez moved to 3rd for Cincinnati. He started off hot last year in his first full year manning the hot corner hitting .270 with 5 homers. This season he also hit 5 homers in April but bumped his average to .325. If Suarez hits close to that for the season instead of fading like he did in 2016, he could become a middle of the order bat the Reds desperately need.
Eric Thames 1B/OF, Milwaukee Brewers- ( Read Un-Thamed in baseball section) Thames has gotten his home run total to 11.
Mark Reynolds 1B, Colorado Rockies- Mark Reynolds has always had power. His problem has been his average. So far this year, while replacing injured Ian Desmond, he has hit .298 with 8 homers. I don’t expect him to keep up the pace of a near .300 average but with his power in Coors Field? Good luck. Reynolds played for the Rockies last year finishing the year hitting .282 so there is a chance he hits for a little bit of average but if he continues to hit 8 home runs a month the Rockies are going to have to find a spot on the field for him.
Brandon Phillips 2B, Atlanta Braves- Another veteran no one expected squat from. Traded from the Reds in the offseason, Phillips seemed to be the bridge for Braves prospect Ozzie Albies but if he continues to .338 and play a solid second base, Albies may have to wait a little longer.