MLB's Biggest Surprises by Position

Jordan Ball@jball_13Correspondent IApril 30, 2013

MLB's Biggest Surprises by Position

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    April is all but over, and that means the first month of the 2013 baseball season has come and gone.

    Though the season is young, it has been plenty entertaining, supplying fans with many great games and storylines as well. 

    We got to witness walk-off grand slams, pitchers flirting with perfection, and how the game brings the nation together in times of tragedy. 

    The beauty is that there are still six months left to witness even more miraculous occurrences.

    For now, though, let's take a look back at which players have been the most surprising thus far at every position. 

Catcher: John Buck

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    Stat line: .241 AVG, 9 HR, 25 RBI

    Besides rookie sensation Matt Harvey, the Mets have had little to cheer—other than their new catcher John Buck. 

    Buck spent last year with the Marlins before being traded to the Blue Jays in baseball's biggest offseason move in recent memory. He was then traded to the Mets' for R.A. Dickey and co. as spring training started. 

    In 2012 Buck had a down season, to say the least, as he only batted .192 with 12 homers and 41 RBI in 106 games played. 

    It appears as if the change of scenery has benefited him, though, as he is off to the hottest start in his 10-year career. 

    His nine home runs are good enough for second in all of baseball, while his 25 RBI are leading the National League, both being the most for a catcher. 

    Buck's red-hot start has simmered down a little over the past week, as he's seen his average slide down from .300 to where it sits now at .241. But the long balls keep coming, and he is well on his way to reaching his career high of 20, a feat he accomplished in 2010 with Toronto. 

    Though it's highly unlikely Buck keeps raking at this pace, only a matter of time will tell if he's a serious threat or not. For now, it's impossible to deny that what Buck has done has earned him his spot on this list. 

First Base: Chris Davis

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    Stat Line: .349 AVG, 9 HR, 28 RBI

    After the monster 2012 campaign Chris Davis had, it seemed that a star was in the making in Baltimore. 

    Now that the calendar has turned to 2013, that assumption has turned into fact, judging by the output from Davis in the early going of this season. 

    Though one might have assumed that the 27-year-old could pick up where he left off, no one saw him getting off to this hot of a start, which has arguably been the best in the league. 

    His nine home runs have him tied with John Buck and Bryce Harper for second overall (first in the AL), while his 28 RBI have him sitting at the top of the totem pole. 

    Even though I'm not sure how it's possible, Davis' power has improved—but that's not all. 

    In 2012, Davis walked a total of 37 times in 562 plate appearances—not exactly what you'd call "good."

    However, in 2013 he has already drawn 14 free passes in just 25 games—a vast improvement. 

    Along with that, he's also seen his average hover around the league's best, as his .349 has him in the top 10 in that category. 

    Unlike Buck, Chris Davis has all the makings of a legitimate threat all season long. 

    If his huge month of April is any indication of what's to come, don't be surprised to see Davis' name at the top of the statistical leaderboards all season long, and possibly in some MVP discussions. 

Second Base: Chase Utley

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    Stat Line: .295 AVG, 4 HR, 18 RBI

    To be honest, there hasn't really been a legitimate surprise at second base this year. 

    The best in the bigs thus far are the likes of Cano, Pedroia, Kinsler and Altuve, but by now those names come as no surprise.

    We expect them to perform at the top-tier level, and they do. 

    You could argue Mark Ellis for this spot, as he's off to a good start for the Dodgers, and if you do I won't put up a fight, but the player manning second who has surprised me the most this season has been Chase Utley. 

    For the past two seasons, we have seen one of the better-hitting second basemen in recent memory decline, due in large part to ongoing injuries, mainly in his knees. 

    There were speculations that we may never seen Utley play again, but the now 34-year-old has come back with a vengeance.

    His season's biggest highlight came in the first game, as he ripped his 200th career home run, and since then he has seemed like the Chase Utley of old.

    Utley's numbers have him back where he belongs as one of the top players at his position.

Third Base: Josh Donaldson

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    Stat Line: .326 AVG, 2 HR, 20 RBI

    Josh Donaldson may be the biggest surprise on this list.

    Not because of his numbers, of course—even though they are extremely solid—but because most of the baseball world is oblivious as to who he is. 

    Well if this 27-year-old playing in his third season has anything to do with that, he's going to change that before long. 

    The A's have struggled to find an offensive threat at the hot corner for some time, but they might have found just that in Donaldson. 

    His biggest contribution so far has been in the run-producing category. He has knocked in 20 of them, which is top-ten in baseball, while his average is up near the top as well. 

    One of the more impressive parts of his game is his defense. 

    Before the start of last season, Donaldson had spent his career playing catcher, before being converted to third base. 

    After a trial run last season, Donaldson earned the starting job out of camp in 2013. 

    Unless something drastic happens, it looks like he just might be there for a long time to come. 

Shortstop: Brandon Crawford

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    Stat line: .281 AVG, 5 HR, 14 RBI

    For a guy who has always been criticized for his lack of offensive ability, Brandon Crawford's not doing too bad for himself. 

    Primarily heralded for his glove, Crawford is turning heads this year, as it seems he may have finally figured out big-league pitching to some extent. 

    Though his numbers aren't great, they are good, which is a joyous surprise for Giants' fans. 

    Crawford is well on his way and then some to career highs in almost every offensive category. In his first two seasons, he hit seven home runs total. 

    One month into this season, he already has five. 

    Even though he was a starter for last year's World Series team, Crawford didn't contribute much in the postseason offensively. 

    Now that he's hitting along with the rest of the team, the Giants will be a tough team to beat if their pitchers can find a way to get back on track. 

Left Field: Justin Upton

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    Stat Line: .304 AVG, 12 HR, 19 RBI

    If the season ended today, Justin Upton would be your National League MVP, plain and simple. 

    After declining a few trade offers in the offseason, Upton finally agreed to come to Atlanta to team up with his brother B.J. and take part in one of the best teams baseball has seen in a while. 

    Just how big of a part he'd play for this team, no one saw coming. 

    In his month in Atlanta, he has been arguably the most exciting player to watch, putting on a show seemingly every night. 

    The top moment for him, and arguably baseball, came against the Cubs on April 6. 

    In the ninth inning, his older brother took one deep to tie the game at five apiece before Justin came to bat next. He broke the tie and ended the game with a blast of his own. 

    Upton's 12 homers lead the majors, and his RBI total and average are up there as well. 

    It's been no secret that Upton could rake, but after just an okay year at the plate in 2012, people started to wonder if he'd ever reach his full potential. 

    Seeing that he's almost reached his 2012 total of 17 homers in one month, I'd say that he's on his way to that high ceiling everyone always knew he had. 

Center Field: Shin-Soo Choo

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    Stat Line: .340 AVG, 4 HR, 10 RBI

    Shin-Soo Choo has been an underrated player since his trade to Cleveland in 2006.

    He's always been a good hitter as far as average is concerned, and his on-base percentage is excellent. Exactly what a team would want in a leadoff hitter. 

    Which is why the Reds' pulled the trigger on a deal this offseason to acquire Choo, even if it meant losing one of their top prospects in Didi Gregorius. 

    Surprisingly, they didn't get what they expected in Choo. 

    The numbers he's posted throughout the majority of his career have taken a big turn—for the better. 

    Those average numbers have turned into outstanding ones. 

    Besides the numbers listed above, Choo's biggest strength is his OBP, which is sitting pretty at .484.

    All that means is that he gets on base almost every other time—not too shabby. 

    That number is so good, in fact, that no one else in the big leagues gets on more than him, including on-base machine and teammate, Joey Votto. 

    Choo has turned into one of the biggest surprises of the season and could turn out to be the missing piece in Cincinnati's title hunt. 

Right Field: Torii Hunter

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    Stat Line: .375 AVG, 1 HR, 11 RBI

    I don't know if he knows this or not, but Torii Hunter is 37 years young and is 16 years into his professional career. He's not supposed to be one of the best hitters anymore. 

    Nevertheless, he is. 

    Hunter, who came to Detroit via free agency in the offseason, spent the last five years playing for the Angels and was seemingly done, even after an impressive 2012. 

    He had other plans, as you can tell, and sought to build on his .313/16 HR/92 RBI numbers of a year ago. 

    Though the latter two numbers aren't there quite yet, his average is exceeding everyone's expectations, as it is the second-best in all of baseball behind that of Cleveland's Carlos Santana. 

    As far as his power is concerned, it may be diminishing as he gets up there in age, but I find it hard to believe that it's completely gone and fully expect him to finish with 12-15 homers, if not more. 

    The RBI total isn't too big of a concern, either, as he does have two of baseball's best hitting behind him in Cabrera and Fielder.

    Much like Choo, Hunter could be the missing piece in the Tigers' quest for a championship. 

Pitcher: Clay Buchholz

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    Stat Line: 5-0, 1.19 ERA, 39 Ks

    In 2010, Buchholz posted a 17-7 record with a 2.33 ERA and looked like he was on his way to a long and successful career. 

    But, as it tends to happen in this game, injuries occurred, and the promise he had once shown faded a bit in the following two seasons. 

    This season, however, the now six-year veteran has seemed to be back to his normal self and then some, as he has posted some of the best numbers in all of baseball throughout April. 

    Besides picking up a win in each of his first five starts, Buchholz's 1.19 ERA is good enough for third overall, and his 39 strikeouts puts him in a tie for 11th. 

    The most impressive number he's put up this far is his major league-leading 2.0 WAR (wins above replacement). 

    Even though the number itself isn't that outstanding, the fact that he is No. 1 isn't something to overlook. 

    So even though it wasn't exactly a secret that Clay Buchholz was a good pitcher, the surprise here is just how good he has been. 

Honorable Mentions

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    Bryce Harper: .356 AVG, 9 HR, 18 RBI

    A list of anything involving baseball's top players wouldn't be complete without a mention of Harper. A sophomore slump looks to mean nothing to this phenom, as he has jumped out of the gates following his Rookie of the Year season in 2012. 

    Though this shouldn't surprise you, because you've been hearing this name for quite some time, remember this kid is only 20 years of age. Put that into perspective with the numbers he's posted already, and your mind is blown. 


    Carl Crawford: .308 AVG, 4 HR, 6 RBI, 4 SB

    After two forgettable seasons spent in Boston, a lot of people had written off and forgotten about Carl Crawford. Who can blame them? He was mediocre at best in his time there, and after requiring Tommy John surgery he saw himself being dealt to LA so that the Sox could dump his salary. 

    Well, the joke's on them, as it appears Crawford is back to his Tampa Bay days in which he was the poster boy for a five-tool player. 


    Hisashi Iwakuma: 2-1, 1.67 ERA, 37 Ks

    With all due respect to the likes of Matt Moore, Matt Harvey and other dominant pitchers: You were expected to be as good as you are showing. 

    Iwakuma, on the other hand, was a question mark when the Mariners signed him before the 2012 season, but after a solid season he earned his spot as the No. 2 in their starting rotation. 

    After an illustrious career in Japan, the now 32-year-old is making a name for himself in the MLB and is having one of the best starts out of anyone, as far as numbers are concerned. 

    His wins may not ever be as high as the rest of the greats (ask King Felix), but his stuff is nasty—and that's undeniable. 

Dishonorable Mentions

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    Matt Cain: 0-2, 6.49 ERA, 32 K's

    I know it's early in the season, but Matt Cain has been one of the most consistent pitchers in the game for quite some time now, so to see him struggle this mightily should come as a surprise to anyone.

    He's given up multiple home runs in three of his six starts (nine overall) which is second-worst in all of baseball. Though I see him bouncing back from this, these numbers are quite terrible. 


    B.J. Upton: .146 AVG, 3 HR, 5 RBI

    Though Upton has never been known for hitting for average, I'd say the Braves expected a little bit more out of him when they signed him to the largest free-agent contract in team history. 

    So far that five-year, $75.25 million agreement isn't looking like such a great idea. 

    At least Upton can hide for now in the shadow of his younger brother's success. 


    Josh Hamilton: .202 AVG, 2 HR, 9 RBI

    Speaking of big contracts out of free agency, cue Josh Hamilton. Though he's not slumped down to Upton's level of suck, he's also getting paid $50 million more on his new five-year deal. 

    It seems as if Josh's postseason woes have carried over into this year, as his plate production has been at a bare minimum, and his 31 strikeouts are among the most. 

    Due to new scenery and knowing the caliber of hitter he is, I'll give Hamilton a pass on this slow start and wouldn't be surprised to see him finish strong, much like his teammate Pujols did a season ago.