We’re almost a month into the 2023 MLB season, and we’ve had our share of dominant performances (Rays hitting, Rays pitching), surprise performances (how does “first-place Pirates” sound?), disappointments (Cardinals, White Sox lead the way) and outright disasters (A’s, Royals). But it’s early; it takes only one mini hot streak to get back on track.
Now let’s turn our attention to the standout individual performances of the season so far by taking a run through the early All-Star leaders at each position for both leagues. For a little twist, we’ll also look at a breakout candidate at each position — and someone who is struggling, including a few big stars. Call it April’s All-Stars and Uh-Ohs.
All-Star: Sean Murphy, Atlanta Braves
The Braves didn’t need to acquire a catcher in the offseason since they already had solid veteran Travis d’Arnaud and 2022 All-Star William Contreras, but with concerns about d’Arnaud’s age and Contreras’ defense, they made an outside-the-box trade of Contreras and prospects for Murphy — and then signed their new backstop to a six-year extension. Murphy has rewarded Atlanta with a great start, hitting for power and getting on base, with six home runs and a 1.056 OPS.
Breakout candidate: Gabriel Moreno, Arizona Diamondbacks
Moreno has shown some offensive potential with above-average hard-hit and exit velocity rates and a batting average close to .300. His approach results in ground balls and line drives, though, so don’t expect big home run numbers. His defense has been solid for a rookie catcher, especially in terms of arm strength and accuracy — he has thrown out six of nine attempted base stealers. Kind of sounds like a Yadier Molina starter kit.
Uh-oh: New York Mets
Mets catchers were among the worst hitters in 2022, but the team expected more offense this season because of the additions of Omar Narvaez and rookie Francisco Alvarez. Narvaez is out with a strained calf and Alvarez has struggled mightily against fastballs up in the zone, leaving Mets catchers last in the majors in OPS again.
All-Star: Pete Alonso, New York Mets
Alonso slimmed down during the offseason, but his power hasn’t been affected. He has slugged 10 home runs in his first 24 games, with four of the homers traveling at least 420 feet, and has 23 RBIs to boot. The big change early: He has cut down on his chase rate, doing a better job of laying off breaking balls out of the zone and hitting the hangers.
Breakout candidate: Alec Bohm, Philadelphia Phillies
He has been playing first base because of injuries to Rhys Hoskins and Darick Hall, and his stat line is a little better than in 2022 — but the rise is primarily BABIP-driven as opposed to any real change in quality of contact. Until Bohm learns to loft the ball, I’m skeptical of the upside here.
Uh-oh: Jake Cronenworth, San Diego Padres
Cronenworth hasn’t been terrible overall, but two of his three home runs and five of his 11 RBIs came in three games he played at second base. As a first baseman, he has hit .155 with one home run, and Padres’ first basemen are hitting .133 overall.
All-Star: Luis Arraez, Miami Marlins
Arraez is leading the majors in batting average (.444) and on-base percentage (.506), although the lack of offense around him in Miami’s lineup has kept him from scoring or driving in many runs. Some of that, however, is that Arraez’s game is mostly singles, so he’s not really an ideal No. 3 hitter. I’d leave him in the leadoff spot and let him chase .400.
Another similar player to watch here: the Chicago Cubs’ Nico Hoerner, who is likewise off to a good start and is also a superior defender.
Breakout candidate: Bryson Stott, Philadelphia Phillies
Stott played shortstop in the World Series as a rookie, but the addition of Trea Turner moved him over to second base. At the plate, he is a little more upright and has lowered his hands a bit, which has helped him to catch up to the high fastballs he struggled against as a rookie. The early results are positive: a .337 average and a better hard-hit rate.
Uh-oh: Luis Garcia, Washington Nationals
There is still time for growth as Garcia doesn’t turn 23 until mid-May, but at one point he was viewed as a potential foundational-type player. He did hit .274 last season, but that came with just a .295 OBP. He has shown contact ability and has the size (6-2, 220 pounds) to add some power, but it hasn’t come together at the plate.
All-Star: Max Muncy, Los Angeles Dodgers
Muncy hit .121 his first nine games and given his .196 average last season, Dodgers fans were wondering if he was finished. Then he hit 10 home runs and drove in 19 runs in his next 13 games before heading out on paternity leave. With Manny Machado off to a terrible start and Austin Riley and Nolan Arenado below their usual high standards, Muncy is the leader in what should end up as a crowded All-Star debate.
Breakout candidate: Brett Baty, New York Mets
The Mets gave the incumbent, Eduardo Escobar, the job out of spring training, which seemed like a mistake at the time, and after Escobar hit .114 the first two-plus weeks, Baty quickly got the call from the minors. He’s off to a slow start in the majors, but in nine games at Triple-A, Baty hit .400 with five home runs.
Uh-oh: Manny Machado, San Diego Padres
It’s only 23 games, and we all know not to get too worked up over 100 plate appearances, but Machado has been absolutely abysmal with red flags all over the place — low exit velocity, terrible walk rate, increased swing-and-miss rate, all way below his career norms. Is the pitch clock throwing him off? Perhaps, but this is still a worrisome slump.
All-Star: Xander Bogaerts, San Diego Padres
With Fernando Tatis Jr. just back from his suspension and Machado and Juan Soto both off to slow starts, Bogaerts kind of carried the San Diego offense the first three weeks. He’s hitting .330, although the underlying metrics aren’t as impressive — but he also exceeded his expected numbers last season.
Breakout candidate: Geraldo Perdomo, Arizona Diamondbacks
Perdomo hit .195 last season, so I’m not exactly buying the .365 start, which has come in a job share with Nick Ahmed. He’s 261st out of 267 players in average exit velocity and riding an unsustainable .486 BABIP. Still, the defense is a plus and he should start getting more regular playing time.
Uh-oh: Ezequiel Tovar, Colorado Rockies
Tovar has looked completely overmatched so far with a .187 average and 25 strikeouts in 81 plate appearances, which is maybe not so surprising for a 21-year-old who has played just 71 games above High-A.
All-Star: Ian Happ, Chicago Cubs
Bryan Reynolds of the Pirates has better power numbers, but Happ has a .411 OBP and has turned into a doubles specialist — 42 last season and nine in 2023. He could be headed for a second straight All-Star trip. He has been a major league staple since 2017 with some stops and starts early in his career, but he doesn’t turn 29 until August, so the three-year, $61 million extension he signed earlier in April looks reasonable for both sides.
Breakout candidate: Corbin Carroll, Arizona Diamondbacks
Carroll, the preseason Rookie of the Year favorite and Kiley McDaniel’s No. 2 prospect, has been as advertised, hitting for a good average, showing more pop than you would expect with four home runs and displaying his 80-grade speed (only Bobby Witt Jr. has a faster top sprint speed) in going 10-for-10 stealing bases. I’d like to see the strikeout-to-walk ratio improve, but it should with time, given he played just 142 minor league games.
Uh-oh: Atlanta Braves
Kevin Pillar and Eddie Rosario are platooning, but neither has hit, and the Braves own a .552 OPS at the position. Once Michael Harris II returns from the injured list, Sam Hilliard likely slides over here.
All-Star: Brandon Nimmo, New York Mets
This is a four-way statistical race early on with Nimmo, James Outman, Brandon Marsh and Cody Bellinger, but I’m buying into Nimmo’s track record — and .456 OBP — over the other three for now. Bellinger, of course, has the track record if you go back to his 2019 MVP season, and it’s worth mentioning he has cut his strikeout rate nearly in half from last season. Maybe he has fixed something. If so, he becomes one of the most fascinating players to watch the rest of the way.
Breakout candidate: James Outman, Los Angeles Dodgers
Outman has played all three outfield positions but has appeared the most in center, so we’ll slot the rookie slugger here. He had two two-homer games last week and has seven overall while hitting .311/.400/.703. He has kept his strikeout rate under 30% — essentially matching his rate from the minors last season, when he hit .294 with 31 home runs. If he can maintain that, he’ll put up some big numbers.
Uh-oh: Jazz Chisholm Jr., Miami Marlins
Chisholm has made a couple gaffes in center field, which is to be expected given his move from second base, but it’s the 38% strikeout rate that has me more worried. It’s eating away at his offensive production. The Marlins’ lineup is struggling, and Chisholm’s .218/.269/.391 slash line is one big reason.
All-Star: Ronald Acuna Jr., Atlanta Braves
If we gave a trophy for April’s most exciting player, it might have to go Acuna. He’s hitting .365 and leads the NL in hits (36) and steals (13). I wasn’t sure how the Braves would handle Acuna on the bases, given his knee injury of 2021 and poor success rate in 2022, but they have given him a green light and he might steal 70.
Breakout candidate: Jordan Walker, St. Louis Cardinals
The Cardinals skipped Walker past Triple-A to put him on the Opening Day roster, and he rewarded their confidence with hits in his first 12 games. It has been rough going since then, but we’ve seen the tools that have scouts and prospect evaluators so excited — including a rocket of an arm, although he’s still learning to play right field.
Uh-oh: Juan Soto, San Diego Padres
Soto has been far from terrible, but he has also been far from his 2020-21 self, who was the best hitter in baseball. Since joining the Padres, he has hit .221/.377/.382, including .188 in 2023. The walks are valuable, but some are wondering if he has become too selective and thus too passive. Soto, no doubt, is also growing frustrated at his inability to launch the ball in the air.
All-Star: Nolan Gorman, St. Louis Cardinals
Gorman has played some second base, but his best position is “hitter.” He has been projected as a big-time power hitter ever since the Cardinals drafted him 19th overall in 2018, and a sudden improvement in his strike-zone judgment compared to his rookie season — he has lowered his chase rate from 31% to 21%, a dramatic year-to-year improvement — has allowed him to tap into that ability with six home runs and a .293 average.
Breakout candidate: Gorman
Gorman still struggles with balls up in the zone — although, hey, Mike Trout has made a nice living as a lowball hitter. The key for Gorman is laying off those fastballs out of the zone and limiting the areas pitchers can attack.
Uh-oh: Marcell Ozuna, Atlanta Braves
It’s early, but Ozuna might be done. He’s 4-for-55 (.073) with 19 strikeouts. He hasn’t been good since 2020, when he led the NL in home runs and RBIs during the shortened season — prompting the Braves to give him what has turned out to be an ill-advised four-year, $65 million contract.
All-Star: Spencer Strider, Atlanta Braves
OK, it came against the Marlins, but we won’t see many performances better than Strider’s Monday outing when he took a no-hitter into the eighth and finished with 13 strikeouts and no walks. He’s 3-0 with a 1.80 ERA and 49 K’s in 30 innings while holding batters to a .136 average. Entering Monday, Caesars Sportsbook had Strider at +450 to win the Cy Young Award. Now he’s the +250 favorite. You might want to get that money down ASAP.
Breakout candidate: Graham Ashcraft, Cincinnati Reds
Ashcraft is one of the hardest-throwing starters with a fastball that averages 97.1 mph, but it’s an interesting pitch: a hard sinker with a high spin rate. While that pitch doesn’t generate much swing-and-miss, his slider and cutter have also been effective, and he’s keeping the contact on the ground.
Uh-oh: Miles Mikolas, St. Louis Cardinals
The Diamondbacks already designated Madison Bumgarner for assignment, so this goes to Mikolas, who was an All-Star last year and signed a three-year, $55.75 million extension in March that covers 2023 to 2025. He has been lit up for a .366 average and seven home runs in 25⅓ innings. There aren’t any obvious red flags in his velocity or pitch movement, but hitters have been teeing off.
All-Star: Jonah Heim, Texas Rangers
Yeah, I also at first thought this would be Adley Rutschman, considering his 5-for-5 performance on Opening Day, but Heim has matched Rutschman’s production and done it in about 35 fewer plate appearances, while Rutschman has hit just .241 since that first game. I expect Rutschman to end up the All-Star starter, but Heim is turning into a nice player.
Breakout candidate: Shea Langeliers, Oakland Athletics
This might have been the Angels’ Logan O’Hoppe, but he’s out four to six months because of a torn labrum after a strong start.
Uh-oh: Martin Maldonado, Houston Astros
We know the Astros love his defense, and they won the World Series with him, but he’s hitting .143/.226/.214. They’re now carrying three catchers, which gives them a little more flexibility to hit for Maldonado.
All-Star: Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Toronto Blue Jays
Anthony Rizzo and Yandy Diaz are certainly worth mentioning, but it’s good to see Guerrero back at the top of his game after a slightly disappointing 2022 season. The best sign: His launch angle is back where it was in 2021, when he hit 48 home runs — oh, and his strikeout rate is lower than ever. He looks primed for a monster season.
Breakout candidate: Vinnie Pasquantino, Kansas City Royals
Pasquantino had a slow first week but is back on track, exhibiting characteristics at the plate that we saw down the stretch last season: patience, line-drive power and contact ability. Now get this man some help.
Uh-oh: Jose Abreu, Houston Astros
Abreu’s start is troublesome: He’s 36 years old with suddenly cratering numbers in all aspects of his game. His average exit velocity, which has resided between 92 and 93 mph for four straight seasons, has dropped to 86.7 mph. With no home runs, he’s having trouble getting the ball in the air. His walk rate has crumbled, and his strikeout rate, while not extreme, is a career worst. Maybe it’s just a sluggish start, but this looks like an older hitter who has suddenly lost bat speed.
All-Star: Marcus Semien, Texas Rangers
Brandon Lowe has a better triple-slash line but platoons, while Semien plays every day and has more runs and RBIs — plus, he’s a far superior defender. With Jose Altuve injured and Andres Gimenez not at the offensive level of last season, this looks like a clear Semien-Lowe battle for starting honors.
Breakout candidate: Taylor Walls, Tampa Bay Rays
Walls platoons at second and also fills in at short and third. After hitting .172 last season, he’s off to a .333/.440/.667 start in 50 PAs. He’s nowhere near that good, but there are real improvements in exit velocity and strikeout rate, and with his solid defense, he could end up as one of the better utility players this season. We’ll see if he keeps it up once the Rays start facing some tougher pitching.
Uh-oh: Kolten Wong, Seattle Mariners
For the second season in a row, president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto acquired a veteran second baseman to plug a hole — and it looks like for the second straight season, that veteran is going to lay a big fat egg. Last year, it was Adam Frazier. This season, Wong has been even worse, hitting .140/.231/.140 — which, yes, means he doesn’t have an extra-base hit. The Mariners weren’t expecting an All-Star, but they were looking for competency.
All-Star: Matt Chapman, Toronto Blue Jays
Chapman has been the best hitter in the AL so far with a .360/.433/.663 line, leading the league in batting average and OBP and tied with Rafael Devers in extra-base hits. He has switched from a leg kick to a toe tap as a timing mechanism and has focused on driving the ball to right field — four of his five home runs have gone to right-center or right field. He has kept the strikeouts in check and if he keeps that up, the early results suggest real improvement.
Breakout candidate: Josh Jung, Texas Rangers
A two-homer game Monday lifted Jung’s line to .281/.326/.494 with five home runs. The strikeouts are a concern — he just had a nine-game stretch with 18 of them — and the BABIP is high, but scouts have long believed in his bat and he’s healthy after a shoulder injury wiped out most of his 2022 season.
Uh-oh: Anthony Rendon, Los Angeles Angels
It takes a long time before we give up on a once-great player, but we’re now three seasons removed from Rendon’s last good season — and that one was just 52 games with the Angels in 2020. The two seasons that followed were filled with injuries, and he’s off to a slow start this year. For a guy who turns 33 in June, that’s worrisome. The base skills remain — he has more walks than strikeouts — but he hasn’t shown he can still drive the ball with much authority.
All-Star: Wander Franco, Tampa Bay Rays
After a four-hit game on Monday helped boost his line to .315/.382/.576 and he added his 12th double Tuesday, here’s your reminder that Franco turned 22 in March. His ability to stroke line drives in the gaps gives me hope that one of my baseball dreams will come true: somebody chasing Earl Webb’s longstanding record of 67 doubles in a season.
Breakout candidate: Anthony Volpe, New York Yankees
Volpe has been a bit overpowered so far, although his defense, speed and walks justify his spot in the lineup even though he’s hitting .211. I was worried the Yankees might have rushed him to the majors given he hit just .249 in the minors last year, but the lineup has so many holes and injuries right now that he has actually hit leadoff the past week.
Uh-oh: Javier Baez, Detroit Tigers
This is sad, because 2018-19 Baez was one of the most exciting, popular players in the sport. Baseball can be cruel, however, and his downfall is perhaps not so surprising given the flaws in his game. He’s in the second season of a six-year deal, hasn’t homered and got benched after forgetting how many outs there were. His defensive ability remains intact, and he has cut way down on his strikeouts, but more contact hasn’t yet led to better results.
All-Star: Jarred Kelenic, Seattle Mariners
Randy Arozarena is fourth in the AL in OPS and has been an RBI machine, but the shocking leader in OPS so far is Kelenic, hitting .342/.395/.726 after a three-hit game on Tuesday, including his seventh home run. Kelenic’s early thunderbolts have been shocking given his struggles his first two seasons, but he’s more relaxed and confident and finally doing a better job of recognizing spin and jumping on fastballs. Arozarena, however, has been racking up RBIs in the middle of the red-hot Tampa Bay lineup, so he gets the nod.
Breakout candidate: Kelenic
A month ago, I was not a believer. Now, I am.
Uh-oh: Texas Rangers
It has been a terrific start for the Rangers, but left field was an issue entering the season and has remained one. Bubba Thompson scored a run on Monday — the first by a Texas left fielder all season. Rangers left fielders have driven in one run. Do you think Texas general manager Chris Young is perhaps texting St. Louis president of baseball operations John Mozeliak and asking about an outfielder?
All-Star: Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels
We’re including Aaron Judge here, but it’s Trout in a landslide so far.
Breakout candidate: Riley Greene, Detroit Tigers
I viewed Greene as a strong breakout candidate for 2023 as a former top prospect coming off a solid showing for a 21-year-old rookie. Well, that hasn’t been the case.
Greene has struggled (as has Spencer Torkelson) with a strikeout rate that trails only Chisholm among qualified players. He has two triples and two home runs, but no doubles, which I find troubling — too many grounders, not enough line drives. He also starts his hands in a strange position — right next to his ear — when gripping the bat at the plate, and you wonder if eventually he’ll require a change that allows him to catch up to the fastballs he’s struggling against right now.
All-Star: Kyle Tucker, Houston Astros
Tucker is a quietly superb all-around player, coming off back-to-back 30-homer seasons and making his first All-Star team in 2022. He’s hitting .301/.412/.518 with five home runs, five steals and more walks than strikeouts this season. He doesn’t hit the longest home runs, and he’s not the fastest guy, but he might go 30-30 and win another Gold Glove.
Breakout candidate: Josh Lowe, Tampa Bay Rays
Another Rays player putting up numbers straight out of 1930: .328/.368/.625 with four home runs and seven doubles, serving as the strong side of the right-field platoon. Lowe’s numbers are confusing, though: He has among the lowest average exit velocities in the majors at 84.6 mph, but he’s 16th in isolated power among players with 60 plate appearances.
Uh-oh: George Springer, Toronto Blue Jays
The four-time All-Star is off to a slow start at .219/.279/.323 and, given that he’s 33, worry might be setting in. His underlying metrics are OK, however, and suggest some bad luck in his early results. On the other hand, he’s struggling against offspeed stuff and his hard-hit rate is way below his career norms.
All-Star: Yordan Alvarez, Houston Astros
Alvarez is hitting .253/.367/.533 with six home runs and 27 RBIs, including two late go-ahead home runs in the Astros’ weekend sweep of the Braves, but his overall numbers aren’t quite as awe-inspiring as 2022. The Astros also sent him home from this week’s road trip to get his sore neck examined.
Breakout candidate: Harold Ramirez, Tampa Bay Rays
Ramirez has started 14 of the first 23 games at DH, so that qualifies him as a full-time DH these days. He did hit .300 last season, but it was an empty .300. This year — like all the Rays — he has added power to go with a .371 average and already has five home runs, just one fewer than he hit last season in 403 at-bats.
Looking more widely at the AL, six teams are hitting under .200 at the DH position. Nearly half the league — 13 teams — have two or fewer home runs from their DHs. The state of the DH, generally, is a problem.
Uh-oh: Seattle Mariners
Mariners DHs hit .179 last season and ranked 27th in OPS. In 2021, they hit .233 and ranked 12th of 15 AL teams in OPS. So, the team’s solution this year was to … sign Tommy La Stella? Shockingly, it hasn’t worked out. Seattle DHs are hitting .117/.190/.195 with no home runs, three runs and three RBIs. They might as well let the pitchers hit.
All-Star: Shohei Ohtani, Los Angeles Angels
Gerrit Cole has a 0.79 ERA, Shane McClanahan is throwing unhittable whiffle ball changeups, Sonny Gray has allowed two runs in five starts, and Luis Castillo has been outstanding. Ohtani, however, continues to take his pitching to another level. He has allowed eight hits in 28 innings — meaning batters are hitting .092 against him. He has hit five home runs and allowed none. He has struck out 36% of the batters he has faced, and batters are 3-for-48 against his sweeper, which he throws nearly 50% of the time.
Breakout candidate: Joe Ryan, Minnesota Twins
Ryan was pretty good as a rookie with a 3.55 ERA, but he has remade his repertoire with a new sweeper version of his slider and a splitter. He’s 5-0 with a 2.81 ERA and a much improved strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Uh-oh: Jose Suarez and Tyler Anderson, Los Angeles Angels
Suarez looked like a potential breakout candidate but instead has floundered with a 10.26 ERA through four starts and an unsightly .382 average allowed (including seven home runs in 16⅔ innings). Anderson, meanwhile, is 1-0 with a 7.20 ERA and poor peripherals. The Angels could sign 1965 Sandy Koufax and 1968 Bob Gibson, and it would somehow go wrong.