It's still early, but not so early that the storylines that dominated the run-up to the 2023 Major League Baseball season haven't had a chance to age.
So, cue the Ennio Morricone music, because we're about to assess the good, the bad and the ugly of those so far.
The first thing to know is that we'll be discussing three of each. As to the second, here's how we're applying those three terms:
Now then, let's get to it.
- The Good: Storylines that could have gone either way once the season began, but which are so far trending positive.
- The Bad: Storylines that seemed like sure things, but which have since devolved into uncertainties riddled with question marks.
- The Ugly: Storylines we were led to believe would go one way, but which have since gone in the complete opposite direction.
The Good: Jordan Walker Is Ready for the Big Leagues
How It Started
Jordan Walker came into 2023 ranked as one of the very best prospects in MLB, but by all rights he should have been a long shot to crack the St. Louis Cardinals' Opening Day roster.
Or so it seemed, anyway. Certainly less and less so as Walker hit .277 with a .492 slugging percentage in spring training to force the Cardinals' hand. Rather than send him down to gain further experience in the minors, they skipped him right to The Show.
Expectations for Walker shifted accordingly, as he went from being basically off the radar in the National League Rookie of the Year race to a leading contender for it. Pretty high stakes for a 20-year-old who had never played above Double-A before.
How It's Going
You can look at Walker's stat line and see that he's only batting .254, but that would be to blatantly ignore the history that he made with his 12-game hitting streak out of the gate:
Given how sturdily he's built at 6'6", 245 pounds, it's also not surprising to see Walker putting up such strong contact quality metrics, including a 97th-percentile mark for his max exit velocity. Factoring in that he's also impressed with his sprint speed and arm strength, it sure seems like the Cardinals really do have a special rookie on their hands.
The Good: Here Comes Jarred Kelenic's Breakout
How It Started
Speaking of top prospects, Jarred Kelenic was also one of those once upon a time. You just never would have known it from how thoroughly he was outclassed in his first two seasons with the Seattle Mariners, in which he hit just .168 and slugged .338.
But then he spent the offseason changing his swing, and the next thing he did after that was show it off in spring training as he clubbed four home runs to go with a 1.095 OPS.
Thus did the 23-year-old generate quite a bit of breakout hype, and not just around these parts. But as it always is with springtime stars, the catch was always that Kelenic's spring training breakout hardly guaranteed that he would finally find his footing in the majors.
How It's Going
Kelenic has not only found his footing, but seemingly planted his flag as a genuine major league star. He's hitting .333/.393/.667 with a 219 OPS+ that ties him for second in MLB. One of his four home runs went 482 danged feet.
That home run is emblematic of the biggest difference for Kelenic so far in 2023. His average exit velocity is up from 86.0 to 92.0 mph and his hard-hit rate has gone from 35.0 to 55.6 percent. Once a pushover, now he does the pushing.