Published On: Wed, Apr 25th, 2018

It's time to talk about these 5 unheralded players

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After nearly four weeks, everything is right in baseball. We know this because Mike Trout is the leader in WAR, and became the first player to accrue two wins in the 2018 campaign Tuesday.

With that unofficial sign that the season’s in full swing, it’s time to take notice of the remarkable things happening in the background. Let’s look at five unheralded players who are earning more time in the spotlight, and predict whether their early-season success will be sustainable.

Mitch Haniger, OF – Mariners


Mitch Haniger isn’t exactly a nobody after a breakout 2017 campaign interrupted by an oblique injury and, more dramatically, a Jacob deGrom fastball to the face. However, the Seattle Mariners outfielder has stormed onto the scene again in 2018.

After being acquired as a secondary piece in the trade that sent Taijuan Walker to the Arizona Diamondbacks for Jean Segura, Haniger’s thrived in Seattle. Over 118 games with the Mariners, the outfielder owns a .359 OBP and .526 SLG. Even more impressive, in 22 games this season, the 27-year-old has hit eight home runs and boasts a 1.081 OPS. All this despite barely being heralded as a major-league prospect.

Sustainable? Perhaps not at this level, but Haniger’s plate discipline and pop could make him indispensable to the Mariners – and make the Segura-for-Walker swap look pretty lopsided.

Jordan Hicks, RP – Cardinals


When Statcast first started releasing data about pitch speeds, Aroldis Chapman‘s name took up the entire table, frustrating baseball fans so much that MLB added a “Chapman Filter.” Now, a 21-year-old reliever for the St. Louis Cardinals has made that filter irrelevant.

Jordan Hicks throws a sinker that regularly reaches 100 mph and, one year removed from High-A, has earned a promotion to the majors. He’s struggled with command, however, walking nearly seven batters per nine innings versus four strikeouts. Still, he’s only allowed one earned run and owns a 0.69 ERA through 13 innings.

Sustainable? The peripherals (5.02 FIP) don’t line up with the ERA, but if Hicks improves his command, the peripherals might adjust before his traditional stats do.

Christian Villanueva, 3B – Padres


Through the first 20 or so games, no hitter has been as hot as Christian Villanueva. The San Diego Padres third baseman has torn the cover off of the ball with seven home runs and five doubles.

What makes his performance otherworldly is the fact Villanueva now has 11 career home runs in 31 career games. The 26-year-old is hitting one home run per nine trips to the plate. Not bad for a player who was granted his free agency by the Chicago Cubs.

Sustainable? No one can sustain this level of production, and Villanueva never did this in the minors. However, he did post an OPS of nearly .900 in Triple-A prior to his call-up last year, so he might have made a genuine adjustment that, to some degree, is worth buying into.

Jarlin Garcia, SP – Marlins


After leading the Miami Marlins in appearances out of the bullpen last season, Jarlin Garcia got his job back as a reliever for the beginning of 2018. However, after he pitched twice out of the bullpen, the Marlins were forced to call on him as a starter.

The 25-year-old impressed, throwing 10 1/3 no-hit innings against the New York Mets and New York Yankees. The left-hander was pulled after six no-hit frames in his first start, then retired 13 Yankees in his next outing before Miguel Andujar broke it all up. Through three starts, Garcia owns a 0.53 ERA over 17 innings, and opponents are hitting .093 against him.

Sustainable? Almost no chance. It’s been outrageously fun watching Garcia flummox major-league hitters, but the 25-year-old managed no such success out of the bullpen last year. Perhaps he has developed into a good starter, but he won’t flaunt no-hit stuff every time he takes the bump.

Nick Pivetta, SP – Phillies


Unlike other players on this list, Nick Pivetta got some buzz as a prospect progressing through the minors. The Washington Nationals drafted him in the fourth round and traded him to the Philadelphia Phillies for Jonathan Papelbon.

Now that he’s progressed through the Phillies system and has one season in the majors under his belt, the 25-year-old is showing signs of becoming a reliable rotation arm with the potential for more. Through five starts, Pivetta is punching out one batter per inning, and seems to have reined in the walk and home-run issues that plagued him at times last year, posting a 2.57 ERA and 2.28 FIP in 28 innings.

Sustainable? Why not? The strikeout rate seems normal for him. The walk rate and home-run rate may rise – especially considering the number of fly balls he gives up – but Pivetta could be a legitimate No. 3 starter with No. 2 upside.

(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)



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