Each MLB Team's Secret Weapon Thus Far in 2020 Season
Every MLB team has at least a few stars or highly touted youngsters who are expected to produce. But each year, other guys unexpectedly step forward to help carry the load.
Call them secret weapons—role players and fringe roster add-ons who have stuffed the stat sheet for their respective clubs in the early going.
Let's examine one such player per team. Some will be flashes in the pan, destined to regress after a hot start. Others might keep putting up notable numbers and rise from relative obscurity to household-name status.
American League East
Baltimore Orioles: INF Jose Iglesias
Jose Iglesias was an All-Star with the Detroit Tigers in 2015. But when the Baltimore Orioles signed the 30-year-old to a modest one-year, $2.5 million contract with a club option for 2021, they weren't expecting star-level production. They've gotten it so far, however, as Iglesias has hit .405 with a 1.005 OPS in his first 39 plate appearances.
His numbers will surely level off. But right now, he's producing on the field and providing veteran leadership on a young O's team.
Boston Red Sox: RHP Phillips Valdez
The Boston Red Sox pitching staff ranks 23rd in baseball with a 4.70 ERA. But right-hander Phillips Valdez has done his part and then some out of the bullpen.
The 28-year-old rookie is unscored upon in five appearances and has struck out six over 7.1 innings. Valdez posted a 3.94 ERA in 11 appearances with the Texas Rangers in 2019 and wasn't on many radars entering 2020. If he keeps throwing up zeroes, that could change soon.
New York Yankees: RHP Jonathan Holder
The New York Yankees are still awaiting the return of closer Aroldis Chapman, who has missed the start of the season due to a positive COVID-19 test. Other members of the pen have stepped forward, however, including right-hander Jonathan Holder.
The 27-year-old posted a 6.31 ERA over 41.1 innings in 2019. So far in 2020, he's logged 6.2 scoreless frames with six strikeouts and has helped the Yanks relief corps hold the line in Chapman's absence.
Tampa Bay Rays: INF/OF Mike Brosseau
Mike Brosseau has played just 60 games in his big league career between 2019 and 2020, but he's already logged innings at first base, second base, third base and both corner outfield spots.
So far this year, the versatile 26-year-old, who went undrafted out of college, has gone 6-for-20 with two doubles and two home runs for the Tampa Bay Rays. At that rate, he should see plenty of playing time in manager Kevin Cash's mix-and-match lineups.
Toronto Blue Jays: RHP Jacob Waguespack
A 37th-round draft pick by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2012, Jacob Waguespack made his big league debut in 2019 with the Toronto Blue Jays and posted a 4.38 ERA in 16 appearances, including 13 starts.
So far this season, the 26-year-old has thrown exclusively out of the bullpen for the Jays. That's resulted in 5.1 scoreless innings with six strikeouts and a chance to establish himself as a key member of Toronto's relief corps.
American League Central
Chicago White Sox: OF Adam Engel
Prior to this season, Adam Engel was a guy whose glove was good enough to earn him a roster spot but whose bat seemed like it would relegate him to fourth- or fifth-outfielder status. Last season, he slashed .242/.304/.383 in 89 games.
So far this season, however, the 28-year-old has two home runs, three doubles and a .977 OPS for the Chicago White Sox and is earning regular starts, even with presumed everyday right fielder Nomar Mazara back from the injured list.
Cleveland: RHP James Karinchak
A ninth-round pick by Cleveland in 2017, right-hander James Karinchak has dominated out of the bullpen in 2020.
Through 7.1 innings, the 24-year-old has compiled 13 strikeouts next to three hits and three walks without allowing an earned run. He's flashed the bat-missing stuff of a future closer. Oh, and he's gotten the attention of Charlie "Wild Thing" Sheen, the most famous fictional Cleveland reliever in cinematic history.
Detroit Tigers: OF JaCoby Jones
In 88 games with the Detroit Tigers last season, JaCoby Jones slashed .235/.310/.430. So far this year, he's hitting like an MVP.
In 43 plate appearances, Jones is hitting .333 with a 1.139 OPS and four home runs. His .391 batting average on balls in play suggests a regression could be coming, but the rebuilding Tigers will surely ride the 28-year-old's scalding bat as long as they can.
Kansas City Royals: RHP Kyle Zimmer
A first-round pick by the Kansas City Royals in 2012, Kyle Zimmer's ascent to the big leagues was delayed by a pair of shoulder surgeries. He debuted with the team last season but struggled mightily, allowing 22 earned runs in 18.1 innings.
So far in 2020, Zimmer has been a key arm for the Royals, posting a 1.13 ERA with 10 strikeouts in eight frames. Whether as a starter or reliever, the 28-year-old could play a key role in K.C.'s rebuild.
Minnesota Twins: RHP Randy Dobnak
After going undrafted out of college in 2017, Randy Dobnak started his professional career with the unaffiliated Utica Unicorns of the United Shore Professional Baseball League. He subsequently caught on with the Minnesota Twins and threw 28.1 innings with them last season.
This year, the 25-year-old owns a 0.60 ERA and 0.87 WHIP in 15 innings and three starts. While he lacks an overpowering fastball, Dobnak's sinker/slider combo makes him an effective groundball pitcher who could become a mid-rotation mainstay for Minnesota.
American League West
Houston Astros: RHP Brandon Bielak
Brandon Bielak entered the season as the Houston Astros' No. 13 prospect, with seven other young arms ahead of him. So far in 2020, he's proving he belongs in The Show.
Through 10.1 innings, the 24-year-old sports a 0.87 ERA. In his first big league start against the Arizona Diamondbacks, he threw five scoreless frames. No one is expecting Bielak to supplant injured ace Justin Verlander, but so far, he's been a nice surprise for a Houston team with a depleted pitching staff.
Los Angeles Angels: INF/OF David Fletcher
A sixth-round pick by the Los Angeles Angels in 2015, David Fletcher hit .290 in 154 games last season but posted a modest .384 slugging percentage. So far this year, Fletcher is hitting .317 and slugging .508 with six doubles and two home runs.
With Andrelton Simmons sidelined by an injured ankle, the 26-year-old Fletcher has become the team's everyday shortstop and leadoff hitter, as well as a key cog in the Halos lineup.
Oakland Athletics: RHP Burch Smith
Acquired from the San Francisco Giants in a little-regarded offseason transaction, right-hander Burch Smith has dominated out of the Oakland Athletics bullpen so far in 2020.
In 10.1 innings, the 30-year-old journeyman has struck out 10 while allowing one walk, four hits and no runs and picking up a save. With those results, he should keep seeing action in high-leverage innings for the first-place A's.
Seattle Mariners: INF Dylan Moore
In 113 games for the Seattle Mariners in 2019, Dylan Moore slashed .206/.302/.389 and then entered 2020 looking like a fringe role player.
Through 11 games, Moore is hitting .293 with a .935 OPS, three home runs and four doubles. And the 28-year-old has logged innings at first base, third base and shortstop, as well as both corner outfield spots. That combination of production and versatility will earn him a long look from the rebuilding Mariners.
Texas Rangers: 3B Isiah Kiner-Falefa
A fourth-round pick by the Texas Rangers in 2013, Isiah Kiner-Falefa produced a .238/.299/.322 line over 65 games in 2019. This year, he's been one of the Rangers' best hitters with a .333 average and .830 OPS in 45 plate appearances.
His .412 BABIP means those numbers could dip significantly. But during a season in which a lot has gone wrong for Texas, the 25-year-old's eye-opening early production is something to celebrate.
National League East
Atlanta: LHP Tyler Matzek
A first-round pick by the Colorado Rockies in 2009, Tyler Matzek hadn't pitched in the big leagues since 2015.
This season, the 29-year-old made Atlanta's Opening Day roster and has rewarded the club with 7.2 scoreless innings, during which he's compiled 10 strikeouts. In a bullpen full of more established arms with ninth-inning experience, Matzek is quickly emerging as a go-to option.
Miami Marlins: 1B Jesus Aguilar
Jesus Aguilar was an All-Star in 2018 when he hit 35 home runs with an .890 OPS for the Milwaukee Brewers. Last season, however, he hit just .236 with 12 homers in 131 games between the Brewers and Tampa Bay Rays, and he looked like a possible flash in the pan.
The 30-year-old has shot out of the gate for the surprisingly competitive Miami Marlins, posting a 1.036 OPS with four home runs in 10 games. It's a small sample, obviously, but maybe his '18 output wasn't an anomaly after all.
New York Mets: LHP David Peterson
After posting a 4.19 ERA in 116 innings at Double-A in 2019, left-hander David Peterson didn't appear to be on the fast track to a spot in the New York Mets' 2020 starting rotation.
But injuries to key pitchers such as Noah Syndergaard and Marcus Stroman created an opportunity, and so far, Peterson is taking advantage. In three starts, the 24-year-old lefty is 2-1 with a 3.78 ERA and 14 strikeouts in 16.2 frames. He won't supplant Jacob deGrom as the ace of the staff, but his emergence is a nice development for a depleted Mets team trying to compete in a deep division.
Philadelphia Phillies: 3B/DH Phil Gosselin
After posting a .602 OPS in 44 games with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2019, Phil Gosselin has started 2020 on a tear.
In limited action, the 31-year-old journeyman has gone 6-for-13 with two doubles and two home runs. Given his career .370 slugging percentage, that level of production isn't likely to continue. But entering play Monday, Gosselin had the same number of homers as superstar teammate Bryce Harper in less than half as many at-bats.
Washington Nationals: RHP Austin Voth
A fifth-round pick by the Washington Nationals in 2013, Austin Voth shares a rotation with Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin. But so far, the 28-year-old leads Nationals starters in ERA (1.80), WHIP (0.70) and opponents' batting average (.167).
Yes, he's made just two starts. No, we're not suggesting he's suddenly superior to Mad Max and the other big names. But especially with Strasburg missing the start of the season due to a hand injury and struggling in his first start Sunday, the Nats will take his strong early results.
National League Central
Chicago Cubs: RHP Alec Mills
A 22nd-round pick by the Kansas City Royals in 2012, Alec Mills has emerged early as a key member of the Chicago Cubs' starting rotation.
In two starts, the 28-year-old right-hander is 2-0 with a 1.38 ERA and 0.77 WHIP and has held opposing hitters to a .116 average. The Cubs don't need him to be an ace with veterans Jon Lester, Yu Darvish and Kyle Hendricks on hand, but Mills is throwing like one thus far.
Cincinnati Reds: RHP Tejay Antone
Right-hander Tejay Antone has bounced between the Cincinnati Reds' big league roster and their alternate training site this season, but he's put up the results to be a mainstay on the team's pitching staff.
In 8.2 innings across two MLB appearances and one start, Antone has a 2.08 ERA with nine strikeouts. A fifth-round pick by Cincinnati in 2014, the 26-year-old has the stuff to stick in the rotation or serve as a useful multi-inning reliever.
Milwaukee Brewers: OF Ben Gamel
The Milwaukee Brewers' outfield depth chart took a serious hit when veteran Lorenzo Cain opted out due to COVID-19 concerns.
It opened an opportunity for Ben Gamel, however, and the 28-year-old has taken advantage. He's gone a modest 8-for-36, but those eight hits include two doubles, a triple and two home runs. Gamel likely won't replicate Cain's production over a full season, but his early pop has been a significant boon for the Brew Crew, especially given star outfielder Christian Yelich's early struggles.
Pittsburgh Pirates: INF/DH Colin Moran
The rebuilding Pittsburgh Pirates appear ticketed for a last-place finish in the NL Central, meaning the Bucs are looking for silver linings.
Enter Colin Moran, who hit .277 in both 2018 and 2019 with 11 and 13 homers in 144 and 149 games, respectively. So far this year, Moran has already slugged five dingers in 15 games. Can the 27-year-old maintain this newfound power? Pittsburgh will surely give him enough at-bats to find out.
St. Louis Cardinals: LHP Austin Gomber
The St. Louis Cardinals have played just five games due to COVID-19 complications. In that handful of contests, left-hander Austin Gomber stood out.
In two appearances and 3.1 innings, the 2014 fourth-round pick surrendered no hits or runs with one walk and a strikeout. If and when the Cards return to action, he could be a key piece in the bullpen, which could be especially vital if St. Louis is forced to play multiple makeup doubleheaders.
National League West
Arizona Diamondbacks: RHP Merrill Kelly
Arizona Diamondbacks starting pitchers rank last in the majors with a 6.57 ERA. Big offseason acquisition Madison Bumgarner (9.35 ERA) has been atrocious in four starts and is now on the IL with a back injury.
So tip your cap to 31-year-old Merrill Kelly, who sports a 2.29 ERA and 2-1 record through three starts. Kelly posted a 4.42 ERA over 183.1 innings as a 30-year-old rookie for the D-backs in 2019, and in the early part of 2020, he's been the unlikely ace of a shaky starting corps.
Colorado Rockies: RHP Tyler Kinley
The Colorado Rockies have gotten off to a hot start and sit in first place in the NL West, thanks in part to their surprisingly stout bullpen, which ranks seventh in the game with a 3.19 ERA.
Multiple relief arms have emerged for the Rox, but Tyler Kinley stands out. A 16th-round pick by the Marlins in 2013, the 29-year-old has thrown 6.1 scoreless innings in seven appearances for Colorado with nine strikeouts and no hits allowed.
Los Angeles Dodgers: INF/DH Edwin Rios
The Los Angeles Dodgers are one of the most complete teams in baseball, and their roster is loaded with stars. They don't need any unexpected contributors to step forward.
But they've gotten one anyway in the form of Edwin Rios, who has gone 4-for-16 in a limited role but has hit a double and three home runs, good for a 1.169 OPS. The 26-year-old probably won't muscle his way into an everyday job with L.A., but he's another dangerous weapon in the Dodgers' arsenal.
San Diego Padres: INF Jake Cronenworth
A seventh-round pick by the Rays in 2015, Jake Cronenworth filled in at first base for the San Diego Padres while Eric Hosmer was on the injured list and has also logged innings at second base and shortstop.
In 29 plate appearances, the 26-year-old is hitting .357 with two home runs, two triples and three doubles, and he owns a gaudy 1.201 OPS. The Friars shouldn't expect him to maintain anything close to that pace, but they appear to have found a diamond in the rough to add to their collection of burgeoning talent.
San Francisco Giants: INF Donovan Solano
Through 15 games with the San Francisco Giants, Donovan Solano is hitting .455 with a 1.111 OPS.
Normally, we'd wait a while before talking about him becoming the first player since Ted Williams in 1941 to hit .400 or better. But in a 60-game sprint, 15 contests represent one-fourth of the season.
Could the 32-year-old Solano, who last played in the big leagues in 2016 before an 81-game stint with the Giants last year, accomplish the feat? This is 2020, which means anything is possible.