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These 11 players have exceeded expectations

@RichardJustice
May 5, 2019

We have seen one of the game’s best players improve dramatically for a second straight season. In that way, Christian Yelich continues to amaze. There is also a long list of younger players set to get way better in 2019. Cody Bellinger is having a breakout season that might exceed

We have seen one of the game’s best players improve dramatically for a second straight season. In that way, Christian Yelich continues to amaze. There is also a long list of younger players set to get way better in 2019.

Cody Bellinger is having a breakout season that might exceed every other breakout season. Paul DeJong, Joey Gallo and others have taken their games to places that would have been impossible to project.

This happens because players are devoted to their craft and because they are gifted and because teams make more information available to them than ever before.

Let’s look at 11 players who’ve improved the most this season. For each guy, we have indicated one rate stat that has taken a big jump from last year to this year.

1) Cody Bellinger, 1B, Dodgers (.814 OPS to 1.337): Bellinger is a reminder why the Dodgers almost never trade their best prospects. He’s also a reminder that the path to dominance isn’t always a straight line. Still only 23, Bellinger has just put together one of the great opening months in history and is the early front-runner in the race for the National League Most Valuable Player Award.

2) Paul DeJong, SS, Cardinals (.746 to .950 OPS): Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak is being rewarded for continuing to believe in some of his young players despite some tough times. He believe that the original assessments about their ceiling would pay off. In the case of his middle infielders, DeJong and Kolten Wong, that patience is a significant reason the Cardinals have the NL’s best record.

3) Matt Boyd, LHP, Tigers (4.39 ERA to 3.13): His 1.9 WAR (per FanGraphs) leads all Major League pitchers in a breakout season in which Boyd is emphasizing power -- that is, more sliders and fastballs, fewer curveballs and changeups. His 15.0 percent swing-and-miss rate is fifth-highest in the Majors.

4) Marcus Stroman, RHP, Blue Jays (5.54 ERA to 2.20): He has rediscovered and polished a curveball that has elevated him to elite status at a time when the Blue Jays are listening to offers for him. He’s under team control for one more season and could be significant addition for a contender.

5) Hunter Dozier, 3B, Royals (.673 OPS to 1.102 OPS): Six years after the Royals made him a top-10 Draft pick, Dozier has justified the Royals' faith in him at a time when the clock appeared to be ticking on his career. On Opening Day, he was 27 years old with a career .279 on-base percentage. This season, Dozier has dramatically improved his strike-zone discipline and made himself a core player for the Royals' future.

6) Joey Gallo, OF, Rangers (.810 OPS to 1.080 OPS): He hit 81 home runs the last two seasons, so it would be a mistake to believe this former top prospect was anything close to a bust. Gallo's plate discipline has improved so much that at times that he barely resembles the player he was the last two seasons, with the exception of the breathtaking home runs that are still the signature part of his game.

7) Tyler Glasnow, RHP, Rays (4.20 ERA to 1.47): The Rays believed they were getting a No. 1 starter in the package of players that sent Chris Archer to the Pirates. Glasnow’s arsenal is simple: a fastball that touches 97 mph and a curveball that is the perfect setup weapon. He hasn’t allowed more than two earned runs in is seven starts.

8) Trey Mancini, RF/1B, Orioles (.715 OPS to .962): He’s spraying the ball all over the field in a way he never did before and appears to have been helped by the arrival of a data-driven front office and the information it makes available to players. Given where the Orioles are in their rebuild, Mancini may be on his way to playing his way onto a contender later this season.

9) Tim Anderson, SS, White Sox (.687 OPS to .904 OPS): He was one of the first young players White Sox general manager Rick Hahn identified as a cornerstone of his roster reconstruction. That success didn’t happen overnight, but in his third full season, Anderson is playing his way into the American League MVP conversation.

10) Joe Musgrove, RHP, Pirates (4.06 ERA to 2.63): His slider and changeup have emerged as out pitches, and along with his fastball, gives him three solid weapons. He pitched at least into the seventh inning in five straight starts before May 3 and has allowed more than two earned runs twice.

11) Shane Greene, RHP, Tigers (5.12 ERA to 1.80): He’s getting swings and misses on 13.5 percent of his pitches thanks to a slider/cutter combination that has allowed him to throw his fastball less than half the time. The Tigers have14 wins, and Greene has saved 13 of them.

Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice.