In a season as short and unusual as this one, there are going to be players who come out of nowhere to contribute to their team’s success. One hot week from a player no one saw coming can change a whole season. You can make an argument that an underdog, unheralded player could make more of an impact this season than any other in recent baseball memory.
So, today, we take a look at a player from each team who has been an unexpected positive contributor this year. Fans might have been hopeful this player could make a difference this year … but they probably didn’t see this coming.
AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST
Blue Jays -- Teoscar Hernández, OF
Key stat: Tied for 4th in MLB with 10 homers
When you ran down all the potential Blue Jays in this supposedly powerful lineup this year, his name wasn’t one of the first five you mentioned. But he’s been the unquestioned star so far. Did you see him doubling up Vlad Jr. in homers?
Orioles -- Tanner Scott, LHP
Key stat: Has allowed only 4 hits in 11 IP
There have been so many offensive surprises for the Orioles this year, but the big personality of Scott, not to mention his brilliance on the mound, has instantly made him a fan favorite to last in Baltimore.
Rays -- Michael Brosseau, UTIL
Key stat: Has played 6 positions while posting an OPS over 1.000
A bit of a Minor League lifer, this undrafted player was beloved with the Durham Bulls but not ticketed for big things in the Majors. But he has done nothing but hit this year.
Red Sox -- Mitch Moreland, 1B
Key stat: Leads team with 1.237 OPS
Well, it’s obviously not a pitcher. Moreland has always been the “the Red Sox really aren’t going to upgrade at first base? They’re going to keep Moreland?” guy, but this year, he has been the best hitter on a good hitting team.
Yankees -- Luke Voit, 1B
Key stat: Leads MLB in SLG (.730)
The slimmed-down slugger has erased doubts that 2019 was a fluke, not only putting up the best numbers on the team but, most crucially, staying healthy.
Indians -- James Karinchak, RHP
Key stat: 52.8% strikeout rate
The Indians had high hopes for their flamethrowing reliever heading into 2020, but his over-the-top motion -- and a terrifying curveball -- have made him nearly unhittable in the early going.
Royals -- Trevor Rosenthal, RHP
Key stat: 15-to-5 K/BB ratio (17 K’s, 26 walks in 2019)
The former All-Star didn’t pitch at all in 2018 and was terrible for Detroit and Washington in ‘19. But he looks as dominant as he ever has this year and might be the prime trade jewel at next week’s Trade Deadline.
Tigers -- JaCoby Jones, OF
Key stat: .893 OPS (His single-season best is .740)
Jones has never had an above-average offensive season heading into this year. Which means of course he’s been the best hitter on the Tigers and another potential trade option (even as he’s cooled down in the last week).
Twins -- Jorge Alcala, RHP
Key stat: Has thrown more than 1 inning in 5 of his 6 relief appearances
Part of the Ryan Pressly trade with the Astros a couple of years ago, Alcala has become a dominant bullpen force for the Twins. He’s a guy we should probably expect to see a lot of in October.
White Sox -- Matt Foster, RHP
Key stat: 0.53 WHIP in 13 1/3 IP
It can take a while for big arms to emerge, and there’s no better example than Foster, who rattled around the Minor Leagues before figuring it out this year: He has yet to give up a run in 12 1/3 innings, and he has struck out 17.
Angels -- Dylan Bundy, RHP
Key stat: 2.58 ERA in 38 1/3 IP
Yet another former Orioles pitcher to emerge after leaving Baltimore and forcing O’s fans to tear their hair out, Bundy has been one of the few Angels pitchers to consistently give his team a chance to win every night.
Astros -- Andre Scrubb, RHP
Key stat: Hasn’t allowed a run in 10 games this season
His name aside, he is not in fact the last man on the roster: He’s been a fantastic reliever, another one whom the Astros have seemingly minted from scratch. He’s still a little wild, but clearly, his stuff will play.
Athletics -- Robbie Grossman, OF
Key stat: Team-leading 1.038 OPS
Of all the A’s you imagined getting on base at a .435 clip, Grossman is rather low in that list: His OBP is more than 100 points higher than it was last year!
Mariners -- Taylor Williams, RHP
Key stat: 6 for 6 in save chances
Williams was a downright nightmarish reliever for the Brewers last year -- he gave up more than a run an inning -- but he has established himself as an unlikely closer for Seattle.
Rangers -- Jonathan Hernández, RHP
Key stat: 19-to-4 K/BB ratio in 15 2/3 IP
A rookie reliever you have likely confused with about 40 other pitchers at some point has been the rare lockdown bullpen arm for a team that needs more of them.
NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST
Braves -- Shane Greene, RHP
Key stat: 0.73 ERA in 12 relief appearances
Remember when the Braves’ biggest problem was their bullpen? Greene, along with A.J. Minter, Darren O’Day, Chris Martin and others, has settled down the back half of the game and skyrocketed the Braves into first place again.
Marlins -- Elieser Hernandez, RHP
Key stat: 25 strikeouts, 3 walks in 19 2/3 innings
Everyone is sort of a surprise for the Marlins right now, but the right-handed starter, who never could get it going in 2018 and ‘19, has been a Cy Young-caliber pitcher so far.
Mets -- Dominic Smith, 1B/OF
Key stat: .754 SLG
It wasn’t long ago that Mets fans were wondering if Dom might be a lost cause. Instead, he’s become the professional hitter, and patient batter, they had nearly given up on him turning into.
Phillies -- Phil Gosselin, 2B
Key stat: 1.047 OPS
Bringing the DH to the National League has been a career-saver for Gosselin, who has sustained momentum after a blistering start.
Nationals -- Tanner Rainey, LHP
Key stat: 0.75 ERA in 12 relief appearances
The Nationals’ bullpen woes have basically been a problem every month for five years that wasn’t October 2019, but Rainey has been a lifesaver with all the other bullpen leaks that have been springing.
Brewers -- Jedd Gyorko, 2B/3B
Key stat: .531 SLG
Not much has performed above expectations for the Brewers so far, but Gyorko has not just hit with authority … he has thrown a scoreless inning.
Cardinals -- Brad Miller, SS
Key stat: 1.073 OPS
The veteran infielder didn’t join the team until after its extended quarantine, but he has been by far the best hitter since doing so: The team needed him desperately when he arrived, and he has delivered.
Cubs -- Jeremy Jeffress, RHP
Key stat: 1.46 ERA in 11 relief appearances
He was terrific for the Brewers before falling apart last year, but he has put together the pieces for a Chicago bullpen that couldn’t have possibly hoped for more.
Pirates -- Colin Moran, 3B
Key stat: .272 ISO
It’s tough to find a lot of positives in Pittsburgh so far, but Moran has found the power stroke that had mostly eluded him up to this point.
Reds -- Jesse Winker, OF
Key stat: .629 SLG
Of all the big bats in this lineup, not many people had Winker, another player who has benefited from having the DH in the NL, putting up the best numbers on the team.
NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST
D-backs -- Zac Gallen, RHP
Key stat: 29.4% strikeout rate
The D-backs were hopeful Gallen could build on his sporadic success from last season, but he has done more than that: He has been their best, most reliable starter.
Dodgers -- Blake Treinen, RHP
Key stat: .167 batting average against
Everything is going right for the Dodgers, including turning a former top-shelf closer, one who had been flat-out released in the offseason, into the best version of himself once again.
Giants -- Mike Yastrzemski, OF
Key stat: Leading MLB with 2.1 WAR (Fangraphs)
We all knew he was good, and we all obviously loved the story … but did you see an MVP candidate in this guy last year?
Padres -- Wil Myers, 1B/OF
Key stat: Hitting .292 with 9 extra-base hits (5 home runs) since Aug. 2.
Fernando Tatis Jr. is dazzling us so much every night that we’ve all missed maybe the most shocking story of all: Myers is hitting like a superstar. After all that … this is the year that Myers busts loose. 2020 is so crazy.
Rockies -- Kyle Freeland, LHP
Key stat: 193 ERA+
The stud pitcher in 2018 was so terrible he was sent to the Minors in ‘19 (where he was also terrible). But look what has happened: Stunningly, he looks like an ace again.