Image credit: Cody Bellinger (Photo by Alex Trautwig/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
Cody Bellinger, 1B, Dodgers
There’s no way to be subtle about it—Bellinger has put together arguably the best start to a season in major league history.
- His 14 home runs are tied for the most all-time before May 1, equal to the mark set by Christian Yelich (2019), Alex Rodriguez (2007) and Albert Pujols (2006).
- His 96 total bases are a major league record for most before May 1, breaking the record held by Chase Utley (85, 2008).
- His 37 RBIs are a major league record for most before May 1, breaking the record held by Mark McGwire (1998) and Juan Gonzalez (1998).
In addition to his record-tying or record-breaking marks, he leads his contemporaries in the majors this year in batting average (.434), on-base percentage (.508), slugging percentage (.908), runs (30) and hits (46).
The 2017 National League Rookie of the Year was already one of the game’s brightest young stars. Now he’s putting himself in the company of all-time greatness.
Hunter Dozier, 3B, Royals
Dozier has fought an uphill battle ever since the Royals shocked the industry and selected him with the No. 8 overall pick in the 2013 draft. He was initially considered an early second-round talent leading up to the draft, and by 2016 his status had fallen to the point that he was considered the Royals’ 30th-ranked prospect. But after years of middling to poor performance, he may finally be turning a corner.
Dozier, 27, has been one of the surprises of the first month of the season. He ranks fifth in the majors OPS (1.133) and overall is batting .349 with seven home runs and 17 RBIs. While it’s a small sample size, there are signs of true improvement. He is finding the barrel more than ever, with a 14.5 barrel percentage nearly four percent higher from last year (10.6). As a result, he’s hitting the ball harder than ever—his 93.6 mph average exit velocity is tied with Bellinger for 15th in the majors and is more than four percent higher than his mark last year (89.5).
If Dozier can maintain his improvement finding the barrel, he will start to justify his high draft selection, even if it comes later than originally hoped.
Luis Castillo, RHP, Reds
Your ERA leader through the first month of the season was traded twice as a prospect—and had a third trade reversed—and had long frustrated as a pitcher with great stuff but not the results to match. The 26-year-old Castillo has shown what he can be with a sensational start, leading the majors with a 1.23 ERA despite pitching his home games at the hitter-friendly Great American Ballpark.
So far, no one can touch him. His 5.2 hits allowed per nine innings and 0.2 home runs allowed per nine innings are best in the National League. His changeup has induced more swings and misses than any other pitcher this year, and batters aren’t hitting his sinker (.200 opponent average) or slider (.133) either, per Statcast.
With both velocity and deadly secondaries at his disposal, Castillo has all the ingredients to continue his ascent into the upper-tier of major league pitchers.
Noah Syndergaard, RHP, Mets
Pitching was supposed to be a strength of the Mets coming into the season. So far, it’s been a weakness. The Mets rank last in the National League in ERA (5.31) through the first month, with Syndergaard the face of their struggles. The hard-throwing righthander’s 6.35 ERA is third-worst in the majors among qualified starters, and opponents are rocking him to the tune of a .299/.349/.478 slash line to start the season. Syndergaard’s velocity is fine, but he’s simply catching too much of the plate. He’s averaging 97.8 mph on his four-seam fastball, per Statcast, but opponents are hitting .343 with a .486 slugging percentage against the pitch.
Chris Sale, LHP, Red Sox
Just as Syndergaard symbolizes the Mets’ struggles on the mound, Sale is in the same spot for the Red Sox. The defending champions approach the end of April with a 5.14 team ERA, ranking 25th in the majors, with the starting rotation bearing the brunt of the responsibility. Sale, who signed a five-year extension in the offseason, is 0-5 with a 6.30 ERA through six starts, the fourth-worst ERA among qualified starters this season. Most concerning has been his velocity drop. After averaging 95.2 mph on his four-seam fastball last year, he’s down to 92.3 mph this year, according to Statcast. With it, opponents are bashing his fastball to the tune of a .395 batting average and .895 slugging percentage. For now, Sale is throwing more sliders than fastballs to try and survive. Unless he gets his velocity back, it’s going to be tough turn it around.
Ian Kinsler, 2B, Padres
While many veterans struggled to get jobs in the offseason, Kinsler signed a two-year, $8 million deal with the Padres in mid-December to ensure his employment. It hasn’t gone well for either side so far. Kinsler has the lowest batting average (.134) and third-lowest OPS (.455) in the majors among qualified players through the first month of the season, and it does not appear to be a fluke or bad luck. His 84.9 mph average exit velocity ranks 281st out of 321 players in the majors, per Statcast. Kinsler’s offensive decline has been precipitous for three seasons now. At 36, the end appears near.