By Jake Mintz
FOX Sports MLB Writer
Three or four games? That seems like a sufficient sample to me.
I’m kidding, I’m kidding. Baseball is an Iron Man, not a walk around the block. There are approximately 150 games left to play. Only time, repetition and the heat of summer can reveal the truth.
But there are still things to glean from the first games of the year. These games count just like the September games. So here are some takeaways, overreactions and regular reactions to some of MLB’s best opening weekend performances and starts.
CARLOS RODON LOOKS BETTER THAN EVER
The San Francisco Giants really know what they’re doing, huh? After a shocking 107-win campaign that took everyone in baseball by surprise, the Giants came out and signed Carlos Rodón, the sometimes-spectacular and often-injured left-handed pitcher formerly of the Chicago White Sox.
Once the No. 3 draft pick, Rodón spent years in Chicago struggling with arm issues before breaking out in the first half of 2021. He made the All-Star team, threw a no hit and was in the mix for the AL Cy Jeune. Then the arm problems reappeared and Rodón threw sparingly down the stretch.
But in his first start of the season, against Miami on Saturday, Rodón looked healthy and more. The southpaw struck out 12 Marlins in five innings, allowing just one run on a passed ball. Rodón sat comfortably in his 90s, displaying the same warmth that kept him dominating before arm issues ruined his second half last season. Whether he can stay healthy through the summer remains to be seen, but the Giants may have gotten the offseason steal.
RAFAEL DEVERS A GOLDEN GLOVE?
That would probably require a Matt Chapman “Space Jam” situation, but there’s no doubt that Devers looked more nimble and confident defensively in Boston’s opening series. Red Sox manager Alex Cora spoke at length ahead of Saturday’s game about the improvements the 25-year-old third baseman has made with the glove, comparing him to future Hall of Famer Adrián Beltré.
Take those comparisons with a grain of salt and a pinch of steering garlic powder, but Devers made a series of clever plays in the hot corner, including a hitch on a 113mph laser beam off the bat. Mouse by Giancarlo Stanton.
All of this is particularly noteworthy for two reasons.
First, Devers was one of the worst defensive third basemen in the league last year. If he’s improved at all, that’s huge for preventing Boston’s 2022 run. The second reason has more to do with the team’s long-term plans. It appears, according to an ESPN report on Friday, that the Red Sox are prioritizing a Devers extension (free agent after 2023) over a Xander Bogaerts extension (free agent after this season).
Devers is a generationally talented hitter worth stretching even if he provides inferior defense at third or needs to go to first/DH, but a slight increase in his glove work would make the Red Sox feel more comfortable playing. lock him in with a long contract.
The “improvement” so far is only praise from his manager and my visual test from the Yankee Stadium press box, but Devers has certainly impressed in the early games.
BYRON BUXTON IS OUTDOOR
The Twins spent the capital-G winter “going for it.” They traded for Sonny Gray, Gary Sánchez, Gio Urshela and Chris Paddack and landed the biggest free agent in the market, Carlos Correa. But the front office’s decision to push the chips had more to do with Byron Buxton, who the club extended before the lockout, than anyone else.
Buxton wowed with his talent and frustrated with his injuries. He played over 100 games just once in his career, but he still deserved every penny of the seven-year, $100 million extension he got from the Twins in December.
Over the weekend, he showed exactly why he was rightfully in the conversation for “Best Alive Baseball Player (When Healthy).” On Saturday, he threw the home run of the season so far, taking a 101-mph elevated fastball from Seattle’s Andrés Muñoz and redistributing it to Target Field’s third deck. On Sunday, he lingered twice more in Minnesota’s first win of the year.
Buxton’s magnificence was not a surprise but a reminder. If he can stay healthy – which so far has been a US Bank Stadium-sized “if” – he has the ability to move mountains. We’re talking about another Gold Glove, a 40/40 season, an AL MVP, a 10-WAR season. The field is Buxton Oyster. Hopefully he can stay on it.
STEVEN KWAN FOR ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
Sure, it’s only three games, but Kwan was 8-for-10 with three walks and some nice center shots over the weekend. The Oregon State product is spark plug, fire starter and all the other cliches you can imagine about an undersized hitter with elite bat control. The dude literally had the lowest K-rate in the minor leagues last season, so his debut with a lot of contact isn’t a huge surprise. But Kwan was also easily the Guardians’ best player in their series against Kansas City, racking up five hits in Sunday’s blowout victory and catching the eye of casual fans across the country.
His journey to the big guys has been remarkable, and while Kwan probably won’t hit .800 forever, he’s a dynamic player who should be in the Rookie of the Year race and could be in the majors for the next decade. . Hop aboard the hype train.
THE BLUE JAYS WILL BE HELL OF A ROLLER-COASTER RIDE
No one allowed more runs over the weekend than the Toronto Blue Jays. No one had more fun this weekend than the Toronto Blue Jays. These two seemingly incongruous facts could define Toronto’s 2022 season.
First, the good. On Friday, the Jays came back from a 7-0 deficit with a relentless, electrifying barrage of home run power to beat Texas 10-8, sending Rogers Center into a frenzy. It was an incredible opening salvo for Toronto and a great reminder of why this team received so much preseason hype.
Then Saturday, better, as Bo Bichette kicked a fifth-inning equalizer before an RBI brace from Santiago Espinal in the sixth gave the Jays the lead. The bullpen held on for a 4-3 win.
Plus, the Rogers Center has an incredibly cool new video card.
Now the bad. On Sunday, Toronto led 6-1 in the third, Vlad Guerrero Jr. hit the longest home run of his career and the Jays lost, the bullpen dishing out dingers to Rangers hitters like a broken vending machine. Toronto spent a lot of effort and money revitalizing its starting rotation over the winter, but spent very little on a mediocre bullpen. Up close, Jordan Romano is dynamite, Yimi García is a grown-up reliever, I’m an unabashed fan of Trevor Richards, and twisty side Adam Cimber had a superb 2021. But beyond that, these are slim choices.
The Blue Jays’ pulsating offense should be good enough to overcome pitching flaws, but this club could give Canada a few heart attacks along the way. It’s the most entertaining team in baseball right now, for good and bad reasons, and it’s not close.
GIVE ME MATT OLSON FINISHED FREDDIE FREEMAN
Olson was among a handful of new Braves who smiled and cheered from the sideline as members of the 2021 squad received their World Series rings in a pre-game ceremony on Saturday. But while the hometown kid was an onlooker during ringside festivities, no one will play a larger role in Atlanta’s bid for a repeat.
Olson has some pretty big shoes to fill, so it’s a good thing he has big feet. The first baseman was 8 for 14 over the weekend, with two doubles and a home run, his first in a Braves uniform. And while there’s still a bit of disappointment among the fanbase over Freeman’s departure, Truist Park gave Olson a standing ovation ahead of his first set appearance on Thursday.
While it’s weird to see Freeman in Dodger blue and would have been nice to see him playing his career in Atlanta, Matt Olson might already be the better player.
GREEN HUNTER IS ALREADY ONE OF THE HARDEST STARTERS EVER
The single-game record for throws thrown at 99 mph or more belongs to Noah Syndergaard, who threw 47 in a start in 2016. Tied for second on this list with 45 heaters 99 or more sits Hunter Greene, who made this Sunday – in his big league debut.
The 22-year-old Californian was the Reds’ second pick in the 2017 MLB Draft because, well, he could throw really hard. Then, predictably, he had Tommy John surgery after his first season in a minor league, but he somehow came back throwing even harder. Sunday against the defending champion Braves, Greene showed the world just how cheese his cheese stinks, landing seven punches in five innings of work with just three runs allowed.
He threw five pitches over 101 mph, making him the first starter to do so since Jacob deGrom last June. Greene isn’t from Grom — at least not yet. He still has to improve his command and his sequencing and his off-speed stuff and all the other non-speed stuff that makes a Cy Young winner a Cy Young winner, but the raw stuff is there. Be sure to tune in at Greene’s next departure and bring some crackers and wine to go with the cheese.
GIANCARLO STANTON COULD MAKE 65 HOME RUNS
OK, maybe that’s a bit ambitious, but the Yankees outfielder was absolutely stuck against the Red Sox on opening weekend, going 5-for-13 with two home runs and three doubles. Five of those strikeouts were strikeouts, but that’s exactly what Giancarlo does: swing hard, miss hard.
Since hitting 59 homers and winning NL MVP as the Marlin in 2017, Stanton hasn’t replicated the same level of full-season dominance. He showed it in spurts, sure — remember that outrageous six-home run performance in the 2020 playoffs — but as a Yankee he was closer to the All-Star boundary than the MVP contender.
The Yankees’ lackluster offense last season (19th in runs scored) was more the result of side pieces such as disappointing DJ LeMahieu, Gio Urshela and Gleyber Torres, but a fully functioning Giancarlo Stanton would go a long way to rejuvenate the roster. It’s early, but a locked up Stanton makes you believe in spectacular things.
Jake Mintz is the loudest half of @CespedesBBQ and a baseball writer for FOX Sports. He is an Orioles fan living in New York and as a result leads a lonely existence most of October. If he doesn’t watch baseball, he almost certainly rides a bike. You can follow him on Twitter @Jake_Mintz.
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