Surprising April Standouts

Who are this year's surprise early breakout players?

Every season, April presents many opportunities for overreactions and small-sample shenanigans. Just a couple of weeks ago, the Pirates looked primed to make a run at the NL Central, for example. Taking it further back, we can always remember past April darlings that flamed out quickly, like in 2006, when Chris Shelton (.783 slugging and 9 homers over his first 13 games) and Jonny Gomes (.453 OBP with 11 homers) had some of the best starts ever seen.

In 2024, we have already seen a fair share of unexpected players producing a memorable April and helping their teams get off to quick starts. While it is still uncertain if they can keep it up and become stars or are having a career renaissance, it is important to highlight their contributions as we turn the calendar to May.

So, in no particular order, we present our picks for the most surprising April standouts around MLB.


Javier AssadChicago Cubs


The Cubs are off to a great start, with playoff odds hovering around 90% and Japanese import Shota Imanaga living up to the hype. This has happened despite a terrible start from Kyle Hendricks and Jordan Hicks being ineffective and now injured. The unsung hero in this story is Javier Assad, who has been an unheralded part of the Cubs for a couple of years, being used as a swingman and spot starter for most of his tenure, despite a career 3.06 ERA entering this season.

Forced into action as the fifth starter, Assad has risen to prominence with a 2-0 record and 2.00 ERA over five starts. While he doesn’t have enough innings to be qualified, his ability to limit homers and suppress free passes will soon have him atop many pitching leaderboards. Still only 26 years old, the Mexican righty may finally be able to secure a permanent spot in Chicago’s rotation.


Mason Miller – Oakland A’s


The A’s are depressing for a lot of reasons, but they have been surprisingly adequate on the field, with a 13-17 record that is far from last season’s disaster. Their team leader in WAR is none other than closer Mason Miller, who has become appointment watching every time he takes the mound.

While his rookie season in 2023 was decent (3.78 ERA and 38 Ks over 33.1 innings), Miller has reached a new level, blazing 100-mph fastballs almost easily and creating some of the most memorable pitching sequences of the early season. With seven saves, a 1.46 ERA, 18.2 K/9, and 0.08 FIP (!!!) over 12.1 innings, Miller has reminded us that the A’s can still produce fun baseball despite their aura of disarray. While the very small sample size suggests that he may fall back to earth, we can continue to scoreboard-watch and tune in every time there is a close game in the late innings involving Oakland.


Mark CanhaDetroit Tigers


Most players on this list are youngsters starting to find their footing in baseball, but it is always worthy of attention when a veteran turns back the clock. Mark Canha was an unheralded signing for the Tigers, as the team aimed to add some stability for an offense that struggled mightily in 2023.

While the overall results are still not great and the pitching staff has carried the Tigers to a surprising 16-12 start, Canha has been an unexpected force in the middle of the order. His .913 OPS currently matches his career-best, which came all the way back in 2019, as the 35-year-old stands as a top-20 hitter in terms of walk rate, OBP, and BB/K ratio, providing a needed veteran bat for a team that needs to squeeze every run it can get. The odds are against Canha keeping up this level of production, but even if he slides back to his career standards, he should still be a valuable piece for a Tigers team that appears set to contend in the AL Central.


Reid DetmersLos Angeles Angels


The Angels, as usual, already appear to be out of the race. Following a decent 9-9 start, the team spiraled to lose 9 of their next 11 games, with their usual brand of Mike Trout awesomeness, TOOTBLAN nonsense, and lousy pitching. The brightest spot in a poor staff has been Reid Detmers, though, as the southpaw appears to be putting it all together after showing only flashes of his potential since his 2021 debut.

Detmers allowed only four runs over his first four starts, earning the win in three of them. While he took the loss and allowed nine runs over 12 innings to close out the month, the overall body of work suggests that the lefty has the tools to produce a good season and become the lone Angels ace. Sporting a 2.73 FIP and finally limiting homers and walks, Detmers must adjust and make sure his most recent outings do not portend a quick return to mediocrity.


Tanner HouckBoston Red Sox


Despite many crushing injuries and a pessimistic outlook, the Red Sox have stayed afloat mainly because of their pitching staff, which ranks as the best in baseball. While that statement would have been almost unfathomable a month ago, Boston has managed to trot out many unexpected performances, including breakouts from Kutter Crawford, Brayan Bello, and Cooper Criswell.

Among all of them, maybe the most out-of-nowhere pitcher has been Tanner Houck, fresh off a 2023 season in which he posted a 5.01 ERA over 21 starts. Following a few mechanical adjustments and an approach change recommended by pitching coach Andrew Bailey, Houck has become a new pitcher, with a 1.60 ERA over 39.1 innings, including a complete-game shutout, which came against the first-place Guardians. If you doubt Houck’s sustainability, he also leads the league with a 2.01 FIP and has an 8.20 K/BB ratio, suggesting that he could be the real deal and that the Red Sox could at least contend for a wild card spot.


Brice TurangMilwaukee Brewers


It would have been understandable for the Brewers to have a down year, considering they lost their manager, top two starting pitchers, and closer before the season even started. On the other hand, they had enough youth and wily veterans to contend, which is exactly what has happened so far.

William Contreras, Willy Adames, and Christian Yelich (before he hit the IL) have been the main driving forces of the offense, but they have been nicely complemented by Brice Turang, the sophomore second baseman who had a rough rookie season in 2023. Settled as an everyday player, Turang appears to be taking the leap to at least being an above-average infielder, with solid defense and a knack for efficient baserunning.

Even as his bat cooled off a bit during the second half of the month, he will finish April with a solid .300/.360/.422 slash line, including 13 stolen bases without being caught once. With Jackson Chourio struggling out of the gate, Turang’s presence has reminded us that players sometimes need more time to adapt to the rigors of Major League Baseball, but that talent tends to come out on top.


Jared JonesPittsburgh Pirates


The Pirates may be falling back to earth after a surprising start, but a rookie pitcher may just be starting to propel himself to new heights. Jared Jones, who was not particularly high in prospect rankings, broke camp with the team and has reached Mason Miller-like levels of hype, already giving us what may be the most unfair pitch of 2024.

Jones’s overall results may not look as impressive, with a 2-3 record and 3.89 FIP, but that number has been inflated by 7 homers allowed over only 34 innings. At the same time, he sports an 11.1 K/9 and 8.40 K/BB ratio at age 22 – numbers that are impressive at any age. With the imminent call-up of Paul Skenes and the presumed positive regression of Mitch Keller, Pittsburgh may suddenly have a top-5 rotation in the NL, headlined by Jared Jones, a true strikeout virtuoso.


Alec BohmPhiladelphia Phillies


In terms of the most radical turnaround of the young season, Alec Bohm would be Exhibit A, as he has suddenly transformed from a role player to a superstar. To wit, he entered 2024 with a career 0.8 WAR, only to already have amassed 1.4 WAR over his first 30 games. With slow starts by the likes of Kyle Schwarber, Nick Castellanos, and JT Realmuto, the emergence of Bohm has been instrumental for the Phillies, as the third baseman has finally shown the ability to reduce the strikeouts and make more hard contact, leading to a 1.047 OPS that ranks third in baseball.

Bohm has been able to produce a number of key hits, posting the second-highest RBI total in MLB while also being top-3 in extra-base hits and OBP. At the same time, he is only one of seven qualified hitters with a .400+ BABIP, without being particularly fast. There may be a time during this season when Bohm regresses, but he has been the best hitter in the middle of a killer lineup, and that must always be celebrated.


Ronel BlancoHouston Astros


The Astros have been a disappointment that borders on disaster, with a 9-19 record that threatens to put an end to their recent dynasty. Even amid all that disarray, a truly feel-good story has come out of the blue for Houston, as the little-heralded Ronel Blanco has become the team’s ace and one of the best pitchers in baseball. With a career 4.78 ERA coming mostly out of the bullpen, the 30-year-old was pressed into action following the many injuries to Houston’s rotation, and he suddenly found a new level.

He has been the starting pitcher in 4 of the Astros’ 9 wins so far, never allowing more than two runs and even pitching the only no-hitter of 2024 in his first outing. While Blanco still allows many walks, his hit suppression has been outstanding, with a 4.4 H/9 that leads the league by a mile. With a FIP (3.50) standing at more than double his ERA (1.65), it is almost inevitable that Blanco will come down a notch, but that doesn’t take away from his amazing April and the eternal reminder that these kinds of breakthroughs only happen in baseball.


CJ AbramsWashington Nationals


The appearance of CJ Abrams on this list is debatable. After all, he was the headlining prospect on the Juan Soto trade and already posted a 3.4 WAR season just last year. However, he did it on the strength of his defense and baserunning, with a modest .676 career OPS heading into 2024. Things have changed quickly for Abrams, who has come out of the gate mashing like never before, with 16 extra-base hits, six stolen bases, and a 1.011 OPS that ranks fifth in MLB.

While his hitting profile is modest and nothing really stands out in terms of barrels and hard-hit percentage, Abrams has managed to make the most out of his swings as part of his development. It is important to remember that he is only 23 years old, with plenty of room to improve. Even as the Nationals continue to give at-bats and innings to certified black holes, if Abrams can sustain this level, it would make sense that Washington suddenly is a step ahead in its rebuild.


Ranger SuárezPhiladelphia Phillies


Ranger Suárez’s emergence as the leading NL Cy Young candidate is hardly shocking, as the lefty has had varying degrees of success during his six-year career. In his first extended stay with the Phillies, he was an asset out of the bullpen, going 6-1 with a 3.14 ERA in 2019. He struggled to establish himself as a starter, even after posting a 1.36 ERA in 2021, as he combined to go 14-13 with a 3.88 ERA in the past two seasons.

Despite being tabbed as the third starter behind Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler, Suarez has been Philly’s true ace, becoming the first pitcher in franchise history with at least 5 wins and a sub-2.00 ERA in April. He leads the league with a 0.634 WHIP and has struck out 8 batters for every walk. While he pitched a shutout against the Rockies and has wins versus Washington and Pirates, Suarez also was effective against better offenses, like Atlanta’s, Cincinnati’s, and San Diego’s. While his 1.32 ERA is certainly unsustainable, it will be fun to follow Ranger Suárez throughout the season and see how far he can go.

Pablo Figueroa

Pablo Figueroa is a Baseball Writer here at Pitcher List, with experience as a writer since 2013. He lives in Aguascalientes, Mexico - proud home of Los Rieleros. When he´s not thinking about baseball , he's a husband, owns two dogs, watches random episodes of The Sopranos , plays padel, and works on his day job to pay the bills.

One response to “Surprising April Standouts”

  1. ian says:

    FYI you’ve got Jordan Hicks confused for Jordan Wicks!

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