The trade deadline is approaching. Heck, the postseason races are already taking shape. But it’s still exceedingly early in this oddest of MLB seasons. With the action unfolding on a tightened timeline, it’s more necessary than ever not to ignore the short-sample alerts.
That said, it’s hard to ignore some of the unexpected names near the top of the WAR leaderboard with a quarter of a (partial-) season in the bag. Each of these six guys ranks among the top twenty fWAR accumulators in baseball. Four of ’em have added more value to this point of the season than living legend Mike Trout.
So … which player is likeliest to sustain something approaching their early 2020 star turn? (In alphabetical order.)
JaCoby Jones, OF, Tigers: .333/.391/.786 through 46 plate appearances. The 28-year-old hadn’t done much with his first thousand or so MLB plate appearances, but he’s suddenly knocking the socks off of the ball. Though his K/BB numbers are about as shrug-worthy as before, Jones is suddenly showing a whole lotta slug. He’s in the top ten percent leaguewide in barrel percentage and hard contact rate.
Kyle Lewis, OF, Mariners: .373/.440/.567 through 75 plate appearances. An elite draft prospect, Lewis saw his development stunted by injuries. He’s now coming into his own, though it’s hard to look past that glaring .512 batting average on balls in play. There are a lot of strikeouts, too, though Lewis is also walking at a decent clip (10.7%). While Statcast isn’t impressed with how hard he hits the ball, it does credit him with a strong barrel percentage and good wheels.
Dylan Moore, OF, Mariners: .333/.388/.689 through 49 plate appearances. This looks to be a pretty clear instance of a nice dozen-game hot streak that’ll be hard to keep up. Moore is carrying a 30.6% walk rate and 4.1% K rate while benefiting from a hefty .423 BABIP. Then again, Moore is legitimately hammering the ball, ranking among the league leaders in hard-hit rate, barrel percentage, and exit velocity. Perhaps he’s on to something here.
Austin Slater, OF, Giants: .333/.450/.667 through 40 plate appearances. Slater is running and gunning thus far, logging three homers and four swiped bags while sporting a solid 12.5% walk rate. That 208 wRC+ really pops for a guy that contributes in other areas of the game. Slater has had his chances before and hadn’t ever put it all together. But he was quite good at Triple-A and held his own in the majors in 2019. Could he be turning into a quality big leaguer?
Donovan Solano, INF, Giants: .458/.476/.661 through 63 plate appearances. This isn’t necessarily a whole new thing so much as a surprising continuation of a nice 2019 showing. But holy smokes, look at that batting average! It’s riding on a mind-blowing .520 BABIP … which follows a .409 mark from last year. Solano isn’t exactly mashing, but he sure is translating his contact ability into results — and not just because of good fortune. Statcast credits him with a 97th percentile expected batting average.
Mike Yastrzemski, OF, Giants: .306/.442/.629 through 77 plate appearances. Just another San Francisco superstar slugger, no big deal. Like Solano, Yaz 2.0 did turn in very good numbers last year. But we were all prepared to see him step back in 2020, right? Instead, there’s something all the more intriguing going on. Yasztrzemski has already drawn 15 walks to go with his 16 strikeouts on the season, providing yet more evidence that he has really figured things out.
So, which player is most likely to carry this forward? (Poll link for app users; response order randomized.)