Every summer it happens. There’s a guy that you look up and can’t believe is putting up the numbers he is. The name doesn’t match the numbers, so when you see this odd name mixed in with the perennials, the skepticism sets in. Who’s this guy? Is he legit? Cause it looks like a fluke. Or in a more sour turn, “Is he juicing?” Well, in many cases, the early word will set you free. There’s a major coming of age in baseball this summer, with top-billed prospects (Shelby Miller, Matt Harvey or Manny Machado ring a bell?) delivering on promise, as well as the essential ballplayers both continuing (Mike Trout, Clayton Kershaw and Yoenis Cespedes) and even raising their games up.
But there are always the guys from “Parts Unknown” that turn the world on its head. So to help navigate the new parts of the map, here are five guys that need to be taken notice of on the regular, mostly because they are easily outdoing guys with much better names than them. They are the type of guys that cause a little outrage when they end up on an all-star team, just because they are not the popular, but they are just the productive kid in class.
So with that said, let’s kick this off with the guy that everybody is talking about … and is making a different, yet familiar, type of impact in his debut run.
Yasiel Puig: It’s hard to miss him now, but the game’s quickest rising star is the big (6’3, 250 pounds to be exact) Dodgers super prospect turned sensation. He is making real waves in a place that hasn’t had many this year. Puig is that rare talent that makes everyone turn on SportsCenter just to see what he’s done and then doing something that blows away even the most unreal of expectations. Just last night, he took a fastball to the face and then not only stayed in the game, but scored a run the same time around the bases. At 22, he’s hit .471 (yep, that’s real) and become the second player in the last 112 years to hit four home runs in his first five games. And he does it all with a flare. From the 450-foot homer power to the big throws that look like RGIII has tossed on a Dodgers hat for the summer, he’s making himself into a quick folk hero.
If anything, his greatest impacts so far have to be both a jolt in a dead offense as well as a distraction to a dead team. In much the same way that Mike Trout took some of the heat off the underachieving Angels with his rookie breakout, Puig is putting the spotlight on himself in a variety of ways. Whether it’s the “wow” play, an incredible hustle effort or even the slightly cringe-worthy bad decision, his remarkable effort and result should make it easier for Matt Kemp the rest of the slumbering Dodgers to get going on the shoulders of the ManBearPuig.
Paul Goldschmidt: Investment of the year goes to a team that let one MVP candidate leave and actually got better because it knew it had another one up its sleeve. When Justin Upton was sent out of town, the Diamondbacks handed Goldschmidt $32 million to become the new power conduit in the desert. He’s responded by being perhaps the first-half MVP, with an NL-best 59 RBI pulling Arizona to the top of an NL West that was all but promised to the Dodgers and Giants a few months ago.
Matt Carpenter: If I asked who is leading every National League second baseman in baseball in batting average, hits, doubles, on-base percentage and WAR, the names of Phillips, Utley and Scutaro would fly out far before Carpenter’s did. But the Cardinals’ experiment-turned-emerging star has had one of the most productive seasons of any player in baseball this year, all while adjusting to a position he’d never played before in both the lineup and with the glove. Meanwhile, he’s become the owner of an 18-game hitting streak and is the quiet tone setter for the best team in baseball so far.
Chris Davis: He’s only hit 55 home runs for the Orioles since being stolen away from the Rangers just a little over a year ago. Usually leaps in power like this are questioned in today’s game, but Davis is simply a guy with all the tools pulling it together. The 27-year-old cut down the strikeouts, has already equaled his doubles total from a year ago (20), got a full-time opportunity and now he’s got a chance to hit 50 home runs in just this year alone over Camden’s fences.
Domonic Brown: The Phillies have been desperately waiting on Brown to bloom. It didn’t seem like it was bound to come just over a month ago, when he was hitting just .233 with 3 homers. But just a month later he’s added another 16 long balls, showing why his nickname “Downtown” makes the type of sense that it should. The future of the Phillies is beginning to finally show some light again, and the all-around game of their left fielder is quickly putting him in a class with Stanton, Harper, Heyward and the rest of the young beasts in the East.
I’m a firm believer that the closest I’ve gotten to Heaven is Game 6 of the 2011 World Series. In the meantime til we cross paths again, I’ll pass along the gospel of the Field of Dreams here, Cheap.Seats.Please, I70 Baseball, and ‘Live From The Cheap Seats’.