By Grant Brisbee, Rustin Dodd and Andy McCullough
The Mariners are surging, even though they sold at the trade deadline. The Angels are flailing, even though they bought at the deadline. The lesson is: Never try.
This week, we’ll throw a powers-ranking bone to all 30 teams and keep things positive. This one is about the player on every team having a sneaky-good season. There’s always one on every Baseball-Reference or FanGraphs page, a guy who makes you stop scanning and say, “When did that happen?”
Yes, even the A’s. It’s a heartwarming exercise.
So hoist a glass and sing the praises of the sneaky-good seasons with us. They help keep the sport spicy.
Last Power Ranking: 1
Player having a sneaky-good season: Austin Riley
Is it possible to sneak up on anyone when your team punches its opponent in the proverbial face almost every night? The Braves aren’t exactly subtle. Ronald Acuña Jr. is the favorite to win the National League MVP. Matt Olson leads the sport in home runs. Ozzie Albies is having the best season of his career. Michael Harris II has taken off in the second half. The team has two excellent two-way catchers in the form of Sean Murphy and Travis d’Arnaud. So let’s go with Riley, the cornerstone third baseman who is having a down year, at least by his own elevated standard. His numbers might be down. But he has still been producing, and will still be a nightmare for opposing pitchers in October. — Andy McCullough
Last Power Ranking: 2
Player having a sneaky-good season: Kyle Bradish
The weak link of the Orioles — and because this is not a MASN broadcast, we can point out a team’s flaws, even when it is on pace for 100 wins — is its starting rotation. As a unit, Baltimore’s starters rank 15th in the majors in ERA (4.42) and 14th in strikeout rate (8.44). These are middling numbers that may prove more worrisome in October. But part of the reason that Baltimoreans can plan on watching their club in the postseason, outside of the youthful position-player core and the lights-out bullpen, has been Bradish, a 26-year-old having an excellent sophomore season in the majors. His 3.19 ERA led Orioles starters heading into Sunday. — AM
Last Power Ranking: 3
Player having a sneaky-good season: Travis Jankowski
Jankowski has always looked like the guitarist in a second- or third-tier Seattle band from the ’90s (Gruntruck, maybe), which always made it jarring to see how danged fast and athletic he was. Dude can fly, and dude can pick it out in the outfield. That’s never been in question.
But it was James Madison in Federalist No. 54 who reminded us that “You can’t steal first base.” Jankowski’s career batting line coming into this season was .236/.320/.310, and he suffered through a .445 OPS last year, with exactly zero extra-base hits in 64 plate appearances. He was 31, and it was reasonable to think he was cooked.
He’s having an absolutely outstanding season for the Rangers, though, playing excellent defense, hitting for average, getting on base and stealing bases at a high rate (16 of 17 attempts). When a team is rolling like the Rangers, they’ll unearth players and seasons like this. — Grant Brisbee
Last Power Ranking: 5
Player having a sneaky-good season: Jason Heyward
Lance Lynn is doing wonders for the Dodgers’ reputation as master tinkerers, but the re-weaponization of Heyward is arguably more impressive. He currently has the highest home-run rate of his career (4.2 percent), and he’s still playing outstanding defense. He’s even played a few games at first base, just to mess with you.
An honorable mention goes to David Peralta, who entered June with a .595 OPS and a first-class ticket on the DFA Express, but has hit .321/.351/.484 since then. It’s probably time to get a warrant and raid the Dodger Stadium offices. Whatever secrets they’re holding are too important to hoard. They need to be distributed to the masses for the good of the sport. — GB
Last Power Ranking: 4
Player having a sneaky-good season: Luke Raley
The ability to optimize players like Raley, even for a limited amount of time, is part of what separates the Rays from their similarly low-budget peers. He has cooled off considerably after torching opposing pitchers during the first few months. When Raley homered on Saturday, it was his first dinger since July 5. But his performance in the first half still helped the Rays bank a bunch of wins, which has kept the team afloat while suffering a cavalcade of pitching injuries. Even in the midst of a cold streak, Raley had posted an .884 OPS against right-handed pitchers heading into Sunday’s games. — AM
Last Power Ranking: 6
Player having a sneaky-good season: Jon Singleton
Yep, that Singleton. As of a couple months ago, his major contribution to baseball was as a cautionary tale. He was a living reminder that not every long-term extension to a hot prospect or rookie works out. Check out this paragraph I wrote almost a decade ago:
All Singleton needs to be is Xavier Nady to give the Astros a good deal. Brad Fullmer or Rico Brogna. Even if he’s a Casey Kotchman-type, the Astros will come close to breaking even.
He was most certainly not a Casey Kotchman-type hitter. He couldn’t crack a .620 OPS with the Astros, and he dealt with substance abuse issues, eventually getting released in 2017, in the middle of a five-year, $10 million contract. He didn’t play organized or affiliated ball for the next three years.
It’s a cool story, and to be clear, his sneaky-good season has been almost entirely in the minor leagues so far. He hit .333/.446/.692 with 12 homers for the Sugar Land Skeeters, and one of those homers was incredibly funny.
Jon Singleton to the parking lot! 😱
— Minor League Baseball (@MiLB) July 28, 2023
He just got called up to the Astros, and he has more home runs than strikeouts as of this writing. It’s been a sneaky-good season, but it won’t be a sneaky-good story if he keeps it up. It’ll be an all-time outstanding story. — GB
Last Power Ranking: 7
Player having a sneaky-good season: Kevin Kiermaier
Kiermaier plays such elite defense in center field — and has for such a long time — that whenever he can deliver even league-average offense, he provides immense value. Playing away from Tampa Bay for the first time in his career, Kiermaier has produced his best season at the plate since 2017, with a .750 OPS and a 108 OPS+. He has hung in there against left-handed pitchers, which has been an issue for him throughout his career. All in all, he’s been a bargain on his one-year, $9 million contract. — AM
Last Power Ranking: 8
Player having a sneaky-good season: Taijuan Walker
Walker has taken some hits in his past few starts, and he still profiles as a middle-tier starter. The Phillies will keep a close eye on him in any postseason situation. But Walker deserves credit for steadying himself after an unsightly start to his career in Philadelphia. He posted a 5.57 ERA in his first two months of the season, as fans wondered why the team forked over $72 million to him. Since then, he has a 2.99 ERA across 13 starts, providing stability for the starting rotation as the Phillies have clawed back into the thick of the National League wild-card race. — AM
Last Power Ranking: 10
Player having a sneaky-good season: Wade Miley
The Brewers do it with pitching. They do it with guys like Miley, who is 36 years old and still preventing runs when he is healthy. Did you realize Miley is 36? He has a 2.90 ERA in 15 starts. He’s brought his competitive energy to the Brewers clubhouse. He recently made his 300th career start, making him just one of 10 active pitchers to reach that mark. Half of that list is made of future Hall of Famers. Miley isn’t one of those. But he’s had an enduring impact all the same. — Rustin Dodd
Last Power Ranking: 11
Player having a sneaky-good season: Tom Murphy
A short, accurate description of Murphy’s time with the Mariners: rakes, gets hurt, rakes, gets hurt, rakes, gets hurt, rakes … you get the idea. He’s been mostly healthy this year, though, which means the Mariners have a catcher who thumps. Those suckers are baseball cryptids — hard to find and worth obsessing over. His defensive deficiencies make it unlikely that he’ll ever be a full-time catcher, but he’s hit .397/.429/.746 in 71 plate appearances since June 23.
Murphy has a .463 slugging percentage and a 116 OPS+ in his four-year Mariner career, which makes you think that he could be a permanent DH option if it would keep him healthy. For now, though, he’s a catcher who thumps. Some people don’t believe they actually exist, but you’ve seen one with your own eyes, man. — GB
Last Power Ranking: 9
Player having a sneaky-good season: Ryan Walker
In a bullpen that also features a submariner, a 103-mph monster and a pitcher who throws his slider 65 percent of the time, Walker might be the funkiest pitcher of all of them. Pause this video about two seconds in, and you’ll see what I mean.
It looks like he’s throwing to a home plate that’s set up 20 feet behind the batter. Then he crosses over and throws a slider that moves a foot away from the batter. Absolutely goofy stuff. It’s also working really well this season, as he’s giving the Giants four strikeouts for every walk. He’s been effective as one of the Giants’ openers, but he’s been good enough to dream that he can be a long-term solution for high-leverage outings. — GB
Last Power Ranking: 12
Player having a sneaky-good season: Ian Happ
Happ isn’t quite performing like a typical No. 3 hitter, but he is proving an old baseball maxim: If you have a hitter who walks as much as Happ does, he will still be valuable, even if the rest of his offensive numbers are lagging a bit. Happ entered Sunday with a .367 on-base percentage. He hasn’t been as good as he was last year when he made his first All-Star Game, but he might be a little better than you think. — RD
Last Power Ranking: 16
Player having a sneaky-good season: Justin Turner
The Red Sox and the Dodgers essentially flipped veteran right-handed hitters in the winter. After J.D. Martinez bolted for Los Angeles, the Red Sox scooped up Turner. Martinez has been a hit with the Dodgers, who are rolling toward another National League West title. But Turner has done more or less exactly what the Red Sox have paid him to do: 18 homers, an .835 OPS heading into Sunday, and a steady presence at the plate and in the field. Even as he approaches his 39th birthday in November, Turner remains an excellent, resourceful hitter. His late-career renaissance, which began with the Dodgers in 2014, is now in its 10th season. Impressive stuff. — AM
Last Power Ranking: 14
Player having a sneaky-good season: Joey Votto
Votto missed so much time with an injury that it’s easy to overlook that — as he nears his 40th birthday — he’s still been a good hitter. He has an OPS+ of .842. He entered Sunday with 13 homers in 140 at-bats. Did I mention he’ll be 40 in September? As they say in Cincinnati, it appears that Joey Votto can still bang. — RD
— Cut4 (@Cut4) August 6, 2023
Last Power Ranking: 13
Player having a sneaky-good season: Edouard Julien
Julien can hit. Twins fans know this. I’m not sure anyone else does. As a 24-year-old rookie, he entered Sunday hitting .280 with a .376 on-base percentage and .481 slugging. That’s good enough for an OPS+ of 135. His batted-ball data backs up the performance, too. While his defensive metrics aren’t quite as friendly, it’s amazing that a rookie hitting this well has flown under the radar to the degree he has. — RD
Last Power Ranking: 17
Player having a sneaky-good season: Sandy Alcantara
No, he won’t win another Cy Young award this fall. Yes, it is concerning that his strikeout numbers have dipped and his walk rate has risen. But Alcantara still provides immense value with his ability and willingness to pitch deep into games, especially for a Marlins team that decided to stash rookie starter Eury Pérez in the minors for a month. Alcantara led the sport in innings heading into Sunday’s games, just as he did last season. In his past four starts, he has pitched a pair of complete games and finished the eighth inning in a third outing. His second-half ERA is 2.45. Not bad. — AM
Last Power Ranking: 15
Player having a sneaky-good season: Anthony Volpe
Yeah, yeah, yeah, we know. We know. We know! But consider this: Volpe turned 22 in April. He had played 22 games above Double-A baseball before this season. His defense at shortstop has been strong. He played under an intense microscope on a team going nowhere. It is hard to play shortstop in the big leagues, and it is even harder to do so for the Yankees. Volpe will likely finish this season as a player worth three to four wins above replacement, depending on which version of the metric you favor. Is this what the Yankees expected from Volpe? Not exactly. He has disappointed at the plate. But there is still reason to believe in his potential, and at least he can catch the baseball. — AM
Last Power Ranking: 18
Player having a sneaky-good season: Xander Bogaerts
He hasn’t been sneaky-good offensively, mind you. His OPS+ is the lowest it’s been since 2017, which is more than a little concerning, considering he’s a 30-year-old player in the first year of an 11-year, $280 million contract.
It’s his defense that’s been sneaky good. In five of his first six seasons, Bogaerts had an Outs Above Average that was under water, including a 2021 mark that had him as one of the worst defensive shortstops in baseball. He had a strong showing last season, but that could have been a statistical blip. He still had something to prove, and he’s proving it, ranking with the big boys in several defensive metrics. With Manny Machado and Ha-Seong Kim flanking him on either side, he’s a part of one of the best defensive infields you’ll ever see.
All of this is why the Padres have one of the best run differentials in baseball. Lemme just take a huge sip of coffee and check the actual standings, because I’ll bet they’re making the Dodgers sweat — wait … this can’t be right. — GB
Last Power Ranking: 19
Player having a sneaky-good season: Geraldo Perdomo
OK, we’re going to have to stretch the definition of “sneaky good” here, because Perdomo was a National League All-Star. That should be disqualifying for this little exercise, but I’ll bet that you haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about Perdomo this season. Certainly not as much as you’ve been thinking about Bobby Witt Jr. this season, or Jeremy Peña last season.
Perdomo’s performance this year suggests he should be in that class, which is loosely defined as “already very good, with a shot to put it all together and win an MVP one day.” Last season, he was the 30th player in baseball history to hit under the Mendoza Line in more than 500 PA. This season, he’s walking nearly as much as he’s striking out, and he’s playing solid defense. He’s doing it all with some of the weakest batted-ball stats in baseball, but you can’t fake his eye and plate discipline, and he’s still just 23. He’s not sneaky-good in the sense that we’re using it throughout these rankings; he has a sneaky-good chance to be an organizational cornerstone. — GB
Last Power Ranking: 20
Player having a sneaky-good season: Shohei Ohtani
Have you noticed what this guy has been doing? You’d think people would be talking about this more. He reminds me of Babe Ruth, and any time you’re getting compared to that guy, you know you’re doing something right. Keep an eye on Ohtani. Sky’s the limit for this kid.
OK, fine, if you’re a completionist who needs a real answer, let’s go with Mickey Moniak. The No. 1 pick from 2016 never found his footing with the Phillies, and he was traded to the Angels for Noah Syndergaard last season. After starting off hot in Triple A this year, he got called up and stayed hot. Wildly, untouchably hot. His OPS was a cool 1.000 just a week before the deadline, which helps explain one of the reasons the Angels were unreasonably optimistic.
There are concerns underneath the hood, of course. Moniak was striking out close to 34 percent of the time, with one of the lowest walk rates in either league. That tends to be a poisonous combination, and he’s hit .206/.237/.301 in his last 18 games, which is much closer to the player the Phillies gave up on. Still, he’s shown off the kind of talent that gets a guy drafted first overall, and he’s been one of the best stories on a team that’s desperate for them.
(Except for that Ohtani kid. I’m telling you, don’t sleep on that guy.) — GB
Last Power Ranking: 21
Player having a sneaky-good season: Steven Kwan
It might seem like Kwan is regressing to the mean after a sterling rookie season. His offensive slash lines are down across the board and his OPS is closer to league-average. That’s true. But he remains a solid on-base guy who puts up good defensive numbers, runs the bases well, and does all the little things that help add up to 3.2 wins above replacement in the middle of August, according to Baseball-Reference. Maybe you’re the type of person who is skeptical of the defensive numbers or believes WAR can overrate these do-it-all players with limited offense. But despite closer-to-league-average production at the plate, Kwan has still been really valuable. — RD
Last Power Ranking: 23
Player having a sneaky-good season: Tyler Holton
We exalted the performance of Holton, 27, a few weeks back, and at the risk of plagiarizing ourselves, let’s do it again. The southpaw has a 1.81 ERA in 59 2/3 innings with a 0.905 WHIP. He’s under club control for another five seasons. He recently started warming up to “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” by Tears for Fears. Speaking of sneaky good, I’m going to listen to that song right now. — RD
Last Power Ranking: 22
Player having a sneaky-good season: Ke’Bryan Hayes
Do you like defensive value? Do you like Outs Above Average? Do you like players who help you win despite having an OPS worse than league average? Well, do we have the player for you! Hayes will soon surpass 2.0 wins above replacement. He’ll reach that threshold for the third straight year. He isn’t really getting on base much, and he doesn’t hit for too much power. But he’s so good with the glove that he continues to be an above-average player. He might represent the platonic ideal of sneaky good. — RD
Last Power Ranking: 24
Player having a sneaky-good season: Kodai Senga
We were going to highlight Tommy Pham’s resurgence, but, alas, he is no longer a Met. Then we remembered David Robertson’s late-inning excellence, but, alas, he is no longer a Met. Same story for the versatile Mark Canha. So how about Senga? He made the All-Star team in his first big-league season. He has been able to handle the transition from the six-man rotation in Nippon Professional Baseball. He continues to miss a lot of bats. In a lost season in Flushing, Senga qualifies as a bright spot. — AM
Last Power Ranking: 25
Player having a sneaky-good season: CJ Abrams
Our thought process here is similar to what we wrote earlier about Anthony Volpe. Abrams is so young. He rocketed through San Diego’s minor-league system despite not playing an organized game in 2020. He became the centerpiece of the Juan Soto trade, with all its accompanying expectations. And he is being developed at the big-league level, which is a significant challenge. In his first full season with the Nationals, Abrams has demonstrated that he can handle shortstop while overcoming adversity at the plate. In the coming years, we will see if he can reach his ceiling. But he has at least established a floor in 2023, which counts for something. — AM
Last Power Ranking: 26
Player having a sneaky-good season: Willson Contreras
Remember the controversy involving Contreras? That was so long ago. The Cardinals’ season never really improved, so most of baseball moved on and stopped thinking about Willson Contreras. But in a lost season in St. Louis, he’s been pretty solid. He’s posted an OPS around .800 while accumulating 2.4 WAR, according to Baseball-Reference. He’s still catching a lot, too. He’s probably been close to what the Cardinals expected. His club just isn’t that good. — RD
Last Power Ranking: 27
Player having a sneaky-good season: Mike Clevinger
Well, it’s slim pickings on the South Side. Luis Robert Jr. has been terrific, but there’s nothing sneaky about that. The White Sox jettisoned some of their other valuable players at the deadline. So … how about Clevinger? His peripheral numbers are a little iffy, and he’s missed some time, making just three starts since June 14. But from a performance standpoint — a 3.55 ERA in 15 starts — it could be worse. If he can maintain that performance and make another six or seven starts, he’ll head into free agency with some momentum. — RD
Last Power Ranking: 28
Player having a sneaky-good season: Justin Lawrence
Imagine being a teenage pitcher and getting drafted by the Rockies, a typically non-competitive team that plays in Pitcher’s Hades. Then imagine going to rookie ball and getting shelled — we’re talking an 8.39 ERA, even before you reach the high-altitude nonsense. Then imagine figuring out how to miss bats in your fourth professional season, only to get hurt. Then imagine posting an 8.76 ERA in your first taste of the upper minors.
Then imagine sitting with that career-worst performance for over a year when the minor-league season gets canceled because of a pandemic.
This is all to say that, nearly a decade after he was drafted, Lawrence is putting it all together, and it’s been pretty cool to watch. He has one of the nastiest breaking balls in the game, and it’ll take him far. It certainly didn’t happen overnight, which helps remind you that this silly sport is hard. It also helps you root for a player like Lawrence, who is finally coming into his own. — GB
Last Power Ranking: 29
Player having a sneaky-good season: Bobby Witt Jr.
Witt has a combination of power and speed that puts him in rare company. He is the first player in MLB history to record 20 homers and 30 stolen bases in his first two seasons, a fact that seems hard to believe but is true. Barry Bonds? Didn’t do it. Ronald Acuña Jr.? Didn’t do it. Mike Trout? Didn’t do it. (Although that’s partly because Trout only played 40 games in his first season when he debuted at age 19 in 2011.) But anyway, Witt is having a really, really superb season. He’s among the league leaders in Outs Above Average. And entering Sunday, he was slashing .336/.370/.636 since the start of July. — RD
Last Power Ranking: 30
Player having a sneaky-good season: Jordan Diaz
The A’s are 33-83 as of this writing, but their Pythagorean win-loss record is 32-84, so they’ve been a little lucky. As you might imagine, there aren’t a lot of happy-fun stories on a team like that.
Diaz isn’t exactly lighting up the American League, with an OPS in the low-.700s and iffy defensive numbers, but he’s exactly the kind of player the A’s need now: a 22-year-old to dream on. That’s right, he might be good enough to trade for prospects who might be as good as Jordan Diaz one day. It’s the John Fisher Way.
Until then, though, here’s an A’s player worth watching. They’re few and far between, but here’s one. — GB
(Top photo of Carlos Correa: Tim Nwachukwu / Getty Images)