Major League Baseball opening weekend, a time that at one point seemed like a distant, too-good-to-be-true dream, has come and gone before many of us could even get buckled in for the new season. And, as it is with every opening weekend, we’ve already seen players come out of Spring Training locked and loaded.
As some players continue to stretch their legs and shake off the drought that was the MLB lockout, others have come out firing to give us fans something to rave about in the early goings of the season. Though more often than not the elite statistics that some players have recorded to open the season are simply the result of a solid three or four game stretch, it’s still fun to imagine that some of the out-of-this world play that has been on display will continue over the course of 162 games.
It’s kind of like this: with seven runs batted in going into Monday, St. Louis’ Nolan Arenado is on pace for 378 RBIs. I don’t know about you, but that number is simply marvelous to not only look at, but just to imagine. 378 RBIs! So will Arenado record 378 by the year’s end? No, he won’t, just like most players won’t live up to their early-season statistics. But let’s imagine a world where the stats of the early goings resemble what’s to come for the rest of the season. In that world, there’s bound to be some surprise breakouts as different players hit their early-season stride at different paces. For the sake of imagination and to satisfy my weird fascination with breakout performances to begin the new baseball season, here are the three biggest surprises of MLB opening weekend.
Steven Kwan will be the first player to hit above .500, .600, or .700
To be more specific, Kwan will be the only player in MLB history to finish a season with a batting average of .800 or higher. He’ll easily surpass Tetelo Vargas’ 1943 record when Vargas batted .471 to become the only player in Major League history to eclipse the .500 mark during a season. With the accomplishment, Kwan will all but cement himself as the greatest hitter to ever grace a baseball uniform. And, then, he’ll discover magical dust that can make people fly and will lead society into the next great wave of modernization! Too much? Too much.
So, Kwan probably won’t become the greatest hitter to ever set foot on planet Earth, but he’s definitely the best hitter to ever put on a Guardians jersey after Cleveland’s name change during the offseason. He has at the very least caught lightning in a bottle to open the season after going 8-for-10 at the plate through Cleveland’s first three games. After going 1-for-2 on Opening Day against the Royals, Kwan followed up with efforts of 2-for-3 on Saturday and a masterful 5-for-5 on Sunday. In addition to his stifling bat, Cleveland manager Terry Francona has shown belief in Kwan’s defensive abilities, playing him in all three outfield positions, while also giving Kwan the opportunity to showcase his speed on the basepaths.
A fifth-round selection in 2018 by Cleveland, 2022 has been the first taste of Major League action for the young outfielder. The 24-year-old has a knack for success in the batter’s box as he owns a career .301 batting average in the minors, including marks of .337 and .311 between Double-A and Triple-A last season. Cleveland’s 15th-ranked prospect according to MLB Pipeline, Kwan’s highest-rated skills include his ability to hit for contact and his fielding, both of which are graded as well above-average. He’s also shown plus speed and has increased his power potential as he has progressed through the minors, though scouts believe that Kwan’s outstanding hand-eye coordination and his ability to put the bat on the ball will be his bread and butter as a Major Leaguer.
A healthy Byron Buxton will hit 162 home runs this season
Is it just me, or is anybody else getting déjà vu to Buxton’s hot start from the 2021 campaign? It seems that Buxton has a hot start to every season, as he came out slashing to start last season, batting .426 with eight home runs en route to being named April’s Player of the Month. He eventually cooled down, though he still hit to the tune of an impressive .306 and 19 home runs over just 61 games before his season was cut short. Though his batting average isn’t quite what it was last season (.250 on 3-for-12), his three hits this season have all been homers. If you’re keeping track, he’s up to three home runs through three games entering Monday. If he can keep it up, he’ll hang 162 homers at the season’s end.
Barry Bonds’ record of 73 home runs during the 2001 season remains one of the most protected records in all of sports. However, there is no doubt in my mind that Buxton will bury that record with his 162 home runs in 2022. 162 home runs would also push Buxton into at least 19th all-time in terms of single season RBIs, tying him with Babe Ruth and Hal Trosky’s 1931 and 1936 seasons, respectively. In fact, in the Twins’ potent offense that will finish amongst the league’s best in total base runners this season, Buxton will have a clear path to besting Hack Wilson’s single season-best 191 RBIs in 1930.
Buxton possesses more pure talent than even the game’s best athletes, and his combination of speed, contact and power have been praised by scouts for a long time. Unfortunately, he’s been unable to piece together a substantial stretch of games in which he can stay healthy over the last few years. However, there’s still reason to be optimistic that Buxton can eventually figure things out and can stay healthy enough to put his offensive skills on display for a full season. When he does, he’ll become the biggest power threat in baseball history and will prove so by claiming the top spot amongst the all-time home runs and RBI lists. Well, that probably won’t happen. But after signing a contract extension with the Twins in the offseason, we can at the very least believe that he’ll be around to put on a show for baseball fans for a long time.
Carlos Rodón records the most strikeouts since 1886
He’ll do it in about 340 less innings than the hurlers from the 80s, too. Assuming he stays healthy, which has always been a question that’s plagued Rodón throughout his career, Rodón is on pace to make 32 starts this season. After striking out 12 Marlins over five innings on Saturday, Rodón is on pace to reach 384 strikeouts over just 160 innings by the regular season’s conclusion. That would put him in elite company and would be, perhaps, the most dominant pitching performance over the course of an entire season in baseball history.
With 384 strikeouts, Rodón would slide nicely in between Guy Hecker (385 in 1884) and Nolan Ryan (383 in 1973) for the eighth most strikeouts in a season in MLB history. During Ryan’s 1973 campaign, he recorded 326 innings pitched, the highest mark among any player in the top eight yet over double the 160 innings that Rodón would finish his 2022 campaign with. All players on the list from Hecker up recorded at least 500 innings to help boost their strikeout numbers and all pitched in the 1880s. This, in essence, would solidify Rodón’s season as the best ever given the improvement of talent that hitters have gained over the last 140 years, and would likely catapult him into the title of best pitcher in baseball history.
Even though it’s quite obvious that Rodón will not keep up the historic pace that his first start of the season has set for him, he’s shown flashes of greatness over his time in the big leagues. The 29-year-old was electric at times for the White Sox last year, tallying 13 wins compared to only five losses to go with a 2.37 earned run average and 185 strikeouts in 132.2 innings. After signing a deal with the San Francisco Giants in the offseason, the southpaw will look to continue to build on those solid numbers as he attempts to string together a fully healthy season for the first time in years.