The 2021 MLB season has been underway for a few weeks now, so enough time has passed and enough games have been played to identify some players who are beginning to put together big seasons.
Whether it's an emerging young player, a candidate for a breakout season or a veteran who is looking like a younger version of himself, each team always has a few early surprises. Here is one player from each team having a surprisingly strong start to the campaign.
Baltimore Orioles: RHP Adam Plutko
Plutko has a new team and new role, and so far it's working out well. The big righty struggled as a starter in Cleveland and was traded to Baltimore in the offseason. He's been working out of the bullpen this season, and the conversion has been successful. Plutko has allowed only two earned runs on seven hits and walked two in 9.2 innings of work (1.86 ERA).
Boston Red Sox: RHP Garrett Whitlock
The Red Sox bullpen was a mess last season, but the entire pitching staff has been a surprising bright spot for Boston this year, helping propel the team to the top of the AL East standings. Whitlock came from the New York Yankees' organization from the Rule 5 draft, and he's thrown 6.1 scoreless innings in three relief appearances this season.
New York Yankees: RHP Darren O'Day
The Yankees have produced a number of surprisingly effective role players over the last few years, like Luke Voit, Gio Urshela and Mike Tauchman. But O'Day is in a category all his own. At 38, the sidewinder continues to get outs. He's made seven appearances with New York this season and allowed just one earned run in 6.0 innings (1.50 ERA).
Tampa Bay Rays: LHP Jeffrey Springs
Springs was part of a disastrous Boston bullpen last season and has a career 5.11 ERA. But he's suddenly transformed into a top middle reliever with the Rays. He has given up only one earned run on six hits over 7.0 innings of work (1.29 ERA). The one thing Springs has always been good about is limiting walks. That trend has continued in Tampa Bay, as he has yet to issue a walk this season.
Toronto Blue Jays: LHP Steven Matz
No one quite knew what to make of Matz's last few seasons. He had two solid seasons with the Mets to start his career, but he's battled injuries and ineffectiveness since 2017. His ERA ballooned to 9.68 last season, and the Mets traded him to Toronto. He's having a bounce-back year with the upstart Blue Jays, however, going 3-0 with a 1.47 ERA.
Chicago White Sox: DH Yermin Mercedes
Eloy Jimenez's offensive production has been missed, but Mercedes is doing his best to help the White Sox fill the void. The rookie DH has been absolutely mashing this month, hitting .415 with four home runs and four doubles. He's scored seven runs and driven in 12, and his 1.173 OPS is the sixth-highest in MLB.
Cleveland: RHP Emmanuel Clase
You might remember Clase's name from the Corey Kluber trade in December 2019. The right-hander came to Cleveland from the Texas Rangers with Delino DeShields Jr. for the two-time Cy Young Award winner. Now, you'll remember him for an absurd 100 mph cutter. The rookie reliever hasn't allowed an earned run in 7.1 innings.
Detroit Tigers: OF Akil Baddoo
The Rule 5 pick has had an absolutely scorching start to his career with the rebuilding Tigers. Baddoo had a 1.443 OPS through his first eight games of the season and hit four home runs. No other American League player has ever had an OPS that high through the first eight games, though it has since come down to .959.
Kansas City Royals: Jakob Junis
Junis has been inconsistent at best over the last two seasons. He's started some and worked in relief, but right now the Royals have him in the rotation, and he's making a case to stay there with a 1.80 ERA in his two starts (1.50 ERA in four appearances overall).
Minnesota Twins: OF Kyle Garlick
There haven't been many surprising performances with this team. The oft-injured Byron Buxton is one of the best hitters in baseball, but we knew he had that kind of potential if he remained healthy. Nelson Cruz is still hitting bombs. Maybe the most pleasant surprise is that Garlick is playing in left field instead of top prospect Alex Kirilloff and that he's playing well enough to remain there for the time being. The utility outfielder is showing what he can do with consistent playing time: .280/.321/.400, three doubles and six runs scored. However, he did just test positive for COVID-19, so he'll be on the shelf for now.