7 early breakout stars nobody saw coming

April 24th, 2024

We all spent an entire offseason analyzing rosters, running numbers, scouring Baseball Savant and making predictions. Then, the season began -- and we all remembered that nobody knows anything.

Sure, some outstanding performances we all could have seen coming: , , . But the fun of the season’s early going, and the fun of not actually knowing anything, is that certain guys will emerge that blindside us all. A month ago, these guys were flying under the radar for many. Today, they’re among the best players in baseball.

Here's a look at seven unlikely stars over the first month of the season -- players who have either come out of nowhere or finally put their games together at exactly the right time. Here’s hoping this is just the start for all of them.

(All stats are through Sunday’s games unless otherwise noted)

SS , Nationals

There is pressure on a young prospect, and then there is “centerpiece-of-a-trade-for-Juan-Soto” pressure on a young prospect. Abrams may not have quite been ready in 2022, when the Padres sent him -- along with a bunch of other young players and prospects -- to the Nationals for Soto. He took a few steps forward last year, hitting 18 homers and stealing 47 bases, but he struck out way too much and didn’t walk nearly enough, and ultimately, was a below-average offensive player.

But he has come storming out of the gates in 2024, smashing six homers and hitting a league-leading three triples. Abrams is second in the Majors in slugging percentage, a remarkable stat for a player known far better for speed than power. Don’t worry, though, he’s still stealing bases, too. Fun factoid: Soto may be an early American League MVP favorite, but right now, Abrams has a higher OPS than Soto.

C , Giants

We should all dream of having our own bobblehead day. Can you imagine? You put on a Major League Baseball uniform, you head out to the park, you look into the stands and you see 30,000-plus people holding a toy that has your head bobbing up and down. Sounds fun!

What sounds even more fun is what Bailey did on his bobblehead day on Saturday. He went 4-for-4 and he had his first splash hit into McCovey Cove, though it’s worth noting that the ball actually landed in a kayak, so there was no actual, you know, splash.

The point is: Bailey is having a moment. Giants fans already consider him a folk hero -- hence the bobblehead day -- but he’s primarily been a defensive stalwart behind the plate rather than a hitter; even with his seventh-place finish in NL Rookie of the Year voting last year, he put up only a .285 OBP and struck out in nearly a third of his at-bats.

But 17 games into 2024, Bailey's bat has come alive. His OBP is a full 100 points higher than last year, he’s walking a ton more and he’s striking out a lot less. He’s without question the best player on the Giants right now. There are many more bobblehead days to come.

SP , Red Sox

Crawford has been around for a while in Boston. His Major League debut was a one-start cameo as a COVID replacement on Sept. 5, 2021, and he gave up five runs in two innings against Cleveland before being promptly sent back to Triple-A. He would bounce back and forth between Worcester and Boston in 2022, to little effect. (He had a 5.47 ERA for a very underwhelming Sox team.) He hung around enough in '23 to make 23 decent starts and give himself a chance to open '24 in the rotation, at the age of 28.

So, of course, Crawford has turned into Roger Clemens. In five starts, he has a 0.66 ERA, the best in baseball, and he hasn’t given up a single home run yet. (He has given up only two extra-base hits in 27 1/3 innings.) He’s the ace of a Red Sox staff that shockingly leads the Majors in ERA after finishing 21st in 2023.

And yes, he does throw a cutter; it’s his best pitch.

RP , Tigers

There’s always a closer who emerges out of nowhere in April, the one everyone in your fantasy league is storming to grab off the waiver wire. Foley is a particularly fun one. He had a 4.88 ERA in 48 appearances over three seasons at Sacred Heart University, which is not exactly the sort of sterling resume that gets you chosen in the MLB Draft -- which he wasn’t. But while pitching with the Mystic Schooners, a collegiate summer league team, Foley somehow came across a Tigers scout who couldn’t help but notice that the right-hander was now throwing 97 mph.

Foley eventually worked his way up to the big leagues, rattling around the Tigers' bullpen, and even earning seven saves last year. (He also was a part of their combined no-hitter last July.) Those seven saves? That’s just one more than he already has this year. Foley has been the linchpin of a fantastic Detroit bullpen, and he has yet to give up a run in 10 innings. In 10 appearances, he has six saves and two wins, meaning he's played a pivotal role in eight of the Tigers’ 13 wins.

1B , Guardians

The Guardians need power. The Guardians always need power: That’s their whole thing. Ever since they got Naylor from the Padres halfway through the truncated 2020 season, they’ve been hoping he could be that power guy. He hit 17 homers last year, which is not a lot, but still the second most on that Guardians team.

But this year, he is providing it in spades, smashing six to go along with five doubles. Even better, he’s getting on base at a .393 clip for a team that’s off to a terrific start: Would you believe he’s leading the AL in OPS? Cleveland has been hoping he could be Robin to José Ramírez’s Batman -- but maybe he’s Batman?

2B , Brewers

First off, it’s very possible that members of Turang’s family, who love him and can therefore get away with this, are still texting him video of his awkwardly hilarious strikeout against Pirates No. 3 prospect Jared Jones on Monday night. If Turang were a bad player or in a horrible slump, that would be mean. But it’s funny because he’s neither.

Turang has been one of the many bright spots for the surprising Brewers, hitting .314 and serving as a sparkplug for a team that’s scoring runs at an electric clip. Turang stole 26 bases last year, but he had a hard enough time just reaching first, as evidenced by his .285 on-base percentage. His OBP is about 100 points higher this year, which is why he already has 10 steals. He was a first-round pick for Milwaukee in 2018, so this franchise has had high hopes for him for a while. The Brewers are not going to let one silly strikeout change their minds, so you shouldn’t either. Turang has been terrific.

3B , Orioles

The Orioles have so many potential star position player prospects that you can be forgiven for not noticing Westburg all that much heading into the year. He has never been one of their top guys -- though he probably would have been a top guy for a lot of other teams -- and there was even some thought that he might not make the roster to begin the season.

He did, and boy has it paid off. Westburg has been the best hitter on the Orioles, launching five homers and getting on base at a .386 clip. He just won the AL Player of the Week Award and has turned out to be a better defensive player than many expected. You wondered if there would be room for him on this team. Now, you wonder if there’s room for everybody else.