MLB Power Rankings: Astros, Mariners lose their grip and a new No. 1 ascends

By Tim Britton, Grant Brisbee and Kaitlyn McGrath

We’re still so fresh into the 2024 season that almost every observation has to be caveated with “…but it’s a small sample.” Are hot starts the early signs of a breakout or just an aberration? Does a sluggish start warrant serious cause for concern or will a few bad weeks be a forgettable footnote when we’re 70 games into the season?

We don’t yet know the answers to those questions, and we won’t for a few more weeks. But that doesn’t mean we can’t recognize early-season standouts.

In this week’s power rankings, Kaitlyn McGrath, Tim Britton, and Grant Brisbee examine a player from each team who has jumped out with their early-season performances.

Record: 12-5
Last Power Ranking: 3

It’s time for your annual reminder that development isn’t linear. It’s so easy to expect that a rookie’s .680 OPS will become a .720 OPS in his sophomore season, and there will be steady gains in his 20s and a graph of his career stats will have a nice, tidy bell curve.

Anthony Volpe had an ominous .666 OPS last season, and ZiPS gave him a reasonable-if-boring .730 OPS projection this year. But sometimes players — especially the ones who were top-10 prospects — just start mashing the figured-it-out button with both palms. There’s a chance that Volpe is this year’s guy, as he has more walks than strikeouts as of this writing, and he’s spraying the ball all over the ballpark. The best part might be his comically low whiff percentage, which is among the best in the league.

Last year at this time, The Athletic’s Keith Law used the words “I think he’s a star” to describe Volpe. He’s sure looking like one right now. — Grant Brisbee

Record: 11-8
Last Power Ranking: 2

Mookie Betts is on pace for 15 wins above replacement and Shohei Ohtani has a 1.000 OPS. These are not surprises. Teoscar Hernández, on the other hand, trails only Betts on the team in home runs and already appears worth the one-year bet LA placed on him in the winter.

Look, I’m invested here. In our offseason free-agent rankings, I had Hernández well above anyone else at The Athletic (or anyone else at most any outlet, I think). His power is legit, and he’s a playable corner outfielder — what’s not to like? And early this season, he’s walking more, whiffing less, and hitting lasers.

Am I obligated to point out that Hernández’s barrel rate and launch angles are down even from his rocky 2023 in Seattle? That his expected numbers are at career lows? Nope, because he’s proven me right. — Tim Britton

Record: 10-5
Last Power Ranking: 1

It’s just as we all thought entering the season: Atlanta’s rotation would be in tatters, except for the performance of Reynaldo López. Signing López, who goes Tuesday night against Houston, to start rather than to be a late-inning reliever was an early winter surprise by Atlanta, and so far the right-hander has paid off the gamble. In a rotation rocked by Spencer Strider’s injury and Max Fried’s aberrational start, López has been the ballast with two quality starts in two tries.


MLB’s endangered ace crisis: Strider’s surgery is latest reminder of what baseball has lost

Compared to his last full-time run as a starter in Chicago in 2019 and 2020, López is striking out more batters and giving up significantly less hard contact. No, the ERA isn’t going to be below 1.00 much deeper into April, but there’s plenty going on here to suggest it can remain below 4.00 through the summer. He’s just got to watch a walk rate that’s acceptable for a reliever but on the high side for a starter. — Britton

Record: 10-6
Last Power Ranking: 4

Jackson Holliday may have made his much-anticipated MLB debut last week, but another revered prospect has been shining early for the Orioles. Colton Cowser is off to a scorching start at the plate, hitting .441 with a 1.444 OPS in his first 14 games. Last week, he launched his first two home runs of the year against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park en route to recording 10 RBIs in the three-game series.

Cowser, a first-round draft pick in 2021, struggled in his first stint in the majors last year, but he seems to have found more comfort this season. Of course, Cowser’s numbers will come down to earth eventually — he was rocking a seriously inflated .500 BABIP prior to play on Monday — but the left-fielder is striking the ball exceptionally hard, and there is reason to believe he can break out this season. — Kaitlyn McGrath

Record: 9-8
Last Power Ranking: 5

The Rays are off to a quieter start than they’d like, but Aaron Civale sure isn’t. He’s turning into a classic organizational success story, where they acquire a pitcher, dip him in strikeout jelly and use him to terrorize the rest of the AL. It didn’t quite happen soon enough to help them last season, but he’s looking more like a Game 1 starter than the pitcher who had an 81.00 ERA in the 2022 postseason.

They can’t keep getting away with this. Someone needs to find their tub of strikeout jelly and throw it into the ocean, environmental costs be damned. — Brisbee

Record: 9-8
Last Power Ranking: 8

Back in the halcyon days of 2019, covering a Mets ownership that would never pursue big-time starting pitching in free agency, I wrote a piece advocating that they consider trading for a pitcher coming off a 3-17 season.

Because Spencer Turnbull looked ready to break out. And here we are, a no-hitter and three incredible starts later in 2024, and it’s clear I was right.

GettyImages 2141959161 scaled

Spencer Turnbull has always had the stuff, but now he’s putting it all together for the Phillies in 2024. (Rick Ulreich / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Oh sure, in between that 2021 no-hitter and now, Turnbull needed Tommy John surgery, missed most of ’21 and all of ’22, made just seven ineffective starts last season, had two tiffs with the Tigers regarding injuries that resulted in reversed options and was non-tendered before signing with Philly, where he’s been a depth godsend filling in for Taijuan Walker. The stuff has never been the question for Turnbull, especially now with a sweeper. When healthy, he keeps the ball on the ground and in the ballpark — wise approaches at Citizens Bank Park. — Britton

Record: 10-5
Last Power Ranking: 13

This season, the Brewers are upending their reputation as a pitch-first organization. Before games on Monday, the Brewers were averaging 6.5 runs per game, which is tied for first in the majors with the Braves.

Helping to lead the Brewers’ unexpected offensive outburst has been William Contreras, who was leading the National League with a .375 batting average. His hits haven’t been cheap ones, either, as the catcher is hitting the ball as hard as ever before. The Brewers were supposed to be entering a re-tooling phase, yet they’ve emerged as an early contender for the NL Central crown. It’s tough to say whether this young and scrappy lineup can keep this up, but it’s at least fun to watch for now. — McGrath

Record: 9-8
Last Power Ranking: 7

The bad news: Josh Jung went on the 60-day IL with a fractured wrist after a brilliant start to the season (1.415 OPS). There were many reasons to be bullish on the lineup, and Jung’s potential in his sophomore season was one of the biggest.

The good news: Josh Smith is showing signs that he might be more than a placeholder at third base. It’s a small sample, but Smith’s strikeout rate is one of the lowest in the league, and that’s a stat that normalizes a lot faster than others. This approach is how he was hitting when he was having his best seasons in the minors, so while Adolis García and Evan Carter are having better seasons, it’s Smith who gets special attention for being exactly what the Rangers needed after Jung’s injury. — Brisbee

Record: 8-9
Last Power Ranking: 9

Fresh off signing a three-year, $42 million deal to remain in the desert, Lourdes Gurriel Jr. is off to a sparkling start even if the Diamondbacks have been sluggish overall. On Monday, the left fielder led the Diamondbacks in several offensive categories, including home runs (4), hits (19), and RBIs (18).

But I spent five years watching Gurriel while he was with the Blue Jays and he was a notoriously streaky hitter. Just last season, Gurriel put up a 1.130 OPS in May before posting a .480 OPS in July. By September, he was back up to an .826 OPS. Everything tells us that Gurriel will cool off considerably in the coming weeks, but the good news is that another hot stretch won’t be far off. — McGrath

Record: 10-6
Last Power Ranking: 11

It would not be fair to call first base a black hole for the 2023 Cubs; it’d be more apt to refer to it merely as a dense neutron star that resembles but doesn’t act exactly like a black hole. Chicago’s OPS at the position was in the bottom third in the sport, brought up mainly because the Cubs responded to the position’s collapse by playing Cody Bellinger there and acquiring Jeimer Candelario and Trey Mancini.

Even before bringing Bellinger back this spring, the Cubs brought in Michael Busch in one of those “Nah, we don’t need this top-50 prospect” deals the Dodgers have to make occasionally. Busch has started all but one game at first base and provided much-needed length to the middle of the Cubs’ order with his power. It’s exactly what Chicago hoped he could be.

None of it comes across as a fluke. Busch is in the top 1 percent in the league in exit velo and expected average, slugging and weighted on-base average. He may go from providing length as the No. 6 hitter to being the cleanup hitter by the time you finish these rankings. — Britton

Record: 10-9
Last Power Ranking: T-18

All of us ponder sometimes what a certain player might have looked like in a different organization. What if the Expos had taken Derek Jeter in that draft? What if Barry Bonds played 81 games at Coors Field? And what if Jurickson Profar played for the dynastic Giants?

Because like those Giants, Profar prefers the even years. Before Monday, Profar had one more plate appearance in his career in odd years versus even years — with an OPS 75 points higher in the even years. So now you understand why San Diego let him go to Colorado for a year only to bring him back and slot him back into the corner outfield.

So far, Profar is hitting the ball on average way harder than he ever has before. Maybe that’s reason to think this could be a long-term change. Maybe it’s just some early-season noise. At the very least, Profar’s relevant. — Britton

Record: 9-7
Last Power Ranking: 22

The Reds are flush with young, exciting talent, but no one is standing out as much as Spencer Steer. Before games on Monday, the left-fielder led the Reds in hits (18) and RBIs (18) and nearly three weeks into the season, he still has an OPS that is four digits long.

Steer’s bat has come up big numerous times for the Reds already this season, but his glove is getting it done, too, including on a sliding catch against the White Sox over the weekend. And, as our C. Trent Rosecrans pointed out, Steer and his fellow Reds outfielders have been the best defensive outfield in the majors to start the season, according to Sports Info Solutions. — McGrath

Record: 9-8
Last Power Ranking: 14

While closer Jordan Romano was injured, the Blue Jays turned to a closer-by-committee strategy, but it’s Yimi García who has taken the lead. Going into play Monday, the right-hander has allowed just one run in 6 2/3 innings with 11 strikeouts compared to just one walk.

More impressive than his stat line is how nasty his stuff has looked. The 33-year-old reliever is throwing harder than ever, averaging 96.9 mph on his fastball. Two of García’s hardest-ever pitches were thrown last week, including a 99.8 mph four-seam fastball, while his early strikeout numbers are the best they’ve ever been. The veteran has been a dependable middle-innings reliever for years, but we’ll need to see more of this to determine if he has found a new gear or if this is just a small-sample aberration. — McGrath

Record: 6-12
Last Power Ranking: 6

The Astros are having a miserable April, but don’t blame Jose Altuve, who is off to the best start of his career. Something worth noting is that almost every one of his hits — and all of his home runs — has been pulled. His spray chart has been like this for years, but he’s taking it back to the extremes of the 2021 season.

When a player gets older, he’s supposed to be a little later on the fastballs, especially as his reaction time slows and he’s more vulnerable to breaking stuff away. I’d say that Altuve is hitting like he knows what’s coming, but then people would yell at me in the comments, and I’m a sensitive soul. And, really, cheap jokes like that take away from the reality that Altuve might be moving from Hall of Famer to inner-circle Hall of Famer before our eyes. Maybe it’s time for the kids to think he’s cool again. — Brisbee

Record: 11-6
Last Power Ranking: T-18

Martín Pérez was brought in to be a stable leader for the Pirates’ rotation, and early on, he’s been exactly that. While he’s no flamethrower, Pérez had a 1.89 ERA through his first three starts of the season before Monday’s outing. As has been his style, he’s succeeding by generating soft contact. 

Pérez has generally been a strong starter, with April and May being the best months over the course of his career, so this tracks. The Pirates have become a team threatening to win the NL Central and if Pérez keeps up his strong performance, he can help the Pirates compete for their first playoff appearance since 2015. — McGrath

Record: 9-8
Last Power Ranking: 15

Nobody cares about the Comeback Player of the Year Award, and that’s for a simple reason: It’s turned into the This Guy Came Back from an Injury and Did Well Award, which is extremely boring and easy to predict. It’s a shame, because it should be a fun award to argue about all season, with all sorts of different ways to define “comeback.”

Take Tyler O’Neill, for example. In 2021, he was a 26-year-old who hit 34 homers and won a Gold Glove, finishing eighth in the NL MVP voting. That’s a cornerstone player! That’s the kind of talent you consider locking up to a Braves-ian extension with a bunch of team options at the end. Then he had a couple of down seasons and was dealt to the Red Sox in a trade that didn’t get a lot of coverage at all. Now he’s leading the American League in homers and looking like that cornerstone again. It just might be the comeback story of the year, even if he wasn’t quite injured enough to get an award for it. He is currently in the concussion protocol after a nasty collision on Monday, but that’s been the only downer in an excellent season so far. — Brisbee

Record: 11-5
Last Power Ranking: 16

Last season, the Guardians hit 124 home runs, which is remarkable. That’s how many the 96-loss Washington Senators hit in 1968, which was the most famous pitcher-friendly season in baseball history. It’s how many home runs the 101-loss Pirates hit in 2021, when Jacob Stallings hit fifth for them more than any other batter. They were a complete anachronism of a team, playing like they were managed by Whitey Herzog.

Here’s the longest ball Steven Kwan has ever hit in the big leagues. It happened a couple weeks ago:

Kwan might be trying to hit for more power now, and the early returns are promising. He’s hitting for a high average, but he’s also walking less and striking out more than usual, and that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Not if it comes with some extra power. Maybe it’s a little much to get too excited about a player with two home runs as of this writing, but Kwan just might set a new career high by the middle of May at this rate. — Brisbee

Record: 6-9
Last Power Ranking: 12

With the departures of Sonny Gray and Kenta Maeda, the Twins are turning to their young pitchers to fill the void. Among those options, Joe Ryan may possess the most upside.

Ryan, who the Twins acquired from the Tampa Bay Rays in the Nelson Cruz trade, experienced ups and downs last season but is off to an impressive start. He leads Twins pitchers with 24 strikeouts and has a 2.60 ERA in 17 1/3 innings over three starts.

As our Dan Hayes and Eno Sarris wrote, what is driving Ryan’s early success — and why we buy it — is a refined pitch mix. Armed with a precision fastball, Ryan has improved his secondary pitches, including a splitter and a harder slider, and it’s leading to more positive results. If the Twins are going to overcome their early injury problems, it will take other guys, like Ryan, stepping up. — McGrath

Record: 11-6
Last Power Ranking: 23

According to Baseball-Reference, Bobby Witt Jr. was worth 1.6 WAR through Sunday’s games. That means he’s creeping into the list of top-25 seasons for a shortstop in franchise history. He’s played 16 games as of this writing.

Best player in baseball? It’s much too early for that, but it’s certainly not impossible that Witt is described in those terms at some point in his career, and it might just start this season. It’s probably time for the Royals to extend him. I know they just did, but can they really risk not having him on the team in 2038? Just tack on another 11 seasons to the existing 11-season contract and call it a day. He’s good for it. — Brisbee

Record: 7-10
Last Power Ranking: 10

The Mariners are a pitching powerhouse, but it’s not Luis Castillo, George Kirby or Emerson Hancock standing out thus far — it’s Bryce Miller who has gotten off to an impressive start. The 25-year-old right-hander has a 1.96 ERA through three starts and has held opposing lineups to a .182 batting average. In fact, Miller hasn’t surrendered an earned run since a three-run home run in the fourth inning of his first start this season, according to Miller’s hot start has helped cover up some of the other struggles of Seattle’s rotation. — McGrath

Record: 9-7
Last Power Ranking: 20

With all due respect, pitchers from Seattle University aren’t supposed to do this:

That’s triple digits from the left side, which is the kind of thing you used to see once in a generation, usually from a pitcher on his way to the Hall of Fame. When Billy Wagner was doing it in the late ’90s, he was a freak. Now we’re just supposed to accept that a ninth-round draftee from Seattle University can make some adjustments and start throwing 100 from the left side?

I’m not saying that it should be impossible for Seattle University to produce major-league talent, but they should be pitchers who get by with a below-average fastball and a smattering of junk. Like, well, Janson Junk, the only other Seattle Redhawks pitcher to appear in the majors. Now he makes sense.

Skubal does not. And the Tigers are very, very grateful for that. — Brisbee

Record: 8-9
Last Power Ranking: 21

Willson Contreras’ week and a half away from catching caused considerably less stir this season compared to last, because this time it was due to an injury. But in Contreras’ stead, Iván Herrera showed out enough to give the Cardinals something to think about while juggling their malleable everyday lineup.

Herrera’s three homers are tied for the team lead as of Monday, and he provided that power while seldom striking out. His Baseball Savant page has more red than, well, a day game at Busch Stadium, suggesting he’s underperforming to this point this season.

Without Dylan Carlson, Tommy Edman and Matt Carpenter, St. Louis has at-bats to go around for both Contreras and Herrera, and biding some time until the offense gets healthy could prove significant later in the season. — Britton

Record: 8-8
Last Power Ranking: 24

After a miserable rookie season that included a post-deadline demotion, Brett Baty looks more like the prospect the Mets expected to rake in the majors and halt the revolving door at the hot corner the club’s had since David Wright’s health issues started. Baty’s hitting better than .300 and playing with an enthusiasm absent even before hopping on the struggle bus last season.

If we dust off the pollen and crack open the hood, though, there are concerns here. The offseason goal was hitting more balls hard in the air. Well, Baty’s exit velocity is down across the board and his ground-ball rate is up from last season. As a result, his expected numbers are all worse than in 2023. Riding the BABIP wave has boosted Baty’s confidence early in the season, and that’s important for someone who was lost much of last season. But the performance has to match the numbers soon enough. — Britton

Record: 7-10
Last Power Ranking: 17

The debate around pitcher health often boils down to:

“What if they didn’t throw their hardest on every pitch?”
“Oh, so you’re asking ‘What if they didn’t get anybody out?’”

And now Jordan Hicks wants to blow that up.

Because in his transition from reliever to starter, Hicks quite clearly isn’t throwing his hardest on every pitch. His hardest was 103 mph, and now he’s averaging only — only! — 96. And he’s spotting it on the black, and mixing in his secondaries, and just experiencing success by doing all the things prescribed by your most disgruntled relative that you’ve tediously rebutted each holiday since you started covering baseball. If you told me before the season some pitcher was going to have success by throwing softer with command, I’d have taken 50-year-old Bartolo Colón probably helping the Cardinals put it together in the second half over Hicks.  — Britton

Record: 8-8
Last Power Ranking: 25

Sure, Mike Trout is trouting all over the danged place, but spare some attention for Reid Detmers, who just might be developing into an ace. It feels like Detmers has been on the Angels so long that he was teammates with Tim Salmon, but that overlooks just how unusual his career path has been. He made just 15 starts in the minors before his major-league debut, and then he had to figure things out while pitching for one of the strangest, most confusing organizations in baseball. It’s remarkable that he was even average over the last two seasons, considering all that.

He’s reminding the world, though, that he’s always had the potential to be elite. If the Angels could just get another superstar to pair with Trout, why, they’ll have a chance to make some noise in the AL West. — Brisbee

Record: 7-10
Last Power Ranking: 27

That’s three straight series wins for the A’s, even though they have four qualified hitters under the Mendoza Line as of this writing and three more who are barely above it. Of their five starters, four of them have an ERA over 5.00. I’m starting to wonder if this kind of winning will last all season.

We’ll just have to wait and see. Until then, appreciate the efforts of Paul Blackburn, who tied a major-league record with a 0.00 ERA in his first three starts. He’s been with the A’s since Jed Lowrie led the team in WAR (2017), and he’s developed into a reliable if unexciting innings eater for a team that’s really needed one over the last two seasons. He’s faced only the Guardians, Tigers and Nationals so far, so there might be tougher tests coming, but the team is 3-0 in his starts. Dude just wins. — Brisbee

Record: 7-9
Last Power Ranking: 26

Jesse Winker is waving hello again. After two lost seasons in Seattle and Milwaukee, Winker is following in the hallowed footsteps of Kyle Schwarber and Jeimer Candelario in reigniting his career in the nation’s capital, with a .300/.400/.500 line early in the season.

At his best in Cincinnati, Winker combined superb plate discipline with hard contact. The hard contact part of that equation went missing the last two years, and while it’s in a better spot now, it’s not all the way back. His three barrels are almost as many as the five he had all of last year, but he is not exactly on pace to match the 39 from his All-Star campaign in 2021. Winker doesn’t need to be quite that good to be useful (and/or flippable, like Schwarber and Candelario) for Washington. It’s just nice to see him looking closer to his old self. — Britton

Record: 3-14
Last Power Ranking: 28

We’ll be honest: We had a real nice blurb here written about the best player in the Marlins’ young season, the guy who owns two of their count ‘em one-two-three wins, the guy they … just sent down to the minor leagues on Monday. So yeah, we like Max Meyer. Miami does not, at least not enough to roster him for the time being with Edward Cabrera back.

So, umm, let’s move to the next picture you see on their Baseball-Reference page. Oops, Declan Cronin is in the minors, too, after four scoreless innings of relief. OK, how about Ryan Weathers then?

Weathers has a solid ERA through his first three starts. He’s averaging fewer than five innings in those starts, walking a batter every other inning and running a WHIP of 1.500 and a FIP near five. With apologies to Bryan Hoeing’s solid if low-leverage long relief, that’s the bright spot among active Miami Marlins right now. — Britton

Record: 4-13
Last Power Ranking: 29

In the Rockies’ 12-4 dusting of the Blue Jays last Friday, Ryan McMahon chipped in a career-high four hits, including three doubles that helped the Rockies collect only their fourth win of the season. It was part of a torrid stretch at the plate for the 29-year-old third baseman, who continues to be one of the best hitters in the National League to start the year. Before the Rockies game on Monday, McMahon was slashing .373/.457/.559 and was tied for second in the NL in batting average. McMahon has always been a strong defensive player, but perhaps this is the year that his bat catches up to his glove a little more. — McGrath

Record: 2-14
Last Power Ranking: 30

Things are pretty grim in Chicago as the White Sox face the possibility of not reaching double-digit wins by the end of the first month. Still, if there has been a bright spot—aside from the Campfire Milkshake — it’s starter Garrett Crochet, who is showing signs that he can be an ace for the South Siders.

As of Monday, the 24-year-old left-hander leads the majors with 31 strikeouts compared to just four walks with a 3.57 ERA in four starts. According to, he’s only the third pitcher since at least 1901 to record 30 or more strikeouts and four or fewer walks over his first four career starts. There may not be a lot to root for right now, but Crochet is at least giving fans something to look forward to every fifth day. — McGrath

(Top photo of Jose Altuve: Tim Warner / Getty Images)

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