Three Up, Three Down: Bryce Harper Locked In
Bryce Harper, OF, Nationals
If this is in fact Bryce Harper’s final year with the Nationals, he is certainly off to a good start in making it a memorable one. The two-time No. 1 overall prospect leads the majors with eight home runs, is tied for the ML lead with 17 RBIs, and boasts an astounding 21-to-11 strikeout-to-walk mark. The result is an majors-best 1.265 OPS and a player so locked in that he’s hitting 406-foot home runs even when he breaks his bat. Beyond just earning accolades for himself, it’s a performance that has kept the Nationals' offense afloat with Adam Eaton, Daniel Murphy and Anthony Rendon all down with injuries.
Matt Chapman, 3B, Athletics
Chapman showed his defensive wizardry in his ML debut last year. Now, he’s showing what an offensive force he can be, too. The former Top 100 prospect ranks in the top 10 in the majors in hits (20), homers (five) and slugging (.619) through Tuesday, all while continuing to show he's an elite defensive third baseman. He ranks fifth in the majors in average exit velocity (95.2 mph) and is making contact more frequently than ever, having cut his strikeout rate nearly 10 percent. All those factors led the A’s to approach Chapman about a potential multiyear deal less than 400 plate appearances into his career, only to be rebuffed.
The Pirates “non”-rebuild
Pirates general manager Neil Huntington publicly proclaimed the Pirates were resetting rather than rebuilding after trading Gerrit Cole and Andrew McCutchen this winter, and the team kept cornerstones Josh Harrison, Gregory Polanco and Starling Marte as proof, while also acquiring major leaguers like Corey Dickerson and Colin Moran rather than far-away prospects. The strategy is off to a good start, as the Pirates are 11-5 behind an offense that’s tied for second in the majors with 89 runs scored. Dickerson (.351, .938 OPS), Marte (.306, 975 OPS) and Polanco (5 HR, .853 OPS) have led the way, with Moran, Josh Bell, David Freese and Francisco Cervelli rounding out the lineup around them. The Pirates do have a 4.50 ERA as a team and Harrison will miss six weeks with a fractured hand, developments that bear watching, but the Pirates are off to a promising start that’s making good on Huntington's preseason assurance.
Yoan Moncada, 2B, White Sox
Moncada continues to intrigue with his physicality and raw tools, but those don’t matter if you can’t put the bat on the ball. That continues to be a problem for Moncada, who has struck out 26 times in 61 plate appearances to start the year and is off to a .192/.300/.308 start. Moncada now has a 112 strikeouts in 312 career plate appearances, which amounts to a 36 percent strikeout rate. He does hit the ball hard when he does make contact, with a 95.5 mph average exit velocity, but he’s simply not making enough contact for it to matter.
Austin Hedges, C, Padres
The scouting reports on Hedges throughout his professional career could mostly be summed up as an elite defender who can’t hit. Despite moments of optimism about his bat, that has turned out to be true. Hedges made adjustments to his swing after batting .214/.262/.398 last year, but it hasn’t made a difference as he’s off to a .143/.176/.306 start this year with 19 strikeouts and two walks through 14 games. Hedges’ career offensive numbers now stand at .194/.240/.347. Even with elite defense, that’s a level of offensive production that simply isn’t playable on an everyday basis.
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The Rays “non”-rebuild
The Rays finished 25th in the majors in runs scored last year, then traded three of their five best offensive players (Steven Souza, Evan Longoria, Corey Dickerson) and let another one leave as a free agent (Logan Morrison) while replacing them with vastly inferior hitters. They also traded Jake Odorizzi for nearly nothing in return and let Alex Cobb walk. Despite it all, the Rays insisted they weren’t tanking and claimed they could somehow be even better in 2018. It’s turned out to be predictably untrue. The Rays are 4-12, with an offense hitting .233 with a .337 slugging percentage and a pitching staff that has put up a 4.78 ERA. Six of their nine regulars have an OPS under .700, which has left them no room for error as starters Chris Archer (7.84 ERA) and Jake Faria (8.18) and closer Alex Colome (10.80) work through early-season struggles. It’s about to get worse, too, with Kevin Kiermaier expected to miss 12 weeks after tearing a ligament in his thumb after a headfirst slide.