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NL Central: Checking in on the new guys

MLB.com @AdamMcCalvy

Corey Dickerson never expected to be "The New Guy." But two months after a surprise move to the Pirates, he is one of the National League Central's most impactful fresh faces.

While other division newcomers are still searching for their footing, Dickerson has been productive from the start for the Bucs. That's impressive, given that the phone call from the Rays informing him he'd been designated for assignment on Feb. 18 was utterly unexpected.

Corey Dickerson never expected to be "The New Guy." But two months after a surprise move to the Pirates, he is one of the National League Central's most impactful fresh faces.

While other division newcomers are still searching for their footing, Dickerson has been productive from the start for the Bucs. That's impressive, given that the phone call from the Rays informing him he'd been designated for assignment on Feb. 18 was utterly unexpected.

After all, Dickerson was coming off a .282/.325/.490 season with Tampa Bay, with 27 homers in 150 games, plus an appearance on the American League All-Star team. A trade would not have totally shocked him. But designated for assignment?

"It's hard to stomach," Dickerson said. "At the time, I was caught off guard."

The Rays eventually traded Dickerson to Pittsburgh to be the Pirates' regular left fielder.

"Whenever it finally happened, I was just excited," he said. "All I'm worried about is competing. I'm a very competitive person. I always try to turn the page quickly."

Here's a look at how other notable page-turners are doing so far.

Brewers
Who's the new guy?
Outfielder Christian Yelich

Video: MIL@SD: Yelich lights it up at plate with five hits

How's it going so far? Yelich was off to a terrific start, including a five-hit game in San Diego in the third game of the season and a game-tying home run with two strikes and two outs in a stunning come-from-behind win over the Cardinals in the Brewers' second home game. But he suffered a right oblique injury the next night and landed on the disabled list until his return to the starting lineup Wednesday against the Reds. After fielding questions all spring about Milwaukee's crowded outfield, the depth has proven useful so far.

What's on deck? Some familiar faces. Yelich returned to action in time for a one-game tune-up before his first four games against the Marlins, who drafted him in the first round in 2010 and gave Yelich his break in the big leagues. Miami opens a four-game series at Miller Park on Thursday night.

Number to know: Five. That's how many seasons the Brewers have contractual control of Yelich, which explains why they were willing to part with four premium prospects -- outfielders Lewis Brinson and Monte Harrison, infielder Isan Diaz and pitcher Jordan Yamamoto -- to get him. Brinson is off to a slow start for Miami (.316 OPS through his first 16 games and 66 plate appearances), but he will get a chance to do some damage against his former team this weekend.

Cardinals
Who's the new guy?
 Outfielder Marcell Ozuna

Video: STL@MIL: Ozuna crushes a monster 479-ft. home run

How's it going so far? Ozuna's .673 OPS through his first 16 games with the Cardinals says he is off to a slow start, but at least he has been steady, with a .271 batting average and at least one hit in 12 of those games. What has not come yet is the power. In 11 games after a monstrous home run at Miller Park on April 3, Ozuna had only two extra-base hits.

What's on deck? History says the power will come with warmer weather. May is traditionally Ozuna's strongest month, with his best home run total (24) and OPS (.871) of any month.

Number to know: 48.1 percent, which was Ozuna's hard-hit percentage through his first 16 games. It was 39.1 percent last season, when Ozuna drilled 37 home runs for the Marlins, won an NL Silver Slugger Award and garnered NL MVP Award votes. The extra-base hits will come.

Cubs
Who's the new guy?
Right-handed pitcher Yu Darvish

Video: CHC@MIL: Darvish dazzles in second start

How's it going so far? Not great, but we are talking about three starts. Darvish spun a gem against the Brewers on April 7 at Miller Park, when he struck out nine and limited Milwaukee to one run on two hits and a walk in six innings of a win. But in his other two starts -- against the Marlins and Braves -- Darvish surrendered nine earned runs on 14 hits in nine innings, with a pedestrian ratio of eight strikeouts to six walks.

What's on deck? Warmer weather, hopefully. Darvish's most recent start against the Braves was his home debut, and he wore short sleeves for a 42-degree first pitch. His next scheduled start on Saturday in Denver won't be much warmer, and then it's back to Wrigley Field for a rematch with the Brewers.

"I was surprised how cold it was, but I told myself I'll perform better if the weather is colder," Darvish said. "When I was on the mound, I didn't feel any cold."

Number to know: 94.3 mph, the average velocity of Darvish's first 120 four-seam fastballs in 2018, according to Statcast™. That's identical to his average in '17 -- a positive sign, considering it is so early in the season, and Darvish's most recent start came in the cold.

Pirates
Who's the new guy?
Dickerson

Video: CIN@PIT: Dickerson lifts a home run to right in 5th

How's it going so far? Considering that Dickerson has been one of the most valuable players in the league so far, pretty well. He entered play Thursday leading the NL in Baseball-Reference.com's version of wins above replacement and third in Fangraphs' version. Dickerson was a perfect fit for the Pirates after they traded Andrew McCutchen to the Giants, and he has posted an .878 OPS through 15 games.

What's on deck? Since Dickerson has spread his production around -- he's had multihit games against the Twins, Reds, Cubs and Marlins -- there is hope that his production is sustainable. But the Bucs start a four-game series in Philadelphia on Thursday against a Phillies team that ranks fifth in the NL with a 3.46 ERA.

Number to know: 1.0. That's Dickerson's NL-leading defensive WAR, according to Baseball-Reference, through 15 games. That qualifies as a surprise, since Dickerson is not known for his defense.

Reds
Who's the new guy?
Right-hander Jared Hughes

Video: CIN@PHI: Hughes gets out of a jam with big K

How's it going so far? The NL Central journeyman has been a nice addition so far, with a 2.25 ERA in a team-high 10 appearances for the Reds. That he is their only new addition (another relief pickup, David Hernandez, is on the DL) speaks to Cincinnati's commitment to developing their own young players during something of a rebuilding period.

What's on deck? A heavy workload, if history holds. Hughes has pitched in at least 63 games for the Pirates and Brewers in five of the past six seasons, including 67 appearances in each of the past two years. After appearing in 10 of the Reds' first 18 games, he's well on the way to doing it again.

Number to know: Zero. That's how many home runs Hughes has surrendered so far, a positive sign for a pitcher known for his good sinker.

Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy and like him on Facebook.

Milwaukee Brewers, Chicago Cubs, Cincinnati Reds, Pittsburgh Pirates, St. Louis Cardinals, Yu Darvish, Corey Dickerson, Jared Hughes, Marcell Ozuna, Christian Yelich