1st impressions: 10 hot takes for Opening Week

April 4th, 2018

You can hear the excitement in 's voice. You can see it in how he's playing, too. Nothing rekindles someone's joy for this thing he loves so much like having it taken away for a few months.

surely knows how Eaton feels. He also dealt with a scary injury last season. Now he's back and throwing the baseball about as well as he ever has.

Here's to Pirates manager Clint Hurdle as well. Part of his task during Spring Training was to get his guys to shut out the noise and believe they were better than people were saying.

No one is better at this kind of stuff than Hurdle. If you're lucky enough to spend 10 minutes with him, they'll be the best 10 minutes of your day.

Yes, this baseball season isn't even a week old, and it's way too early to draw any real conclusions. On the other hand, it's never too early to be excited about certain things.

That's what this article is about. It's about the people and the things that have impressed us right here at the start of a new season.

Here goes:

1. Red Sox's rotation

This group is better than we thought Boston's starters would be last season, when Chris Sale, and Price appeared to be a formidable October rotation. But Price got hurt and Porcello never got on track. Now, all three are pitching well, and and give the Red Sox the kind of quality rotation depth very few teams have.

2. Eaton

How cool is it to watch this guy play baseball again? Eaton was the guy that was going to help take Washington's offense to another level last season with his presence atop the lineup. And then he tore up his left knee in his 23rd game and was lost for the season. Eaton immediately said he was going to make being the best cheerleader in baseball his goal. Lots of good things are coming together for the Nationals at the moment, and Eaton is atop that list, highlighted by his five-hit game on Friday.

3. Pirates

Fast starts matter to a club that's attempting to drown out the skeptics and establish some confidence in these early games. Right fielder (1.425 OPS) and first baseman Josh Bell (.974 OPS) are off to insanely good starts. , and have done a good job in the rotation. Teams like the Bucs can be dangerous because confidence builds with every victory.

4. and , Twins pitchers

In the past three seasons, we've seen Berrios, 23, go through the usual growing pains for a young pitcher, getting better almost start by start, to the point that he now seems capable of a dominant season, as evidenced by his shutout of the Orioles on Sunday.

Gibson, 30, has been even more impressive, having taken the advice of Minnesota's analytics department to remake his approach to pitching after five seasons and 128 starts. He was great down the stretch last year, and then threw six shutout innings in his debut on Saturday. The Twins were one of last season's surprise teams. They're not going to surprise anyone in 2018. That's OK because they're plenty solid.

5. Braves' offense and bullpen

We thought the improvement would be in the rotation, and that still could be the case. In this first week, it's the bullpen and the offense that have been excellent. First baseman Freddie Freeman is off to one of his best starts, and second baseman has been a great addition. Lefty reliever Sam Freeman has been nearly perfect.

6. Nick Ahmed, SS, Diamondbacks

This is the player the Diamondbacks believed he could be if he could just stay healthy. They believed Ahmed could be among baseball's best defensive shortstops, and that he had a chance to hit some, too. He has been among baseball's best offensive players in this first week and has also been one of baseball's most pleasant surprises.

7. Cubs' bullpen

Give Joe Maddon credit for predicting that his bullpen would be one of baseball's best. Actually, he might have used the phrase "the best." That's precisely what the Cubs have with Mike Montgomery, , , etc., part of an airtight group in front of closer . Moral of this story: Listen to Joe.

8. , 3B, Marlins

Anderson is a reminder that rebuilding does have an upside. That is, teams are able to run the kids out there and allow them to grow and learn to figure things out. Anderson, a 2014 third-round Draft pick out of the University of Arkansas, looked good in 25 games last September. That solid start has more than carried over into 2018. He's helped make the Marlins both interesting and entertaining.

9. , SS, Cardinals

DeJong didn't make his Major League debut last season until May, seemingly after the Cardinals had exhausted every other possibility at shortstop. He was solid enough that the franchise's long search for a permanent shortstop ended, and DeJong has picked up where he left off, slugging three homers in the team's first four games.

10. Mitch Haniger, RF, Mariners

Maybe Spring Training really doesn't matter all that much. Haniger missed time with a sore right hand. When he returned, he needed time to get his mechanics straightened. Haniger got them just right by Opening Day, and along with Dee Gordon, and , could elevate a solid Seattle offense into one of baseball's best.