MLB Power Rankings: Braves, Yankees surge to the top, followed by Dodgers, Orioles, Brewers

by Admin
MLB Power Rankings: Braves, Yankees surge to the top, followed by Dodgers, Orioles, Brewers

As long as the calendar says April, I’ll continue to look at the MLB standings through a lens of skepticism and patience. Power rankings at this stage of the season are something of a fool’s errand. I feel reasonably confident about the placement of the first four teams and the last five or so in these rankings. The 20 teams in between? Uh, less so.

Nevertheless, here I am, ready to power rank the Major League Baseball teams. This week, rather than any futile attempt to justify my rankings that will surely look foolish in a matter of days, I’m highlighting one player from each team who has exceeded expectations in the early going and could prove especially valuable to his team if he can sustain his April performance into the summer.

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I was on the skeptical side when Atlanta signed Reynaldo Lopez with the intention of stretching him out as a starter, but it has been smooth sailing through two starts. Let’s see how he shows Tuesday against the Astros after his first two outings against the White Sox and Mets.

A wildly popular and productive super-utility player as a rookie in 2022, Oswaldo Cabrera’s bat cratered in 2023, leaving his place on the depth chart in question. Then DJ LeMahieu’s foot injury opened the door for significant playing time at third base for Cabrera, and he has been one of New York’s most productive hitters so far. Look for him to get an even more consistent run moving forward, with veteran Jon Berti recently hitting the injured list due to a groin strain.

While the bottom third of the Dodgers’ lineup has been deeply disappointing, Teoscar Hernandez has done his part while batting primarily sixth and occasionally higher against southpaws. He’s still striking out a ton, but he has already smashed five homers and is looking like an ideal complementary piece to the trio of superstars at the top of the order — a far more suitable role for Hernandez than the one he was asked to fill in Seattle as a bona fide cleanup hitter.

It’s sometimes difficult to keep track of with Baltimore’s ridiculous inventory of wildly talented hitting prospects, but while we were all busy freaking out about Jackson Holliday, outfielder Colton Cowser has been blistering the ball for the O’s, forcing his way into the every-day lineup. We shouldn’t be stunned by a former fifth overall pick finding his footing at age 24 after raking at Triple-A last season, but Cowser is yet another reminder of Baltimore’s embarrassment of riches when it comes to young bats.

He’ll probably always be known more for his stellar infield glove, but it has been a really nice start to the season with the bat for 24-year-old second baseman Brice Turang. After his immense struggles against southpaws as a rookie, the Brewers seem content to have Turang primarily in a platoon in 2024, and that has paid off so far (.834 OPS). Add that he’s a perfect 8-for-8 on stolen bases, and Turang’s surprising offensive impact can be appreciated even further.

It’s time you familiarize yourself with the stylings of one Cade Smith. The line — 8 G, 9 IP, 0.00 ERA, 4 H, 4 BB, 13 K — says plenty on its own; as a rookie, Smith has been one of baseball’s best relievers in April. But how he got here should also be highlighted: Born and raised in British Columbia, Smith opted not to sign out of high school as a 2017 pick by the Twins and instead went to play at the University of Hawaii. Three years after that, he signed with Cleveland as an undrafted free agent in 2020 after the draft was shortened to five rounds due to the pandemic. Four years later, here he is, slicing and dicing big-league bats with one of the most unique release points in the league.

With his catching days officially behind him, MJ Melendez has looked fantastic with the bat as the every-day left fielder for the resurgent Royals. Hitting the ball with authority has never been an issue for Melendez, who ranked in the top 10% of qualified hitters in both average exit velocity and hard-hit rate in 2023, despite his surface stats looking more pedestrian. Now it’s about refining his plate discipline to allow his exceptional raw power to play more consistently. So far, so good.

Is hitting a homer in five straight games good? Asking for my friend and newest North Side hero, Michael Busch, who is simply smashing the baseball right now in the middle of the Cubs’ lineup. With fellow slugger Seiya Suzuki hitting the IL due to an oblique strain, Chicago will be hoping Busch can sustain his offensive heroics while veterans Ian Happ, Dansby Swanson, and Cody Bellinger find their respective grooves.

Acquired in a minor trade with Kansas City last December, Edward Olivares has provided an unexpected jolt to the Pirates’ offense in the early going. It was something of a curious move for the Royals to part with Olivares, considering he was one of their few above-average hitters the past two seasons, but the Pirates are happily reaping the benefits of the trade thus far.

Rival Will Smith’s amusing assertion aside, Jurickson Profar has been one of San Diego’s most productive hitters as the every-day left fielder. Many fairly questioned the Padres’ willingness to roll with Profar and 20-year-old Jackson Merrill as Fernando Tatis’ Jr.’s running mates in the outfield, but that decision has proven prudent so far, with both Profar and Merrill contributing heavily to San Diego’s solid start and recent series victory at Dodger Stadium.

It might have taken an injury to Taijuan Walker to ensure a rotation spot for Spencer Turnbull, but the 31-year-old right-hander has been excellent in his first year as a Phillie after signing a modest, one-year, $2 million deal at the start of spring training. Philadelphia will have an interesting decision to make whenever Walker returns from his shoulder injury.

He just became the latest Ranger to hit the IL, but I’ve been impressed by lefty Cody Bradford through his first few turns in the rotation. He was something of an unsung hero during the Rangers’ march to the World Series last October, and now he’s being counted on for a much larger workload while Texas waits for its more established starters to get healthy. Hopefully Bradford’s back injury doesn’t keep him out too long.

I liked the Justin Turner signing for Toronto, considering the team’s desperate need for reliable offensive production, and he has been far more than just reliable: So far this season, he’s a top-five hitter in baseball, an astonishing start for someone who will turn 40 in November.

Let’s hope the scary collision during Monday’s game doesn’t keep Tyler O’Neill out for long because his power surge has been one of the best stories of the season thus far. I was quite bullish on Boston’s acquisition of the ultra-jacked Canadian outfielder, but O’Neill has blasted past even my lofty expectations, looking like a more refined version of what we saw in 2021, when he launched 34 long balls for St. Louis. Assuming he doesn’t miss much time and can get back to mashing in the near future, O’Neill is on track to be one of July’s most fascinating trade chips and/or one of this winter’s most intriguing free agents.

Joc Pederson is off to a downright bizarre start to the year. He struck out for the first time in 2024 on Monday — in his 38th plate appearance of the season and his first facing a left-handed pitcher. Against righties, he has drawn eight walks and has yet to strike out, but he has produced only two extra-base hits, neither of which was a home run. Will Pederson continue to be fully platooned the rest of the year? Or is this just some small-sample silliness?

The young Orioles sit at No. 4 in this week's power rankings. (Mallory Bielecki/Yahoo Sports)

The young Orioles sit at No. 4 in this week’s power rankings. (Mallory Bielecki/Yahoo Sports)

I’m eager to see what a full season in Tampa Bay looks like for right-hander Aaron Civale, who arrived via trade from Cleveland last July. Early returns have been extremely encouraging. Strikeouts were never the key to Civale’s success as a big-league starter early in his career, but that has started to shift since he joined the Rays, and a new sweeper has made his already-deep arsenal even more diverse.

I shouldn’t be surprised considering how rock-solid he was as a rookie who led the team in plate appearances in 2023, but man, Spencer Steer just rakes. Now that he’s no longer bouncing around the diamond defensively and has settled in at left field, Steer can fully focus on mashing in the middle of the order. The strikeouts are down, the walks are up, and he’s still crushing the ball with regularity.

Is Jason Foley suddenly one of the best closers in baseball? The right-hander was quietly excellent in 2023 in more of a setup role, and now he’s throwing even harder and looks to be manager AJ Hinch’s preferred choice to lock down the final three outs. Foley has already collected four saves after notching seven in all of 2023. Last year, he found most of his success by yielding a ton of weak contact; this year, he’s still racking up grounders but also getting noticeably more whiffs. Keep an eye on this guy. I think he’s legit.

Part of me wants to scrap the point of this exercise and marvel at how incredible Jose Altuve is, but there’s an easy pick for pleasant surprise in Houston despite the team’s uncharacteristically poor first few weeks: Ronel Blanco. The no-hitter against Toronto was obviously a marvelous way to start the year, but I’m also ultra-impressed by his going six strong in back-to-back outings against the Rangers to follow up his no-no. The Astros need every quality inning they can get right now, and the 30-year-old right-hander has delivered in a huge way.

With Willson Contreras entrenched as the franchise catcher, 23-year-old Ivan Herrera seemed slated for strictly backup duties in 2024. But after a hand injury limited Contreras’ ability to catch regularly in the early going, Herrera has made the most of his unexpected opportunities (3 HR, .856 OPS). Amidst a slow start for much of the Cardinals lineup, Herrera’s mini-breakout has been a welcome sight.

Rather than single out one pitcher, I gotta give some love to the entire Minnesota relief corps. Neither Jhoan Duran (one of the best closers on the planet) nor Justin Topa (acquired from Seattle in the Jorge Polanco trade and expected to be a key late-inning reliever) has thrown a pitch yet due to injury, but the Twins’ relievers somehow collectively rank third in ERA and first in K%. To anonymous yet spectacular hurlers such as Cole Sands, Brock Stewart, Kody Funderburk and Steven Okert: I salute you.

22. New York Mets, 8-8

Between the two sophomore position players expected to play every day for the 2024 Mets, Francisco Alvarez entered the year with far more buzz than Brett Baty. But while Alvarez hasn’t disappointed by any means, Baty has stood out more and looks significantly more confident both at the plate and in the field than he did as a rookie. Baty proving himself as a legitimate building block on this roster would be a huge development for the Mets this season, regardless of how many games they win.

Sluggish doesn’t even begin to describe how lethargic Seattle’s offense looked before a much-needed, nine-run outburst vs. Cincinnati on Monday. Still, Mitch Haniger has been everything the Mariners could’ve hoped for and more in his return to the lineup (286/.275/.500) after being reacquired from San Francisco in a surprising offseason trade (even by Jerry Dipoto standards). It’s like he never left!

If the Angels are going to have any hope of staying relevant in the postseason race, they’ll need Tyler Anderson to vastly improve upon the 5.43 ERA he posted in his first year as an Angel. And through three starts, he has looked much more like the guy they gave $39 million as a free agent coming off an All-Star campaign in 2022. We’ll see if he can keep it up.

I can’t highlight Reynaldo Lopez’s start without also shouting out how fantastic Jordan Hicks has looked in the Giants rotation as another reliever-to-starter conversion story. It’s not just that his arsenal has expanded to include a nasty splitter and that his ERA is 1.00 — the dude has also walked fewer batters through his first three starts than Logan Webb! Who would’ve seen that coming? Hat tip to you, Mr. Hicks. You’ve proven a lot of people wrong already.

Speaking of 2022 All-Stars, Paul Blackburn has been sensational for Oakland, having yet to allow a run through his first three outings. The 30-year-old righty won’t blow you away with velocity, but his six-pitch arsenal — yes, six! — has a track record of keeping hitters off-balance. He could be an interesting trade candidate come July.

Even at just 30 years old, I thought Jesse Winker might have been cooked considering how sharply his bat declined in the two seasons following his All-Star campaign in 2021. Credit to the Nats for buying low here and giving him another shot in a low-stakes setting; he has already matched his measly extra-base hit total from last year (6) in a fraction of the playing time and is looking a lot more like his old self.

I loved the Nick Gordon pick-up for Miami when it happened — I was a believer in his 2022 breakout and thought his 2023 was simply a lost year due to injury — so it has been nice to see him sock a few dingers amidst an otherwise ugly start to the season for the Fightin’ Fish.

Allow me to admire Michael Toglia’s statline for a moment: .143/.167/.486 with zero walks and 13 strikeouts. Yet four of his five hits have left the yard! That’s pretty impressive! Toglia is tied with Elly De La Cruz atop the home run leaderboard among switch-hitters, and only Toglia has already hit two from each side of the plate. I don’t think this laughably imbalanced statline is sustainable, but I hope the former first-round pick continues to get enough playing time for us to find out.

30. Chicago White Sox, 2-14

As fantastic as Garrett Crochet’s star-turn transition from reliever to starter has been, I’ve also quite enjoyed watching Michael Kopech air it out in the bullpen after several disappointing years trying to stick in the rotation. The right-hander looks much more comfortable throwing absolute flames for one high-leverage frame than he ever did trying to navigate big-league lineups over several innings.

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