It would probably take you about five seconds to name the biggest surprises from this season’s first month, and all it would take is a look at the National League Central standings. Even the Pirates themselves have to be shocked by how this season has progressed (especially after losing Oneil Cruz for several months), and good luck trying to remember the last time the Cardinals — perhaps the steadiest franchise of the century thus far — looked this bad and this disjointed.

We’re going to go a little deeper than a brief look at winning percentages, though, as our MLB writers choose the biggest surprise for each team. Perhaps because it’s still spring and optimism is still palpable for the vast majority of baseball clubs, most of these picks trended toward the positive end of the surprise spectrum. But there are a few alarming ones here, too.


Arizona Diamondbacks

Biggest surprise: Last year, Geraldo Perdomo was one of the worst hitters in the majors. A former top-100 prospect thrust into a starting role before he was ready, the switch-hitter batted just .195 with a .547 OPS in 500 plate appearances. This year, though, Perdomo has been terrific. Through Sunday, his 1.5 bWAR is 10th in the big leagues, and he boasts a slash line of .383/.456/.617. Can he keep it up? Well, there’s an awful lot of blue on his Baseball Savant page. Perdomo has elite strike zone awareness, but he ranks in the bottom one percent of the league in barrel rate. Even if he settles into being a slightly above-average hitter, though, that’s quite a step up from 2022. 

Atlanta Braves

Biggest surprise: Toolsy former Rockies prospect Sam Hilliard is having a breakthrough, hitting .296 with three homers, four steals and a .904 OPS through 20 games, mostly filling in for injured Michael Harris II. Hilliard, 29, had two tape-measure homers in a game last week against Miami. He hit .212 with 29 homers a .717 OPS in nearly 700 plate appearances during four seasons with Colorado, and the Braves got him in a November trade that cost just a fringe pitching prospect. Hilliard made the team because he was out of options and hit .417 in spring training, but now seems assured of playing time even after Harris’ return from the injured list, with Hilliard shifting to left field. 


Baltimore Orioles

Biggest surprise: Yennier Cano is not only the answer for the Orioles here; he may be the No. 1 answer to the question for all of MLB. A 29-year-old reliever out of Cuba, the Orioles acquired him from the Minnesota Twins as part of last August’s trade of Jorge López. The scouting report on Cano at the time: big arm and no clue of the strike zone. He faced 27 batters for the Orioles in 2022 and 14 reached base. For some reason, the Orioles kept him on the 40-man all winter. After being recalled in mid-April, Cano was perfect against the first 24 batters he faced, tying a franchise record for most batters retired to begin a season. His combination of a 95 mph sinker and 90 mph changeup is devastating now that he has found the strike zone.


Boston Red Sox

Biggest surprise: At the end of last season, manager Alex Cora specifically called out Alex Verdugo as a player he’d like to see more out of in 2023. Verdugo took the challenge to heart. The Red Sox rotated through leadoff hitters in spring training, but Verdugo took hold of the position early in the season and has become a force atop the Red Sox lineup. He credited Justin Turner with some help in the cage as well as a more relaxed approach at the plate. “When I have small thoughts then big results happen,” he said. “When I have big results in my mind, nothing happens.” Through 29 games, he was hitting .308 with an .851 OPS, with six doubles, a triple and four homers. 


Chicago Cubs

Biggest surprise: There are quite a few options here for the Cubs, mostly on the good side — Cody Bellinger, Nico Hoerner, Drew Smyly, Justin Steele and on and on — but most of them aren’t too shocking. Just great starts that they needed in order to be where they are. But if there’s one that fans certainly weren’t expecting it’s Yan Gomes entering play Monday with a 126 wRC+ and five home runs. He’s usually better on offense once he’s comfortable with the pitching staff he’s working with, so perhaps it’s not completely unexpected, but it still comes as a nice surprise on a team full of good stories early on.