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#pounditThursday, March 23, 2023

10 MLB players off to surprisingly hot starts

Pete Alonso

Anybody can have a really good two weeks in Major League Baseball, but it looks especially good if you do it at the start of the season. There is something to be said for getting off to a hot start and putting your name near the top of the league leaderboards, especially if you’re not the sort of player who would normally appear up there.

Yes, the likes of Mike Trout and Christian Yelich are off to scorching hot starts. That’s not a huge surprise. These ten, however, definitely count as surprising.

10. Willson Contreras, C, Cubs

Contreras has always had some pop in his bat and was considered a good hitter for a catcher, but that’s very much grading on a curve. He hit .249 with 10 home runs last year. He has already hit six this season, and his average has shot up to .341. He has become the Cubs’ hottest hitter and is very much on a roll right now. As usual, he has a long way to go to keep it up, but Contreras has enough skill at the late that it bears watching.

9. Tyler Glasnow, P, Rays

Glasnow was viewed by some as a breakout candidate, but even the optimists probably didn’t see this coming. In four starts, Glasnow has allowed just three runs in 24 innings and is 4-0 with a 1.13 ERA. He has struck out 24 and walked just three. Glasnow always had the strikeout potential and reasonable walk rates to turn into a frontline starter, and he looks to be doing that and then some. The Chris Archer trade continues to look like a Tampa masterstroke.

8. Yasmani Grandal, C, Brewers

Grandal was a postseason goat for the Los Angeles Dodgers last season and he actually got benched in the NLCS against Milwaukee. Now he’s switched teams and really turned it on. In the early stages of the season, Grandal is hitting .404, and he has five home runs and two doubles. That’s good for a slugging percentage of .731. It’s anyone’s guess as to whether this keeps up — he’s never hit more than .247 when playing at least 100 games — but the Brewers will be thrilled with the start.

7. Matthew Boyd, P, Tigers

If you glance at the list of pitchers with the most strikeouts through their first two starts, it’s populated by names you would expect, such as Curt Schilling, Randy Johnson, and Pedro Martinez. In 2019, Boyd added his name to that list. He fanned 23 in his first two starts and is at 36 through his first four. That’s a league-leading 15.1 strikeouts per nine innings for a guy whose 8.4 K/9 mark last season was a career-best. Perhaps the Tiger lefty has found something, but his start is certainly impressive and unexpected.

6. Luis Castillo, P, Reds

The Reds’ Opening Day starter posted a solid, but not great 4.30 ERA last season, striking out just under a batter an inning. That’s a useful MLB starter, but after turning 26 in December, it was fair to wonder if he was near his ceiling. The answer may well have been no. Castillo has an NL-best 1.46 ERA through four starts, allowing just nine hits in 24.2 innings while seeing his strikeout numbers spike. His walk numbers have too, and some of this looks unsustainable, but if he can maintain the strikeout mark, he’ll be a quality starter.

5. Matt Shoemaker, P, Blue Jays

Shoemaker entered 2019 having made just 21 starts over the past two seasons thanks to recurring arm problems, and the Los Angeles Angels let him walk as a non-tender at the end of the 2018 season. Their loss is the Blue Jays’ gain. Shoemaker won three of his first four starts, posting a 1.75 ERA and holding opponents to just 13 hits in 25.2 innings. He has a track record of success when healthy, too, meaning that while he will regress some, Shoemaker’s resurgence may be quite real if he can stay on the field.

4. Tim Beckham, SS, Mariners

Once upon a time the No. 1 overall pick in the MLB Draft, Beckham is showing the talent that had scouts lusting after him. The 29-year-old shortstop is batting .317 with a .989 OPS. He has six doubles, four home runs, and is fitting in well in what has turned out to be an offensive machine in Seattle. Perhaps the best sign is that Beckham has 7 walks and 17 strikeouts. While his strikeout total remains high, he’s on pace for the best walk total and on-base percentage of his career.

3. Pete Alonso, 1B, Mets

The Mets are being richly rewarded for giving Alonso, one of their best prospects, a spot on their Opening Day roster. The big first baseman hit six home runs in his first 16 games (including the hardest of the season), and has posted a .763 slugging percentage and a 1.181 OPS. He’s added seven doubles as well, so he’s not exactly a three-true-outcomes type of player. It’s not a surprise that Alonso is hitting, but it’s definitely fairly unexpected that he’s doing so this well this soon after arriving in the big leagues.

2. Tim Anderson, SS, White Sox

Anderson’s MLB career has generally seen him fulfill the role of speedy shortstop, albeit with a surprising amount of pop. This season, he hasn’t sacrificed the pop, but his average has shot up considerably. Anderson is hitting .421 with three home runs and three doubles and has been a terror for Chicago, scoring 11 runs in just 14 games so far. Anderson’s track record suggests the high average will be hard to keep up, but he’s going to be a pain for opponents all season.

1. Austin Meadows, OF, Rays

Meadows cements the Chris Archer trade as a total steal for the Rays. Long regarded as a top prospect, his breakout has been immediate in his first full season on a big league roster. He has six home runs in 16 games, matching his total in his 59-game cameo last season. He’s hitting .350 and drawing walks. He’s slugging .700. He also doesn’t turn 24 until the beginning of May, which means the Rays have a star on their hands — probably even sooner than they hoped they would.


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