We’ve officially hit the 1/3 mark of the 2018 MLB season. Through 55-60 games, you can generally separate the pretenders from the contenders. There are quite a few surprises at this point of the season.
It’s definitely been a season that not many could have predicted. There are a few teams that are exceeding expectations, getting contributions from young, budding superstars. There’s also teams that are below expectations, scuffling and so banged up that the playoffs could look much different this year than last.
The Atlanta Braves, similar to last year’s Yankees, are seemingly a year ahead of schedule. Getting contributions from their young studs have them sitting atop the NL East, a game and a half ahead of the Washington Nationals. Guys like Ozzie Albies, Ronald Acuna, Jr., Mike Soroka, etc. have the Braves’ feeling very optimistic about this season and beyond.
Here’s the biggest surprises to me so far this season:
Catcher: Francisco Cervelli (pirates)
Now, Cervelli has never been a ‘bad’ hitter, but he’s never been this consistent. He’s on pace to play 121 games this season, which would be the 2nd most in his career, this being his 11th season. He has already set a career high with 8 HR’s and that number will continue to rise with roughly 100 games remaining for the Pirates. He needs just 10 more RBI to best his career high of 43 set in 2015, his first season in Pittsburgh. Those career highs of 7 HRs/34 RBI were both also set in 2015, a season in which he played 130 games. At his current pace, Cervelli would finish this season with 121 games played, 19 HRs, and 94 RBI. Currently ranked 3rd among ML catchers on the ESPN fantasy player rater, safe to say he is easily having by far his best season as a big leaguer.
First Baseman: C.J. Cron (rays)
The real surprise here is the amount of playing time Cron has been getting. When he was with the Angels, he was fighting a platoon battle with the likes of Albert Pujols, Luis Valbuena, and Jefry Marte. Now, with the Rays, Cron is getting the opportunity to play everyday, generally the DH, and he’s taking advantage of it. If the season ended today, Cron would set a new career high in OBP, SLG, OPS, and OPS+. He’s also on pace to set new careers highs in R, 2B, HRs, RBI, and BBs. Cron is currently ranked 5th among all ML first basemen, which is a far cry better than his rank of 51st in the 2017 season.
Second Baseman: Ozzie Albies (braves)
This was a tough one to decide seeing as Albies is still so young so we have no real past performance to compare to. But the fact that he is only 21 years old is what is so surprising and remarkable about the season he’s having. He’s played roughly the same amount of games in 2018 as he did in 2017 (59 to 57 respectively), and he’s already boasting much better numbers in his sophomore season. He has seen a batting average dip from .286 in 2017 to .263 this season, but everything else is vastly improved. When it comes to fantasy value, 50 R, 16 2B, 14 HRs, 35 RBI is already well above what he produced in roughly the same amount of time last season, and has been the catalyst to a revitalized Braves’ offense.
Third Baseman: Miguel Andujar (yankees)
Nobody in and around baseball doubted the offensive abilities of Miguel Andujar every step of the way through the Minors. The surprise here was the fact that Andujar did not make the active roster out of Spring Training. The Yankees brought in Brandon Drury to be the everyday 3B. When Drury went down in the first week of April with migraines, Andujar got the call and hasn’t looked back since. An extra-base machine, Andujar leads all ML rookies with 26 extra-base hits, including 18 2B, 2 3B, and 6 HRs. He carried the Yankees’ offense for a short spell while the big boppers in the Bronx all slumped around the same time, which is saying a lot when you’re in a lineup that features Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, and Giancarlo Stanton. Since his call, Drury has been activated from the DL but was optioned to AAA Scranton as Andujar has taken a firm hold of the job as the everyday 3B in the Bronx.
Shortstop: Andrelton Simmons (angels)
The ability has always been there for Simmons; but it was always the defensive ability that stood out. This year, however, Simmons’ bat is breaking out. A career .264 hitter prior to this season is slashing a remarkable .336/.405/.469 with an OPS of .874 and an OPS+ of 143. All would be career highs should the season end today. In addition, he is on pace to shatter his career high in hits, runs, and RBI. It certainly helps when you’re in a lineup surrounding by the best hitter in the game today, Mike Trout, and arguably the best hitter of this generation, Albert Pujols. Nevertheless, it appears Simmons’ bat is finally catching up to the stellar glove.
Outfield: Mitch Haniger (mariners)
Haniger seems to be hitting his stride in his 3rd season in the bigs, holding together a 1st place Mariners team without star 2B Robinson Cano. Haniger’s average this year is right at his career average of .270, but is excelling in OBP, SLG, OPS, and OPS+, which would all be career highs where they sit right now. Right now, he is on pace to double his career mark of 16 HRs with 32, more than double his career mark of 47 RBI with 114, and blow by his career mark of 104 hits, with 155. It will be tough to keep it up simply due to the absence of Cano who provides protection for anyone in the lineup around him, but you have to love what he’s done so far this season.
Outfield: Nick Markakis (braves)
The second Brave to make this list is more of a resurgence than a breakout. Markakis is certainly one of the biggest surprises in 2018 as he is revitalizing his career at the age of 34. Maybe it’s the young studs around him bringing the best out, or he’s finally fully healthy. Either way, he is turning back into an extra-base machine like he was early in his career. In his early years with Baltimore, you could pencil in 45 doubles and nearly 20 HRs every year. He’s back to those projections, along with hitting .328, which is nearly 40 points higher than his career average of .289. If he manages to finish the season batting above .300, it will be the first he’s done this since 2008 with the Orioles.
Outfield: Matt Kemp (dodgers)
Matt Kemp is back in Los Angeles and playing like he did when he was the MVP runner-up in 2011. After years of struggles with injuries and consistency with the Dodgers, Padres, and Braves, he’s back where he started and mashing. Hitting .344, nearly 60 points higher than his career mark of .287, and on pace for 171 hits, 39 doubles, 25 HRs, 91 RBI which would make it seem like he’s back to the days of being a perennial MVP candidate. Also, his .376 OBP, .572 SLG, .949 OPS, and 159 OPS+ would all be the highest marks since 2011. The Dodgers have really been fighting to stay afloat this season, and Kemp is a huge reason they are where they are.
Starting Pitcher: Miles Mikolas (cardinals)
After an unremarkable start to his ML career, Miles Mikolas was then pushed out of Major League Baseball to Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball League. He flourished in Japan. Over the course of 62 starts across 3 seasons, Mikolas posted a 2.18 ERA against what some say is very near equal competition to that of Major League Baseball. In 2017, he walked just 23 batters and struck out 25.1% of hitters across 27 starts. This earned him a second chance in the States when the Cardinals signed him to a 2 year/$15.5 million deal. He hasn’t disappointed. In 11 starts for St. Louis, Mikolas has a 2.49 ERA with 53 strikouts and just 8 walks across 72.1 innings. He has one complete shutout en route to a 6-1 record. With injuries to Adam Wainwright and Carlos Martinez this season, Mikolas has been the rock for the rotation to lean on.
Relief Pitcher: Blake Treinen (athletics)
Treinen has been nothing short of outstanding to begin the 2018 season. In 28.1 innings, he’s posted a 0.95 ERA with 13 saves in 15 opportunities. His 11.9 K/9 is well above his career mark of 9.9 set last season. Treinen currently has the lowest ERA, WHIP, and H/9 of his career. His marks of 0.3 HR/9 and 2.5 BB/9 will be the lowest since 2009, his rookie season with Washington. The A’s have surprised as a whole this season sitting 2 games above .500 and right in the thick of the AL West race with the heavily favored Houston Astros. Treinen has played a huge role in their success this season providing a level of confidence when the team has a lead late in games.