Every MLB Team's Most Promising Sign of Hope Thus Far in 2022

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterApril 19, 2022

Every MLB Team's Most Promising Sign of Hope Thus Far in 2022

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    For the Mets, Francisco Lindor is looking like a superstar again.
    For the Mets, Francisco Lindor is looking like a superstar again.Mary DeCicco/Getty Images

    There will come a time in the 2022 Major League Baseball season when reality will set in, and it isn't going to be a pleasant experience for all 30 of the league's teams.

    For now, though, it's still early enough for every team to have hope.

    To illustrate the point, we've highlighted one thing that ought to have each team feeling optimistic. Maybe it's a specific player who's breaking out or bouncing back. Or, perhaps a teamwide quality that hasn't been there in the past. You'll just have to read on to find out.

    We'll go division by division, starting in the American League East and ending in the National League West.

American League East

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    Luis Severino
    Luis SeverinoFrank Franklin II/Associated Press

    Baltimore Orioles: Their Pitching Is...Good?

    Record: 3-7

    It's no fault of the Orioles' pitching staff that the team is already back in the AL East cellar. After posting a league-worst 5.85 ERA in 2021, they're all the way down to a 3.04 2.86 so far this year. Keegan Akin will vouch for the new dimensions at Oriole Park at Camden Yards being a small factor, but the biggest is the team's penchant for ground balls. At 49.6 percent, its ground-ball rate is tied for the best in baseball.

            

    Boston Red Sox: How 'Bout That Defense?

    Record: 5-5

    The Red Sox did many things well during their run to last year's American League Championship Series, but playing defense wasn't one of them. They ranked dead-last with minus-39 outs above average. To this extent, even the 1 OAA they have so far in 2022 are a marked improvement. And one that matches the eye test, at that, notably with regard to an infield that's accounted for just one error so far.

             

    New York Yankees: Luis Severino Seems to be Back

    Record: 5-5

    You might have heard that the Yankees' high-powered offense is off to a slow start, which...well, which is true and a problem in need of solving. But at least Severino is showing well in his return to the rotation. After not starting at all between 2020 and 2021, he's gotten his fastball up to 100 mph and allowed just two earned runs with 11 strikeouts in his first two outings of the season.

          

    Tampa Bay Rays: Wander Franco Is Proving It

    Record: 5-6

    The Rays could stand to get a lot more from their offense, but at least Franco is holding up his end of the bargain. After enjoying a historically good rookie season and promptly signing a record-breaking extension, the 21-year-old came into his sophomore season with a lot to live up to. He's having zero problems doing so, as he's batting .381 and co-leading the AL with 16 hits. He's even looked good on defense, too.

            

    Toronto Blue Jays: Vladimir Guerrero Jr.? Yup, Still Good.

    Record: 6-4

    The Blue Jays have been a mixed bag despite their record, particularly on the mound. Any fears they might have had about Guerrero regressing after his breakout 2021 season, however, look decidedly unfounded. He's perhaps been a bit loose with his approach in striking out 11 times and walking only twice, but a .711 slugging percentage and league-high-tying five home runs more than make up for that.

American League Central

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    Spencer Torkelson
    Spencer TorkelsonDuane Burleson/Getty Images

    Chicago White Sox: Their Pitching Is As Advertised

    Record: 6-3

    The Pale Hose have had their challenges on offense in the early goings. But even with Lance Lynn and Lucas Giolito on the injured list, their pitching staff has more than made up for it with a 3.24 ERA and the highest strikeouts-per-nine rate in the AL. Dylan Cease and Michael Kopech have a combined 1.37 ERA through four starts, while newcomer reliever Kendall Graveman has yet to be touched for a run.

         

    Cleveland Guardians: Their Offense Is...Elite?

    Record: 4-5

    Before the season began, the Guardians offense seemed to consist of Jose Ramirez and eight varieties of "yikes." So, go figure that they lead in the American League in AVG, OBP and SLG, as well as all of MLB in OPS+. It helps that Ramirez is positively scorching out of the gate, but there's simply no ignoring rookie sensation Steven Kwan and sophomore star Owen Miller. They have a 1.302 OPS between them.

        

    Detroit Tigers: Spencer Torkelson Is Figuring It Out

    Record: 4-5

    The Tigers' decision to trust Torkelson, B/R's No. 4 prospect, with their starting gig at first base initially looked like a mistake out of the gate. He went 0-for-10 through his first four games, with seven strikeouts to boot. But now? Kid's on fire with six hits in his last 15 at-bats, including his first two major league home runs. He also comes with mostly good peripheral numbers, so a "watch out" order is in effect.

         

    Kansas City Royals: Brad Keller Looks Like an Ace Again

    Record: 3-5

    Meanwhile in Kansas City, the Royals aren't getting quite as much out of top-ranked prospect Bobby Witt Jr. He did break through with a game-winning double on Opening Day, but overall he's just 5-for-32. On the plus side, Keller is back to being an overlooked ace on the mound. After struggling through a 5.39 ERA in 2021, he's allowed just two runs on five hits and three walks through 13 innings.

          

    Minnesota Twins: Joe Ryan Looks Like a Keeper

    Record: 4-6

    The Twins haven't had the kind of start they could have hoped for after loading up during the offseason. In addition to the losses they've incurred, Byron Buxton has already had another injury scare. Yet the team does have at least one legitimate bright spot in Joe Ryan. Acquired in last year's Nelson Cruz trade, he has a 2.70 ERA overall, and he's fresh off a thoroughly impressive outing against Boston.

American League West

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    Noah Syndergaard
    Noah SyndergaardAshley Landis/Associated Press

    Houston Astros: So Far, Jeremy Pena > Carlos Correa

    Record: 6-4

    "The Astros can't seriously be comfortable with pivoting from Correa to Pena, right?" It's a question we all asked throughout the winter, and certainly when Correa officially left Houston to join the Twins. Well, joke's on us. Pena has been a revelation at shortstop, going off for a .983 OPS at the plate with well-rated glovework on the other side of the ball. It's early yet, but he's been far more effective than Correa.

             

    Los Angeles Angels: Noah Syndergaard Has Been Their Ace

    Record: 6-5

    The Angels lead all of MLB with 16 home runs, but there never was much doubt that their offense would be dangerous. The real question was whether their pitching would come through, and that's where they have at least one positive storyline thanks to Syndergaard. Even if he still doesn't have his vintage fastball, he's allowed just two runs and otherwise posted promising metrics through 11.1 innings.

               

    Oakland Athletics: Their Offense Is Putting Up a Fight

    Record: 6-5

    The A's no longer have Matt Olson or Matt Chapman, so their offense should be one of the most anemic in all of baseball. However, guess who's co-leading the league in runs scored? That would be the A's along with the Los Angeles Dodgers. They'll have to sustain their .370 average with runners in scoring position if they want to keep it up, but they might as well take the position that stranger things have happened.

              

    Seattle Mariners: That Bullpen Is Nasty

    Record: 5-5

    Alas, the early returns on top prospect Julio Rodriguez and fellow outfielders Jarred Kelenic and Jesse Winker aren't great. The Mariners are getting by OK, though, in part thanks to a bullpen that has absolutely shoved to the tune of a 2.48 ERA and a rate of 11.6 strikeouts per nine innings. Anyone who doesn't yet know the name Andres Munoz is advised to get acquainted with him and his 103 mph heat.

             

    Texas Rangers: Half of Their High-Priced Middle Infield Looks Good, Anyway

    Record: 2-7

    Improbably, the Rangers are on track to do worse than last year's 102-loss effort. It isn't helping that Marcus Semien, who signed a $175 million contract over the winter, is off to a frigid start marked by a .370 OPS. It's a mercy that the team's $325 million man, Corey Seager, is doing better. He's hitting .294 and even got the Barry Bonds treatment from Angels manager Joe Maddon on Friday.

National League East

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    Matt Olson
    Matt OlsonJohn Bazemore/Associated Press

    Atlanta: So Far, Matt Olson > Freddie Freeman

    Record: 5-7

    By trading for Olson and then going all-in on a $168 million contract with him, Atlanta went pretty far out on a limb in hoping that he would fill the large shoes left vacant by Freeman. But so far, so very good. Olson is off to an intimidatingly good start with a 1.280 OPS and stellar peripherals to match. Freeman hasn't been bad in his own right with the Dodgers, but not this good.

             

    Miami Marlins: How About Those 24-Year-Olds?

    Record: 4-5

    The Marlins arguably didn't do enough over the winter to reestablish themselves as a contender in the NL East, but they always figured to have a shot if their young players came through. To this end, three different 24-year-olds are on it. Offensively, Jazz Chisholm Jr. and Jesus Sanchez boast a combined 1.102 OPS. On the mound, Jesus Luzardo's 2022 debut saw him fan a career-best 12 batters against the Angels.

            

    New York Mets: Francisco Lindor Is Back with a Vengeance

    Record: 7-3

    The Mets are off to such a strong start that it's frankly hard to point to just one thing that bodes especially well for the remainder of their season. Yet we simply can't deny Lindor the honors. He was weirdly mediocre across 2020 and 2021, between which he signed a 10-year, $341 million contract. Whatever spell he was under now seems to be broken, as he's up to a 1.048 OPS and three homers.

             

    Philadelphia Phillies: The Defense Isn't Actually That Bad

    Record: 4-7

    It's easy to clown on the Phillies defense, which looked bad on paper coming into the year and has looked the part on at least one notable, Alec Bohm-related occasion. But what if we told you it's currently holding relatively strong with zero OAA? It's true, and the team as a whole has made just four errors apart from the three that Bohm made on April 11. Small sample size and all, but an encouraging sign nonetheless.

             

    Washington Nationals: This Version of Josh Bell Would Be Worth a Haul

    Record: 4-7

    Ever since they blew it up at the trade deadline last year, it's been hard to find silver linings for the Nationals that don't have something to do with Juan Soto. Josh Bell, though, is looking awful shiny early on in his second season with the team. He has twice as many walks (eight) as strikeouts (four), and he's homered twice. The longer he stays on this track, the more value he'll have come trading season.

National League Central

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    Seiya Suzuki
    Seiya SuzukiDavid Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Chicago Cubs: Seiya Suzuki Is Even Better Than Advertised

    Record: 6-4

    The Cubs reserved the biggest splash of their 2020-21 offseason for Suzuki, who came aboard on an $85 million contract after a hugely successful career in Japan. If anything, the hype undersold him. Next to his name are a 1.493 OPS and four of the 10 home runs the Cubs have as a team, and he's quickly becoming legendary for his discipline. To wit, he's swung at only seven pitches outside the strike zone.

             

    Cincinnati Reds: Hunter Greene Demands Your Attention

    Record: 2-9

    The Reds are the worst team in baseball, so "not to Great American Ball Park" is a reasonable answer to the question recently asked by team president Phil Castellini. But, hey, at least Greene is worth tuning in for. He's already thrown 59 pitches of at least 100 mph, including a record-setting 39 his last time out on Saturday. In a related story, his 21 swings and misses within the strike zone are the most in MLB.

             

    Milwaukee Brewers: Don't Write Off Christian Yelich Yet

    Record: 6-5

    The Brewers offense continues to have issues, in part because Yelich still isn't the MVP-caliber slugger that he was in 2018 and 2019. And yet, his numbers inspire more optimism upon closer inspection. His hard-hit rate was in the 100th percentile even before he clubbed a double and a grand slam on Monday, so that performance may prove to be merely the beginning of a prolonged hot streak.

                   

    Pittsburgh Pirates: Ke'Bryan Hayes Has His Bat Going Again

    Record: 5-5

    Even if they've technically won just one of their three series, it's good enough that the Pirates have simply been competitive in the early goings. And as far as the details are concerned, it's no small comfort that Hayes is celebrating his new contract with hot hitting. He hasn't gone deep yet, but his .371 average and strong metrics call to mind his exciting breakthrough toward the end of the 2020 season.

              

    St. Louis Cardinals: Nolan Arenado Is Going Full Superstar Again

    Record: 5-3

    There's lots to like about how the Cardinals have begun their season, including the apparent comeback of Miles Mikolas. Still, how can we not give it up for Arenado here? He was more good than great in his first season in St. Louis last year, but he's now currently well beyond great with a .433/.514/1.000 slash line and four home runs. That's more like the MVP-caliber superstar that he was with the Colorado Rockies.

National League West

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    Gavin Lux
    Gavin LuxIcon Sportswire/Getty Images

    Arizona Diamondbacks: At Least They Have the DH Spot Figured Out

    Record: 3-6

    Given that they've already allowed 20 more runs than they've scored, the Diamondbacks are frankly fortunate to be as good as 3-6. But at least they're making the most of the designated hitter spot, where their 146 wRC+ ranks fourth in the majors. As with most good things in life, this is mostly thanks to Beer. Namely, Seth Beer is thus far 8-for-21 and is directly responsible for one of Arizona's wins.

            

    Colorado Rockies: If We Must Pick One Thing, We'll Go with the Bullpen

    Record: 7-3

    The Rockies began the year with just a 0.4 percent chance of making the playoffs at FanGraphs, so it would be an understatement to call their strong start unexpected. C.J. Cron and Connor Joe are driving them offensively, but it's really the team's bullpen that is keeping the wins coming. Paced by veteran closer Daniel Bard, it ranks at the very top of baseball with a 1.88 ERA.

               

    Los Angeles Dodgers: Gavin Lux Has Arrived

    Record: 8-2

    It hasn't taken long for the Dodgers to start living up to their potential as an utter world-beater, and that's even though key players like Mookie Betts, Max Muncy and Justin Turner haven't really gotten going yet. By far the most promising development concerns Lux. After struggling to break through after taking the minors by storm in 2019, the 24-year-old is 8-for-29 with three extra-base hits and more walks (seven) than strikeouts (six).

                

    San Diego Padres: Where Has This Version of Jurickson Profar Been?

    Record: 7-5

    It's going to take a village to keep the Padres offense afloat until Fernando Tatis Jr. returns from a fractured wrist. The early surprise in this regard is Profar, who's already clubbed three home runs after hitting just four all of last season. He's also walked seven times against eight strikeouts, so maybe those who formerly considered him baseball's No. 1 prospect were merely premature instead of outright wrong.

             

    San Francisco Giants: The Pitching? It's Good.

    Record: 7-2

    The Giants won 107 games in 2021 in no small part because they were miracle workers with pitchers. It's looking like the same ol' story in 2022. The Giants have baseball's lowest ERA at 2.20, and likewise the league's lowest rate of home runs per nine innings. They have Alex Cobb throwing faster than ever, and fellow newcomer Carlos Rodon has had success in scrapping his changeup in favor of more curveballs.

                

    Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference, FanGraphs and Baseball Savant.

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