19 MLB Players Off to Fast Starts in 2019
The league leaderboard so far in this Major League Baseball season is filled with many familiar names: Trout, Yelich, Verlander, Baez, to name a few. But among them are an unusual amount of names, whether they be from a sensational rookie class, a young player taking the next step, a minor-leaguer getting their first real shot or a veteran who is coming back from injury.
The list of surprising starts is long, but who is for real and who is just a fluke?
Tyler Glasnow, RHP, Tampa Bay Rays
Despite being on the shelf with forearm tightness for 4-6 weeks, Glasnow still makes the list due to his incredible start. Over three seasons in Pittsburgh, Glasnow never started more than 11 games and posted an ERA near six. His results never matched his stuff, his size, or his top prospect pedigree, but he was better in Tampa after being acquired in the second half of last year. He has taken his success to a whole different level this year. He currently leads the league with six wins and a 1.86 ERA. Though he’ll be out for a while, his success should return when he does.
Austin Meadows, OF, Tampa Bay Rays
The Pirates have to be kicking themselves over the Chris Archer trade, not only losing Tyler Glasnow, the league leader in ERA and wins but Austin Meadows as well. Meadows is hitting .359 with seven homers and an incredible 1.119 OPS. His defense still leaves a lot to be desired, but the Rays will keep him in the lineup no matter what if he keeps raking like this.
Trey Mancini, LF, Baltimore Orioles
The one bright spot in a terrible Orioles season, Mancini has given the Orioles fans a reason to keep coming to the ballpark. Mancini is hitting .322 with seven home runs while having a top 10 OPS. He’s an intriguing player, and will no doubt be the Orioles lone all-star at this summers All-Star game.
Hunter Dozier, 3B, Kansas City Royals
The Royals offense has been quietly good this year, and they are led by a man who was a mediocre rookie at 26 in 2018. Dozier has already nearly matched his home run total from last year, and he leads the league in slugging and OPS. A refined approach can be part of the reason, cutting down on his strikeouts and almost tripling his walk rate. Of all the players on this list, Dozier’s success may be the most surprising, somehow making the transformation from career minor leaguer to feared slugger in just one season.
Alberto Mondesi, SS, Kansas City Royals
Mondesi showed flashes of brilliance in a 75 games stint last year, popping 14 homers and swiping 32 bags in that short sample size. He’s been even better this year, leading the league with six triples and 12 steals to along with five homers. He only has a .830 OPS, so if he could start hitting even a little bit more, he could emerge as a perennial All-Star.
Spencer Turnbull, SP, Detroit Tigers
Turnbull was hardly on anybody’s radar entering this season, after pitching just six innings last year and entering his age 26 season. He won a spot in the rotation entering this season, and has been fantastic, posting a 2.42 ERA. His K/9 and BB/9 are nothing to write home about so this level of success may be short-lived. Still, it’s nice to see a career minor-leaguer making the most of his opportunity.
Jorge Polanco, SS, Minnesota Twins
Mike Trout is obviously leading the AL in WAR, but right behind him is…Jorge Polanco? Always a solid but unspectacular hitter, Polanco was busted for steroids last year but has come back with a vengeance. He’s hitting .336 with a 1.034 OPS while already surpassing last years home run total. He’s increased his walks and cut down on his strikeouts, so don’t be surprised if his early success continues.
James McCann, C, Chicago White Sox
This one is just plain weird. Mccann, a career .240 hitter, was non-tendered by the Tigers after the 2018 season and has gone to Chicago and proceeded to hit .376. It’s not going to last, and an absurd .476 BABIP has a lot to do with it, but it’s been a fun 100 AB stretch.
Micheal Brantley, OF, Astros
Unlike many on this list, Brantley is not an unknown youngster. Rather, many thought he was done after a number of injury-plagued seasons. Brantley signed with the Astros in the offseason and is having a career-best season. Brantley has never had more than 20 home runs in a season, and he already has 10 this year to go along with a league-best .340 average. After only playing 100 games in one of the last four seasons, Brantley is showing he is still an All-Star caliber player.
Hunter Pence, OF, Rangers
Nobody would blame you if you thought Hunter Pence’s career was over after he hit .226 and 4 home runs in an injury-plagued season with the Giants. He inked a minor league deal with the Rangers this year, and he quickly came up because, you know, Rangers. Suddenly it’s 2011 again, as Pence is hitting .338 with seven home runs so far. It doesn’t really make any sense, but nothing about Hunter Pence makes any sense so it wouldn’t be mildly surprising if he becomes an everyday player again.
Caleb Smith, SP, Miami Marlins
Nobody would blame you if you didn’t know this guy’s name. He had his first real shot in the big leagues (albeit with the Marlins) last year at age 26 and posted a respectable 4.19 ERA. He’s sliced that number in half to 2.11, emerging as a clear bright spot for an otherwise bleak Marlins team. There’s a lot to like Smith: He keeps the ball in the ballpark, he doesn’t walk a lot of guys, and he has a terrific 11.8 K/9 rate. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if he makes the trip to Cleveland this summer for the All-Star game.
Luis Castillo, SP, Cincinnati Reds
Castillo was fine in his first full season in the big leagues, but his 4.30 ERA didn’t match his electric stuff. This year, he has been arguably the best pitcher in baseball. His 1.76 ERA is third in the league and his 70 strikeouts are first. Though his home runs allowed are down, his walks per nine have increased from 2.6 to 3.8. Regardless, Castillo has taken the next step to being an elite pitcher.
Zach Davies, SP, Milwaukee Brewers
An achilles heel for all of last season, the Brewers starting rotation has seemingly been fixed by the return of Zach Davies from injury. Through eight starts, his ERA is an MLB-best 1.54. Davies’ walk rate has remained the same and his strikeout rate has actually dropped to 6.0 per nine innings, so this level of success is not sustainable. There is no reason, however, that he cannot remain a mid-rotation starter for years to come.
Paul Dejong, SS, St. Louis Cardinals
Dejong was great in 2017, hitting .285 and 25 home runs as a rookie. Though he took a step back last year, he posted 19 home runs and an above average OPS. His main problem has been staying on the field, as he’s failed to play 120 games in either of those two years. Not only has he been healthy this year, but he has also posted the best production of his career. He currently leads the league with 14 doubles to go along with seven homers and a .327 average. Dejong has established himself as a middle of the order bat, and his success is a big reason for the Cardinal’s fast start.
Jordan Lyles, SP, Pittsburgh Pirates
Just two years ago, Lyles was a 27-year old swingman getting rocked in Colorado. Givenc a chance to start this year in Pittsburgh, he has an ERA of just over two. Why? Because baseball is weird, that’s why. Nothing about his underlying statistics explain his remarkable turnaround, so this is more than likely one fluky month, but it’s always nice to see a journeyman have his moment in the sun.
Josh Bell, 1B, Pittsburgh Pirates
Bell has always been an odd case, showing great plate management but not the power you would like for a first baseman. Power has not been a problem this year, as his 9 home runs nearly match his total from all of last year, and he has maintained his excellent approach at that plate. Bell finally looks like he is fitting the mold of a 30-100 first baseman
Chris Paddack, SP, San Diego Padres
Paddack was a name to watch before the season as a top 50 prospect who posted insane strikeout and walk numbers in the minors last year. He won a rotation spot in spring training and has made the most of it. He leads of all baseball in ERA (1.55 ), WHIP (.069) and H.9 (4.0). His combination of swing and miss stuff and pinpoint control has made him one of the most intriguing young arms in all of baseball.
Cody Bellinger, 1B/OF, Los Angeles Dodgers
Cody Bellinger went through a sophomore slump in 2018 following a historic rookie campaign the year prior. This season, he looks like the second coming of Ted Williams. Bellinger currently leads baseball in average, on-base percentage, OPS, hits and runs while being second to Christian Yelich with 14 home runs. Not only is his offense pacing the league, his great defense and sneaky good speed already gives him a league-leading 3.9 WAR. As a top prospect, Bellinger always had the potential of being great, but I doubt anyone suspected the generational superstar he is looking like today.
Hyun-Jin Ryu, SP, Los Angeles Dodgers
Ryu was hidden in the shadows of phenom Walker Buehler and living legend Clayton Kershaw, but he has emerged as an ace in his own right. Forgotten about after a number of injury-plagued seasons, Ryu was spectacular last year in a half season and has kept it going this year. The key to his success is pinpoint control, as he has a Maddux-like 0.4 BB/9. His stuff is far from overpowering, but Ryu puts the ball exactly where he wants to, making him nearly impossible to put up a crooked number on.