9 players off to hot starts we didn't see coming

April 19th, 2019

We should have predicted this kind of season coming from Rays second baseman Brandon Lowe. When the Rays believe in a player enough to guarantee him $24 million despite his having played just 43 Major League games, it’s a pretty good indication he’s special. The Rays don’t miss on these things very often.

Lowe -- and players like him -- are a huge reason we love this sport. We love to see fresh young faces emerge and veteran players bounce back and everything in between.

We’re now far enough into a new season to appreciate what is unfolding. Here are nine performances we didn’t see coming:

1) Pete Alonso, Mets, 1B
.323 BA, 7 2B, 6 HR, 1.121 OPS

Wait, what? You mean he really is that good? Sure, we’ve gotten a little crazy hyping Mets and Yankees kids through the years. Alonso showed up at Spring Training with 67 games at Triple-A under his belt and a decent stint in the Arizona Fall League. He already has 24 batted balls of at least 95 mph, which is 57.1 percent of his at-bats. As impressive as the Mets' overhaul was last offseason, nothing is going to impact the franchise’s long-term health as much as this 24-year-old with an unlimited ceiling.

2) Brandon Lowe, Rays, 2B
.277 BA, 4 2B, 5 HR, 2 SB, .903 OPS

This has happened fast. Lowe began 2017 in Class A and last season in Double-A. When the Rays called him up last summer, he promptly went 0-for-19. He turned a corner faster and more dramatically than almost any player in recent memory, and he's now a foundational player for the team with MLB’s best record and highest run differential.

3) Tim Anderson, White Sox SS
.422 BA, 3 2B, 4 HR, 7 SB, 1.096 OPS

Anderson is a reminder that young players do not come with timetables or guarantees. He began this season with 398 games played and a .697 OPS. But the White Sox were certain enough in Anderson to sign him to a contract that could extend to the 2024 season. In his third full season, he has emerged as an impact player and a big reason why this franchise is so optimistic about the future.

4) Josh Bell, Pirates 1B
.310 BA, 5 2B, 3 HR, .969 OPS

Bell was on his way to being a big star after hitting 26 home runs in 2017, but then he regressed some last season. Had opposing teams discovered a flaw in his swing? On a team with terrific pitching and offensive questions, Bell has been everything the Pirates hoped he’d be. His 94.5-mph exit velocity ranks 12th among players with at least 25 batted balls.

5) Tyler Glasnow, Rays RHP
4-0, 1.13 ERA, 0.875 WHIP, 370 ERA+

If you’re going to trade a starting pitcher like Chris Archer, you had better get an impact player in return, and that’s what the Rays got last summer. Outfielder Austin Meadows is off to a great start, and Glasnow has become the pitcher he was projected to be when he made his big league debut at age 22 in 2016. His 97-mph heater and knee-buckling curve are as good as any one-two combination in the American League.

6) Christian Walker, D-backs 1B
.300 BA, 5 2B, 6 HR, 1.056 OPS

Walker was blocked by Chris Davis in Baltimore and Paul Goldschmidt in Arizona. In between, he was briefly a part of the Reds and Braves -- teams that have Joey Votto and Freddie Freeman playing first base. So while a lot of people believed Walker could play, no one really knew. This season, with Goldschmidt in St. Louis, Walker's chance has finally arrived, and he’s off to a great start. Now 28, his time has come.

7) Kolten Wong, Cardinals 2B
.316 BA, 3 2B, 4 HR, 1.051 OPS

Say this for Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak -- he continued to believe in Wong when a lot of other people in the St. Louis organization were not so sure. But Wong began the season with 2,287 plate appearances and just a .705 OPS. This finally is the season when all of his athleticism and potential have come to fruition for a player who is one of the best second basemen in MLB.

8) Luis Castillo, Reds RHP
1-1, 1.46 ERA, 0.892 WHIP, 11.7 K/9

Castillo showed flashes of greatness in his first two seasons, and the Reds never lost faith that he’d unlock it at some point. This has been that season. He has command of three pitches -- fastball, slider, changeup -- and confidence to throw them at any point in the count. After four starts, Castillo has allowed more baserunners via walk (13) than hits (nine).

9) Shane Bieber, Indians RHP
2-0, 1.71 ERA, 0.810 WHIP, 261 ERA+

Bieber is throwing more sliders and fewer fastballs in his second season. But the real key has been that his stuff is sharper across the board. His curveball has become a better weapon, and his mechanics are more consistent. This probably is the usual progression for a really good prospect. Those 20 appearances last season showed him what he needed to work on, and he has done that.