Early Season Breakouts

Ozzie Albies has been living up to his prospect pedigree so far (Courtesy of Twitter).

Ozzie Albies has been living up to his prospect pedigree so far (Courtesy of Twitter).

By Evan Biancardi

Ozzie Albies has been living up to his prospect pedigree so far (Courtesy of Twitter).

We’re roughly one month into the Major League Baseball regular season, and while there haven’t been too many surprises thus far, it’s quite shocking to see the Mets, Pirates and Diamondbacks atop the National League standings. Many expected this season to be all about the super teams, but as of Sunday, 18 teams stand with a .500 record or better. Surprisingly, the Dodgers are not one of these teams. To put that into perspective, last year, just 12 teams won at least 81 games.

Perhaps the unexpected parity is a result of small sample sizes, but it could also have to do with the influx of young talent throughout the game. Many of the rebuilding teams, including the Pirates, are relying on their young players to step up in order to stay relevant. While these two players, Ozzie Albies and Jose Berrios, may not stand out on their teams’ depth charts, they’re certainly impacting the early season and making a name for themselves.

Ozzie Albies
The switch-hitting middle infielder was the Braves’ second-best prospect in 2016, and he slashed an impressive .286/.354/.456 with six home runs and 34 runs scored in 57 games for the Braves last season. Profiled as a speed demon and a plus defender, Albies has developed into quite the power threat as well. Through 18 games this season, he has already matched his home run total from last season, along with a league-best 20 runs scored, 26 hits and nine doubles. Interestingly, the 21-year-old has not seen an uptick in batting average on balls in play, launch angle or contact rate. Perhaps Albies is simply coming into his own as a Major League hitter. Regardless of the reason for his hot start, the Braves have to be pleased with the way he and shortstop Dansby Swanson have stepped up so far in 2018.

Jose Berrios
The 23-year-old has been highly touted for some time now, but he hasn’t quite been able to pitch like an ace consistently throughout his young career. The former number two prospect struggled mightily in his debut season, posting an 8.02 ERA with 35 walks and 74 hits allowed in 58.1 innings pitched. In 2017, Berrios nearly halved his walk rate and lowered his opponents’ batting average by 71 points. So far this season, he’s among the league’s best with a 1.63 ERA and a 0.58 WHIP through four starts. What stands out the most, though, has been his impeccable control, as he has walked just one batter through 27.2 innings pitched. He is also striking out nearly 30 percent of batters and his .155 opponents’ batting average is a testament to his incredible stuff. As long as he continues to baffle hitters at the plate, the Twins will remain serious contenders this season.

While these young players are turning heads in the early going, there are a handful of veterans dominating the game, and Justin Verlander has been able to do just that. His excellence predates 2018, however, as his success since joining the Astros on Aug. 31 of last year is truly historic. Including the postseason, Verlander is 12-1 as a member of the Astros, recording a 1.49 ERA and a 0.75 WHIP with 120 strikeouts through 105.1 innings pitched. And oh yeah, he led the team to its first World Series championship in franchise history. I’d say the Astros are pretty happy with their investment.