On Tuesday, I looked at the young MLB players who have been major disappointments for their clubs so far this year. Demotion to the minors could be imminent for the six names I listed.
It only seemed fair to follow that column up by highlighting those players who have been breakout surprises two months into the 2013 MLB season. These are the guys who likely won't have to worry about being sent down to the minors, who have fulfilled the expectations placed upon them and established regular places on their team's roster.
Some might look at this list and wonder why the Baltimore Orioles' Chris Davis isn't on it. Davis has certainly emerged as a top hitter this season, with a slash average of .359/.447/.766 and a MLB-leading 1.214 OPS. But last year was arguably his breakout season with 33 home runs and 85 RBI.
The same might be said for Paul Goldschmidt of the Arizona Diamondbacks. He wasn't viewed as an NL MVP candidate, yet a .324 average, 1.002 OPS, 12 home runs and 40 RBI have put him in that race.
But who are the players that were fighting for spots in the lineup during spring training and into the beginning of the season? Which of them are making themselves indispensable for their current teams? Here are seven names that have exceeded predictions and look to be developing into stars.
Domonic Brown, Philadelphia Phillies: The Phillies came into the season with major questions in their outfield. General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. really didn't acquire the run-producing bat for a corner outfield spot that his team needed.
That put pressure on Brown, who needed to break into the Phillies' everyday lineup in his fourth major league season. The 25-year-old had bounced between Philadelphia and Triple-A Lehigh Valley during the past four years, needing work on his hitting and defense. Questions developed over his long-term future with the Phillies.
While he's not the right-handed power bat that the lineup needed, Brown has been the Phillies' most consistent threat this season. After hitting two home runs Wednesday night against the Boston Red Sox, Brown has 13 for the season along with 32 RBI. Ten of those home runs have been hit in May, boosting Brown's to a .262 batting average and .817 OPS.
With that kind of production, there's no longer any question as to whether or not Brown has a future in Philadelphia.
Patrick Corbin, Arizona Diamondbacks: After going 6-8 with a 4.54 ERA in his rookie season, Corbin looked like a fifth starter at best for the D-Backs. That's the job he competed with Randall Delgado for in spring training.
Yet Corbin has been Arizona's best starting pitcher so far this season, posting an 8-0 record and 1.71 ERA in his first 10 starts. With Ian Kennedy, Wade Miley and Brandon McCarthy all struggling at various points this year, Corbin has given the D-Backs' rotation some stability. That's been a significant factor in Arizona establishing a 2.5-game lead in the NL West.
Featuring a two-seam fastball while using his slider more and his changeup less appears to have made a difference in Corbin's performance. But a closer look at his numbers hint at some possible regression later in the season.
Corbin is currently allowing a .253 BABIP (Batting Average on Balls in Play). The league average is .290 to .300, so that number figures to increase. His 3.00 FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) also indicates that Corbin is getting some help from his defense. Yet that's still an excellent number and demonstrates that Corbin isn't just benefiting from good luck and strong defense.
Jean Segura, Milwaukee Brewers: Here at The Outside Corner, Scott Allen has already written about how Segura's performance has changed the way MLB teams will view their shortstop prospects in the future. Don't expect many of them to be included in future trades.
The Brewers had no viable shortstop, so Segura had every opportunity to establish himself after being acquired by the Brewers as part of the Zack Greinke trade last year. In 44 games, he put up decent numbers, batting .264 with a .652 OPS.
But Segura struggled defensively, according to FanGraphs' Ultimate Zone Rating, allowing 4.4 more runs than the average shortstop. (Those metrics aren't an entirely accurate barometer, however, since they're not based on a full season — or better yet, more than one season.)
Yet even if Segura doesn't turn out to be a strong defensive shortstop, his bat will keep him in the lineup. In Tuesday's 6-5, 14-inning loss to the Minnesota Twins, the 23-year-old racked up six hits in seven at-bats. With a .360 batting average, Segura leads the National League. His defense is also improved. Milwaukee shouldn't have to worry about who's playing shortstop for years to come.
Evan Gattis, Atlanta Braves: Despite currently holding a 4.5-game lead in the NL East, the Braves have gotten several disappointing performances from their expected offensive stars.
Jason Heyward is batting .152. Dan Uggla has a .186 average. Worst of all, B.J. Upton is hitting .146 with a .478 OPS. Brian McCann and Freddie Freeman have also spent significant time on the disabled list. Someone needed to come through with some run production, along with NL MVP candidate Justin Upton.
Gattis was Atlanta's top hitting prospect after hitting a combined 40 home runs during his past two minor league seasons. The question was where he'd play, but McCann's early-season recovery from shoulder surgery created an opening in the lineup. So far, he's shown the same power in the majors that he did in the minors.
With 12 homers, Gattis ranks second among Braves regulars. His 11 doubles and 32 RBI currently lead the team. He's lost some playing time with McCann's return, but manager Fredi Gonzalez has played Gattis in left field and first base to keep his bat in the lineup. Interleague play and the designated hitter will provide more opportunities.
Jeff Locke, Pittsburgh Pirates: As was the case last year, strong starting pitching has the Pirates contending in the NL Central. Locke contributed very little to that 2012 success.
But the 25-year-old left-hander has been a significant part of Pittsburgh's rotation in his first 10 starts. Thus far, Locke has a 5-1 record and 2.45 ERA. He's one big reason the Pirates are currently second in MLB with a 3.19 team ERA.
How is he achieving his success? According to FanGraphs, Locke isn't doing much differently, mixing in a curveball and changeup with a low-90s fastball.
But he appears to be benefiting from the Pirates playing good defense behind him. A .224 BABIP seems likely to go up as the season progresses. And a 4.27 FIP indicates that he's getting a lot of help from his fielders.
Locke could be this year's version of James McDonald for the Pirates, with a second-half collapse pending. But at this point of the season, he's obviously been a pleasant surprise.
Hyun-Jin Ryu, Los Angeles Dodgers: Ryu appeared to be the sort of risk a team with a high payroll could take. The Dodgers already had six starting pitchers, including the best free-agent hurler available in Zack Greinke. Yet the team was still willing to post $25.7 million for the rights to negotiate with Ryu, and followed that up with a six-year, $36 million contract.
Could Ryu be as dominant in the major leagues as he was in Korea? The 25-year-old lefty compiled a 2.80 ERA during his seven years in the Korean Baseball Organization, while averaging 8.8 strikeouts per nine innings.
After his first 11 MLB starts, the answer appears to be yes. Ryu has a 6-2 record and 2.89 ERA, striking out 8.4 batters every nine frames. That includes a two-hit shutout of the Los Angeles Angels on Tuesday.
Ryu has been the Dodgers' second-best starter next to Clayton Kershaw. (Of course, nearly every pitcher is second-best to Kershaw these days.) With all the injuries the team's rotation has suffered, Ryu appears to be an excellent investment.
Jedd Gyorko, San Diego Padres: Gyorko looked like an early-season flop, batting .240 with no home runs and a .640 OPS in April. Perhaps having to move back to third base for the injured Chase Headley had something to do with that. Or maybe Gyorko just had to get acclimated to the major leagues.
Playing second base, the position he prepared to play during spring training, Gyorko has looked more like the hitter the Padres hoped they were adding to their lineup. In May, he's batting .292 with a .901 OPS, six home runs and 10 RBI. Second base was one question mark for San Diego going into the season with Logan Forsythe suffering from plantar fasciitis. But Gyorko has fulfilled expectations thus far.
Eventually, Gyorko could move back to third base if Headley leaves via free agency after the 2014 season. But middle infield seems to suit him, as he played shortstop and second base in college at West Virginia. The Padres may be better off leaving Gyorko as their second baseman of the present and future.
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