Fri May 14 01:40pm EDT
Big League Stew goes through the quad and into the gymnasium to look at some of the hottest players in baseball and their chances of keeping it going.
The Naked Truth: .301/.431/.613, 8 HR, 28 RBI, 2 SB
Having a nice little Saturday: Jason Heyward arrived in the major leagues with about as much hype as one could imagine. Former No. 1 draft pick Chipper Jones(notes) was telling reporters in spring training how great he was. Beat writers were whispering stories about the last time the Braves had an African-American right-field prospect who came up when he was 20, that guy who hit 755 home runs. So yeah: He was hyped. Then his name started showing up on leaderboards and here we are.
You're my boy, Blue!: If Heyward has a weakness, it's strikeouts. The rookie struck out 26 times in 22 April games, hitting just .240 but with enough power and plate discipline for an .880 OPS. Unfortunately for National League pitchers, he seems to have made an adjustment already, as he has struck out only once in May. In 27 May plate appearances, he has seven walks, two doubles, two homers and six singles. His May OBP is .667, so he's getting on base two-thirds of the time he has stepped to the plate. He is also by far the best power hitter on the team, with eight of the Braves' 23 homers and has an OPS 250 points higher than the next starting player, Chipper Jones, who's at .793. He has a wOBA of .451, which is the seventh-best mark in all of baseball, well behind leader and Triple Crown candidate Andre Ethier(notes) (.501), but ahead of Chase Utley(notes) (.442), Albert Pujols(notes) (.406) and nearly everyone else in baseball. He's not just a rookie of the year candidate. If the Braves sneak into the playoffs, he's a dark horse MVP candidate.
Think KFC will still be open?: Yes. As everyone else has said, Heyward is the real deal. He'll go through some rough patches eventually, and the strikeouts may return, but the power and plate discipline have been as good as advertised. He's the best hitter on the Braves and one of the best in the league. The only worry is injuries, which he occasionally suffered from in the minors. He missed nearly a week in early May with a strained groin, avoiding the DL but only amassing two pinch-hit at bats over that span. The Braves will need to make sure that doesn't recur, because he's their entire offense right now.
Alex Rios(notes), Chicago White Sox .322/.362/.585, 6 HR, 17 RBI, 11 SB
Go figure. The season after J.P. Ricciardi gets fired, the two outfielders he handed mammoth extensions to — Vernon Wells(notes) and Alex Rios — both start hitting. Rios was so bad in 2009 (a .691 OPS, worst of his career), that the Jays put him up for anyone to grab. Now, all of a sudden, his strikeouts are down, and his power is at a career high. He was always supposed to be this good, he just never was. His .330 BABIP is only 10 points above his career rate, which means he isn't getting overly lucky. Even if his strikeouts increase and his homers decrease to career levels, he'll still wind up with a very strong campaign.
Ubaldo Jimenez(notes), Colorado Rockies 6-1, 0.93 ERA, 0.99 WHIP
What has Ubaldo Jimenez done since pitching a no-hitter? Oh nothing, just lowered his ERA a bit. In 27 1/3 innings over his past four starts, he's allowed just two runs on 13 hits, striking out 29 while walking just 10. Ever wonder whether a Cy Young campaign could happen in Denver? We're watching one right now.
Carlos Ruiz(notes), Philadelphia Phillies .345/.472/.476, 2 HR, 11 RBI, 21/16 BB/K
Well, it's mid-May, and the OBP leader in the National League is Carlos Ruiz, the 31-year-old Phillie catcher with a career batting average of .253. Actually, 2009 was his real breakout, as he hit nine homers, posted an OPS of .780, and posted several other career highs. But this is ridiculous. In fairness, he's always had good strike zone control, but that's his most salient offensive tool, as he hits for a low average and not much power. Right now, he's riding high on a .403 BABIP, which means that a crash will soon be forthcoming. Enjoy it while it lasts, Phillies fans. He won't be atop the leaderboard all year.