10 star players who weren't stars a week ago
October marks the end of the season. But for some players, it is only the beginning -- their first legitimate opportunity to impress a wider audience and come through in suspenseful situations.
We’re only halfway through these playoffs as we head into the League Championship Series round that begins on Sunday night for the American League. But already, we’ve seen some relatively inexperienced players make their mark.
Here are 10 breakout stars of this postseason.
Randy Arozarena, OF, and Mike Brosseau, INF/OF, Rays
An unheralded trade acquisition and a former undrafted free agent powered Tampa Bay to the ALCS. That’s so very Rays, isn’t it?
A year ago, Arozarena made news for regrettably letting the outside world into the clubhouse by broadcasting a colorful celebratory speech by Cardinals manager Mike Shildt on social media. Now, having been traded to the Rays, Arozarena has caused an uproar of a very different sort by cranking out hit after hit on the big stage. The 25-year-old made his Rays debut on Aug. 30 and had a strong, albeit limited, showing in the regular season. He had a .281/.382/.641 slash in 76 plate appearances while flashing plus speed and a plus outfield arm. But he reached another level in the postseason. Through seven games, Arozarena has a 1.426 OPS and three homers.
Then there’s Brosseau, the second-year utility man who got his sweet revenge on Aroldis Chapman for a high-and-tight fastball back on Sept. 1 by smacking the go-ahead homer off the Yankee closer in the bottom of the eighth inning of Game 5 of the AL Division Series. If Brosseau never gets another hit the rest of his life, he’ll always be remembered for that.
Ian Anderson, RHP, Braves
Desperation compelled the Braves to call up the third overall pick from the 2016 Draft on Aug. 26, and he responded with a 1.95 ERA in six starts. At just 22 years old, with a glorious changeup (a pitch that limited opposing hitters to a 5-for-48 showing in the regular season), Anderson has shown absolutely no trepidation in the postseason.
Anderson has thrown 11 2/3 scoreless innings in which he’s allowed just five hits with three walks while striking out 17 of 43 batters faced this postseason. Paired with Max Fried (a breakout star of the regular season) and an improved Kyle Wright, Anderson makes the Braves a real threat to take down the mighty Dodgers in the NL Championship Series.
Sixto Sánchez, RHP, Marlins
Some will dismiss the Marlins’ advancement to the NLDS as a bit of a short-season fluke. But the three youngsters at the top of the rotation -- the 22-year-old Sánchez, the 24-year-old Pablo López and the 25-year-old Sandy Alcantara -- best represent why Miami ought to be taken seriously moving forward. (Because López and Alcantara both have more than 200 innings in the bigs, and Alcántara was an All-Star last year, we’re only highlighting the rookie Sánchez here. But the other two are certainly more commonly known today than they were a few weeks ago.)
Sánchez’s five scoreless innings in Wrigley Field -- in just his eighth Major League start -- helped dispose of the Cubs in the Wild Card Series. He was less successful against the Braves in Game 3 of the NLDS (four runs in three innings). But there was still a moment in which he allowed Atlanta to load the bases with no outs, only to retire the next three batters on 11 pitches, seven of which were clocked above 99 mph. Sixto flashed stuff and poise, and he helped pitch the Fish a lot deeper than anybody expected them to go.
Cristian Javier and Enoli Paredes, RHPs, Astros
The Astros have punched their ticket to their fourth straight ALCS in part because of the organizational depth that has allowed them to survive the injury hits to their rotation and bullpen. Rookies have accounted for 24 1/3 of the Astros’ 54 postseason innings. And these two rookies in particular have combined to contribute 10 of those innings in three appearances apiece -- all scoreless.
Paredes’ fastball velocity and curveball spin are both well above average, and he’s used that mix to hold batters hitless (and, notably, walkless) in 3 2/3 innings, with four strikeouts. Javier, who made 10 starts in the regular season and should get some down-ballot AL Rookie of the Year Award love, took on a prominent relief role in the first two rounds and delivered 6 1/3 scoreless with three hits, three walks, eight strikeouts and lots of filthy movement on his pitches.
Josh Naylor, OF, Indians
In need of an immediate outfield boost, the Tribe dangled the top trade chip of the midseason market in Mike Clevinger and wound up with … Josh Naylor? OK, the deal with the Padres had other tentacles, including prospects Gabriel Arias and Joey Cantillo (who immediately slid into the top 15 of Cleveland’s prospect rankings, per MLB Pipeline). But fans were skeptical about Naylor being the answer for a poor-performing outfield, and he backed up that skepticism with a .230/.277/.279 slash line in 22 regular-season games.
And yet, in an otherwise dreary two-game sweep at the hands of the Yankees in the Wild Card Series, the 23-year-old Naylor hit a Ruthian .714 (5-for-7). Four his five hits were for extra bases. His 2.286 career postseason OPS is now second all-time only to Dusty Rhodes (2.381). Granted, that’s among those with a minimum of five plate appearances (Rhodes also had seven). But hey, that’s still cool, and it offers some hope that perhaps Naylor can turn it on in the regular season, too. Meanwhile, Clevinger only wound up getting three October outs for the Padres because of an injury.
Sean Murphy, C, A's
My kingdom for a catcher who can hit. They are in short supply in MLB these days, and that makes Murphy’s .821 OPS and 131 OPS+ in his first “full” season a point of intrigue. Though kept quiet in the last three games of the ALDS against the Astros, the rookie Murphy began the postseason with a 4-for-12 showing and two home runs, including the two-run shot that got the A’s in the ballgame in Game 3 of the Wild Card Series against the White Sox.
Speaking of clutch home runs, it was nice to see 28-year-old utility man Chad Pinder get some national attention for his game-tying three-run homer when the A’s were facing elimination in Game 3 of the ALDS. Pinder has been an important plug-and-play piece at various spots in the infield and outfield for the A’s the last few years.
Brusdar Graterol, RHP, Dodgers
Do you see now why Dodgers fans love this dude? The hard-throwing, boisterous 22-year-old only arrived in L.A. because the first iteration of the Mookie Betts deal (in which Graterol would have gone to Boston) fell through. Now he’s a trusted setup man and sometimes-closer for the Dodgers, for whom he’s delivered 3 1/3 scoreless innings this postseason. Graterol doesn’t strike out as many people as his raw velocity would suggest, but he’s proven difficult to barrel up.
Turns out, Graterol’s most vulnerable moment of the postseason -- the near-home run from Fernando Tatis Jr. that Cody Bellinger leaped and grabbed over the wall -- was actually his signature moment. His cap-and-glove-tossing, exuberant celebration that drew the ire of Manny Machado only endeared him to the L.A. faithful all the more.
Ryan Weathers, LHP, Padres
OK, so it was only 1 1/3 innings, and he did walk two guys. But this is a 20-year-old kid, just two years removed from getting selected seventh overall out of high school. He made his Major League debut in the third inning of a scoreless tie against a Dodgers team that had a .717 winning percentage and the highest run-scoring average in MLB. Weathers threw a strike for his first pitch and looked remarkably comfortable on the big league mound in holding the Dodgers scoreless in his Game 1 outing -- no doubt because his dad, David, spent 19 seasons in MLB.
Weathers is one of three(!) players to make his debut in this very strange postseason, joining Rays lefty Shane McClanahan (who has a filthy fastball) and Twins outfielder Alex Kirilloff.