Ranking the 10 Most Surprising Early MLB Stat Lines
Ridiculous early-season stat lines are one of the best parts of the first few weeks of each MLB season, as small sample sizes lead to impressive batting averages and ridiculous full-season paces.
Mixed in among those hot starts there are, without fail, always at least a handful of unexpected contributors each year, whether it is a relative unknown breaking through or a veteran far exceeding expectations.
What follows is a look at the 10 most surprising early-season MLB stat lines as the third week of the season gets underway.
I opted to stick with lesser-known guys who were under the radar entering the season, so you won't find someone like Chase Utley on the following list.
Utley's early-season production has clearly been surprising, but many fans and analysts expected him to be a key contributor for the Philadelphia Phillies offense heading into the season.
On the other hand, someone like Charlie Blackmon was not expected to do much heading into the year and was not even guaranteed an everyday job. He is someone you will find on the upcoming list.
10. RP Scott Atchison, Cleveland Indians
A 38-year-old middle reliever who had to settle for a minor league contract this past offseason, Scott Atchison has emerged as a surprise contributor in an improved Cleveland Indians bullpen so far this season.
He enjoyed the best season of his career in 2012, posting a 1.58 ERA over 51.1 innings of work while pitching for the Boston Red Sox, but he saw that number climb to 4.37 after joining the New York Mets last season.
For a player who has never entered a spring training with a guaranteed contract, 6.1 no-hit innings to kick off a season certainly constitutes a surprise. If he can keep pitching at anywhere near the level he has to this point, he'll be an absolute steal at $800,000.
9. SS Adeiny Hechavarria, Miami Marlins
Were it not for the Miami Marlins' belief in his ability to be a plus defender at shortstop, Adeiny Hechavarria likely would not have seen as much playing time as he did last year, as he batted just .227/.267/.298 over 543 at-bats.
That .565 OPS was the third-worst mark among players with 400-plus at-bats, but the Marlins still opted to stick with him as they added veteran pieces this offseason in an effort to improve what was the league's worst offense last year.
He never showed much in the way of offensive potential during his time in the minors, so chances are he's in for some regression in the not-too-distant future. That said, it's not inconceivable to think the 25-year-old has turned a corner offensively.
8. SP Scott Feldman, Houston Astros
Looking for a veteran presence to lead their young pitching staff, the Houston Astros signed Scott Feldman to a three-year, $30 million deal in free agency this offseason after a solid 2013 season split between Chicago and Baltimore.
The 31-year-old has had some ups and downs throughout his career, winning 17 games for the Texas Rangers back in 2009 but combining to go just 15-23 with a 5.15 ERA over the next three seasons.
More than a few people questioned why a rebuilding team would give a mid-level veteran starter a three-year deal, but Feldman has been one of the best pitchers in baseball through his first three starts—and been worth every penny to this point.
7. 2B Dee Gordon, Los Angeles Dodgers
Ranked as the No. 26 prospect by Baseball America heading into the 2011 season, Dee Gordon earned a midseason call-up and went on to hit .304/.325/.362 with 24 steals over 224 at-bats as a rookie.
The speedster looked to have an incredibly bright future ahead of him heading into 2012, but he's hit just .229/.289/.285 over 397 at-bats over the past two seasons, and he spent most of last season in the minors with Hanley Ramirez manning shortstop.
The Los Angeles Dodgers' decision to start Cuban defector Alex Guerrero in Triple-A opened things up for Gordon to start the year as the everyday second baseman, and he has run with the opportunity. He's hit leadoff twice this season, and the team could move him there full-time if he keeps hitting like he has.
6. RP Sergio Santos, Toronto Blue Jays
Originally drafted as a shortstop, Sergio Santos moved to the mound in 2009 and was pitching out of the Chicago White Sox bullpen just a year later. He took over as the team's closer in 2011, saving 30 games and posting a 3.55 ERA with 13.1 K/9.
The Toronto Blue Jays acquired him prior to the 2012 season with the intention of using him as their closer, but a labrum injury sidelined him in April and he did not return until August of last season.
Casey Janssen wound up in the closer's job as a result of the injury, and he's done a terrific job the past two seasons. However, a back injury has sidelined him since spring training, and Santos has slid back into the ninth-inning role. He's 4-of-4 on save chances and 10 of the 13 outs he's recorded have been strikeouts as he's made a far bigger contribution than expected.
5. 2B/OF Emilio Bonifacio, Chicago Cubs
After signing Omar Infante as a free agent this offseason, the Kansas City Royals opted to release incumbent Emilio Bonifacio, and the Chicago Cubs jumped at the chance to add the versatile speedster on a minor league deal.
He showed enough this spring to make the Opening Day roster, then proceeded to rap out a record nine hits in the first two games of the season. Eight games into the season, he was still hitting .500 with 19 hits in his first 38 at-bats.
He's cooled down a bit since, as was to be expected, but he's still been a fantastic pickup for the Cubs so far. The best season of his career came in 2011 when he hit .296/.360/.393 over 565 at-bats, and if he can finish the year with similar numbers, he'd be one of the best bargains of the offseason.
4. SP Alfredo Simon, Cincinnati Reds
Originally a starter for the Baltimore Orioles, Alfredo Simon was selected off waivers by the Cincinnati Reds at the start of the 2012 season and has emerged as a valuable bullpen arm over the past two years.
After pitching for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic last spring, he went on to appear in 63 games during the regular season, posting a 2.87 ERA and 1.07 WHIP over 87.2 innings of work.
Slated to be a key bullpen arm once again this year, he instead wound up breaking camp in the rotation with Mat Latos on the disabled list. He's been fantastic through two starts, and with Homer Bailey struggling, the team could be facing a tough decision once Latos returns.
3. 2B/3B Yangervis Solarte, New York Yankees
The New York Yankees signed Yangervis Solarte as a six-year minor league free agent in the offseason after the 26-year-old spent the past two seasons in the Texas Rangers' minor league system.
A career .286/.336/.397 hitter in the minors, Solarte hit .276/.323/.403 with 12 home runs and 75 RBI at the Triple-A level last season, but had yet to make his big league debut.
An 18-for-42 (.429 BA) spring that included a pair of home runs earned Solarte a spot on the Opening Day roster, and he's seen fairly regular playing time with that production continuing. A .417 BABIP is not sustainable, but for the time being, he's been one of the biggest surprises of the year.
2. CF Charlie Blackmon, Colorado Rockies
Following the trade of Dexter Fowler to the Houston Astros this offseason, the Colorado Rockies had a hole to fill in center field and a handful of candidates from which to choose during spring training.
Charlie Blackmon ended up winning out in a group that also included Drew Stubbs, Corey Dickerson and Brandon Barnes, and he has been one of the best hitters in all of baseball over the first two weeks of the season.
He saw extended action for the first time last season, hitting .309/.336/.467 over 246 at-bats, and he has been even better here to kick off his age-27 season. His average will come back down to earth at some point, but for the time being, he's a serious weapon atop a very good Rockies lineup, and his breakout could be for real.
1. SP Aaron Harang, Atlanta Braves
With Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy lost for the season to Tommy John surgery and Mike Minor also opening the season on the DL, the Atlanta Braves found themselves scraping to put together a viable rotation at the end of spring training.
Among their solutions was to sign veteran Aaron Harang to a minor league deal shortly after the Cleveland Indians released him. That after he posted a 4.91 ERA in five spring appearances, and posted a 5.40 ERA in 26 starts during the 2013 regular season.
Expectations were low, as the hope was simply that he could hold down a spot until the team got healthy. The 35-year-old has been nothing short of fantastic in three starts so far though, including kicking off his first start of the year with six no-hit innings. If he keeps turning in quality starts, the Braves have no choice but to keep giving him the ball.
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