There are stars in baseball and there are roles players. Very few teams can win a division, let alone a championship without multiple pieces doing their part. The Dodgers last season were a team that was made up of stars like Mookie Betts and Clayton Kershaw. They had tons of talent but they would not have been able to win a championship without super utility player Chris Taylor or journeymen turned stars Max Muncy and Justin Turner. Some players have long careers and take a while to find themselves. Some were highly touted prospects that just took a little longer than most expected. This season there are a few players that have stood out to me as potential game changers to already strong rosters.
Christian Arroyo- Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox were looking for some offensive help in the offseason. They added power bat Hunter Renfroe and super utility men Enrique Hernandez and Marwin Gonzalez. The off the radar addition of Christain Arroyo has paid off as much if not more then any of them.
Arroyo was moved to the lead off position to fill the gap left by the struggling Enrique Hernandez. He has done nothing but produce since the move going 9 for 24. The former Giants first round pick has set the table for the big bats in the lineup, forcing opposing pitchers to challenge Rafael Devers and Xander Bogearts.
Taking a chance on a former top prospect is always something organizations like to do and Arroyo looks like he may become a late bloomer, he was ranked as high as #62 overall as recently as 2016. His time with the Giants never panned out, he was moved in the blockbuster deal that brought Evan Longoria to San Franciscio. Never really catching on with the Rays, Arroyo became a journeyman that is finally finding a home, still just 26 years old he could still be an impact player in the league. He currently boasts a .792 OPS and it is climbing as Red Sox manager Alex Cora has shown big time confidence in him.
Patrick Wisdom- Chicago Cubs
Patrick Wisdom was always that prospect in the St. Louis’ system that the fans were waiting to see make an impact. That time never occurred in St. Louis, in fact it seemed like Wisdom was never going to cash in on the promise he showed when he smacked 31 homers in triple-A in 2017. The Cardinals moved on from Wisdom, he ended up in Texas where he got a short opportunity before being sent on his way to the Chicago Cubs in the offseason.
The Cubs likely had very little plan to utilize Wisdom, but injuries and poor play led to the chance for the 29 year old and he has taken full advantage of it in just ten games. Wisdom has matched the record set by Reds Aristedes Aquino by hitting 8 homers in just ten games. Regression is obviously coming but the impact that Wisdom has made on the Cubs since being inserted into the lineup has led them to the top of the the NL Cental.
Taijaun Walker- New York Mets
Much like the aforementioned Christain Arroyo, Taijuan Walker was a big deal coming up through the minors for the Seattle Mariners. Things never really worked out in Seattle, but Walker seemed to find himself once he was moved to the Arizona Diamondbacks. In 2017 Walker was just 9-9 but was able to set career marks in nearly every statistic, ERA, xFIP, K/9 and BA against. Walker dealt with a few injury riddled seasons in 2018 and 2019 but again showed his improvement once healthy in 2020.
He entered the offseason is an afterthought, eventually signing with the Mets for a meager 3yr, $23 million dollar contract. Walker has vaulted into the #2 spot in the Mets rotation and has helped them overcome a lackluster start from their offense. Despite two different stints on the IL, Walker has still amassed 11 starts, 5 wins, 2.07 ERA, 2.83 FIP and a 1.8 WAR.
Willy Adames- Milwaukee Brewers
Trading Willy Adames was a surprise to a lot of major league baseball. Adames is still just 25 years old and is coming off of his best season in the bigs, helping lead the Rays to the AL pennant. Adames’s time with the Rays was numbered with Wander Franco likely making his debut sooner rather than later but the Brewers may have found themselves a gem at a low cost.
Adames has always brought a great glove with him but last season he peaked with a 124 WRC+, while knocking in 29 runs in a shortened season. Adames had been struggling at the plate early in the season but since the move has lit a fire under a Brewers offense that needed all the help they could get. In 15 games with the Brew Crew, Adames has driven in 11 runs. He will never consistently hit over .300, but he will be productive against lefties and can provide stability at a position that the Brewers have had very little success getting production.
Rich Hill- Tampa Bay Rays
Rich Hill is 41 years old. He made his debut in 2005 for Chicago Cubs, since that day he has played for nine different teams all around the MLB and has been a mix of effective and embarrassing. The latter being as bad as anyone has seen in all of baseball. Since 2016, though Hill has found himself as a pitcher and when healthy he has been a staple in competetive rotations. Hill has pitched for the Athletics, Dodgers and Twins helping them all get to the playoffs.
The Rays have a history of striking gold when no one expects and it looks like Hill is the latest achievement for the Tampa front office. He is currently 5-2 with a 3.09 ERA and has made 12 starts without finding himself on the disabled list. What is amazing about Hill is that in an era that has multiple flamethrowers on every team Hill gets out by utilizing his spin rate and precision. Since spin rate has been measured in 2015, Hill ranks at the top of most categories for two different pitches (fastball and curveball). The Rays as a staff are elite, but they do lack a true #2 starter behind Tyler Glasnow, Hill may be the answer.