SweetSpot: Nick Hundley

The SweetSpot blog network weighs in with April's best surprises ...

Beachy
Atlanta Braves
Simply put, the Braves' most pleasant surprise has been Brandon Beachy. At this time last year, Beachy was a virtually unknown prospect at Double-A Mississippi. Now he's leading the Atlanta starting staff in strikeout per nine innings (9.51) and is a prime candidate for the NL Rookie of the Month award for April. At this pace, it's going to be impossible for Mike Minor to unseat him for the fifth-starter role, regardless of his dominance in Triple-A.
--Kevin Orris. Capitol Avenue Club

Florida Marlins
It is absolutely amazing that the Marlins are just a half-game out of first place, especially considering the rough start of Hanley Ramirez (.197/.299/.250). In another amazing twist, given the shaky outfield defense that was expected of them, the Fish have the best defensive efficiency in the National League, turning almost 73 percent of balls in play into outs, and understandably have given up the fewest runs in the Senior Circuit.
--The Common Man, The Platoon Advantage

New York Mets
Though the hot starts of Ike Davis and Jose Reyes have been greatly appreciated by Mets fans, they are not necessarily surprises -- at least, not compared to Pedro Beato. A Rule 5 pick, the hard-throwing Beato began the season as the last man out of the bullpen but has quickly emerged as arguably the Mets' most reliable reliever. Through 12 innings, Beato has yet to allow an earned run, has struck out eight and boasts a 0.75 WHIP. Perhaps most impressive, the youngster is now being called upon in high-leverage, late-inning situations.
--Joe Janish, Mets Today

Bastardo
Philadelphia Phillies
The Phillies' most pleasant surprise has been Antonio Bastardo. As Brad Lidge, J.C. Romero and Jose Contreras succumbed to injury, Bastardo emerged as a legitimate late-innings option, striking out 15 and allowing just one run in 10 1/3 innings.
--Bill Baer, Crashburn Alley

Washington Nationals
Wilson Ramos has been the Nats' pleasant (yet probably unsustainable) surprise. He is hitting a cool .375/.426/.563, while playing acceptably behind the plate, gunning down three of eight attempted base stealers. Given that he has a batting average on balls in play of around .450, he's sure to cool off a lot, but we're grateful for each additional day he keeps the corpse of Pudge Rodriguez from getting up to bat.
--Harper Gordek, Nationals Baseball

Chicago Cubs
Darwin Barney came into spring training fighting to make the roster. One month into the season, he’s a viable No. 2 hitter in the lineup and deserving of the spot on the All-Star ballot Blake DeWitt is hoarding.
--Joe Aiello, View from the Bleachers

Gomes
Cincinnati Reds
The plate discipline shown by Jonny Gomes has been the most pleasant surprise, by far. Gomes has drawn 19 walks in the first month (second in the league, behind teammate Joey Votto), after walking only 39 times in the entire 2010 season. Because of Gomes' patience, his OPS remains over .900, despite a batting average hovering around the Mendoza line.
--Chad Dotson, Redleg Nation

Houston Astros
As the last-place team in the NL Central, there's been very little for the Astros to be pleasantly surprised about. But for the team that won one series in April (a distinction the Mets would rather forget), its lone pleasant surprise is Brett Wallace, who is hitting great despite having the unfortunate situation of being sandwiched between Carlos Lee and Bill Hall. He leads the team in batting average (.373), on-base percentage (.441) and slugging (.518).
--Austin Swafford, Austin's Astros 290 Blog

Milwaukee Brewers
The best surprise for the Brewers is they're 12-12 despite Zack Greinke not making a start, Corey Hart missing nearly the entire month and the bullpen leading the majors with seven losses. They can thank the hot starts of Ryan Braun (.356/.454/.689), Prince Fielder (leading the NL with 23 RBIs) and Rickie Weeks (21 runs scored).
--David Schoenfield

Morton
Pittsburgh Pirates
In five starts, Charlie Morton already has as many wins as he did in 2010, and his ERA is 60 percent lower. Don't buy into it, though. His 18:18 strikeout-to-walk ratio is highly troubling, and his .253 BABIP is completely unsustainable, even though he's getting 2.25 grounders for every fly ball so far. The Pirates will have to hope the coming regression is accompanied by a return to form for James McDonald, who has been terrible.
--The Common Man, The Platoon Advantage

St. Louis Cardinals
When the Cardinals lost ace Adam Wainwright for the season, the pressure suddenly shifted to their starting rotation. In particular, to Kyle Lohse, the righty who made only 40 starts in the two seasons since signing a hefty 4-year, $41 million contract extension. Given that from 2009-10 his ERA was indistinguishable from his strikeout rate (though, to be fair, his expected Fielding Independent Pitching was much lower), expectations were tempered. So his 2011 campaign thus far -- five Wainwright-like starts with an ERA of 1.64 -- has been the most pleasant surprise for the Cardinals. He is inducing ground balls like never before (48.6 percent) and limiting self-inflicted damage with a walk rate (1.17 walks per nine innings) that Cliff Lee would be proud of. And he's tied for fourth among NL pitchers in Wins Above Replacement.
--Matt Philip, Fungoes.net

Arizona Diamondbacks
Bright spots are fairly few and far between for the D-backs. The starting pitching has been atrocious, but the hitters have proven solid. The most shocking performance has been from Ryan Roberts, a minor league lifer who has seemingly taken over the third-base job by hitting .311/.408/.607 through 20 games. It's not a mirage. Roberts is a legitimate hitter, and as long as his defense holds up, he'll be a very productive and cheap option for the near future.
--The Common Man, The Platoon Advantage

Colorado Rockies
Where in the world did Jonathan Herrera (.317/.442/.429) come from? The 26-year-old has never really done anything like this before and is a good bet to regress. Still, he's done a terrific job of making up for the disappointing, but totally predictable, performances of Ty Wigginton (.233/.309/.383) and Jose Lopez (.143/.169/.254).
--The Common Man, The Platoon Advantage

Kemp
Los Angeles Dodgers
The return -- and then some -- of Matt Kemp has been the biggest surprise. Even though he has tapered off in his past 10 games, going 10-for-41 with 15 strikeouts, he still has walked six times in that stretch and has had a superb start overall (1.072 OPS). One question is whether his walks reflect better plate discipline or the horrors of the Dodgers lineup after his spot in the order.
--Jon Weisman, Dodger Thoughts

San Diego Padres
In a month of unpleasant surprises, one exception for San Diego has been the performance of catcher Nick Hundley. After splitting duties with veterans Henry Blanco and Yorvit Torrealba the past two seasons, Hundley has assumed a larger role this year and responded. He is hitting .286/.356/.481 and providing the bulk of what little offense the Padres have been able to muster.
--Geoff Young, Ducksnorts

San Francisco Giants
The Giants' most pleasant surprise is this: They're still around .500 despite going through a month bereft of actual pleasant surprises. That's not to say the Giants haven't had good performances, but what's been good hasn't been surprising and what's been surprising hasn't been good. Pablo Sandoval shouldn't surprise anyone when he hits .330 in a month; he'll do that. Buster Posey and Tim Lincecum have played well, yes. They're good, you know. The bad surprises on the other hand: a bushel of injuries, month-long slumps from key regulars and defense that has had fans saying to each other, "You know, I don't think that fellow can really play that position."
--Otis Anderson, Bay City Ball
One of the fun aspects of the first week of the season is the quirky results we see. No, the Royals are not better than the Red Sox, but you gotta love the Royals playing exciting baseball and going 4-1.

So, here's a random scroll through some of the numbers -- mostly meaningless, of course -- that we've seen so far. All stats are entering Wednesday's games.
  • Jonny Gomes leads the majors with seven walks. Gomes walked just 39 times in 573 plate appearances in 2010 (with 123 strikeouts), so I'm not sure where this plate discipline is suddenly coming from. He drew three walks off Shaun Marcum, a pitcher who had the fourth-best walk rate in the AL last season.
  • Ryan Howard is hitting .412, but has zero walks. The year he hit 58 home runs (2006), Howard drew 108 walks. He drew 107 the following season, giving him a career high 17.5 percent walk rate. That fell all the way to 9.5 percent last season. His OBP, once as high as .425, was only .353 in 2010. Do pitchers simply not fear him as much anymore?
  • Colby Rasmus has five walks, two strikeouts. Sticking with the plate discipline theme, Rasmus has shown positive improvement so far. He had a 148/63 SO/BB ratio last season, striking out 27.7 percent of the time. If he cuts down the strikeouts, he's going to be a big-time weapon.
  • Nick Hundley leads the majors with a .533 average. Hundley actually isn't that bad of a hitter for a catcher. His 2010 line of .249/.308/.418 was pretty good for Petco Park and gave him an above-average adjusted OPS. He could be a 15-homer guy if the Padres make him an everyday catcher.
  • Alex Gordon is hitting .375 with a 1.067 OPS. The former No. 2 overall pick has fizzled at the major league level and this is probably his last chance in a K.C. uniform. It's unlikely everything has suddenly clicked, but it's nice to see him off to a good start.
  • The Royals lead the majors with 32 walks. In 2009, the Royals were next-to-last in walks drawn in the AL. In 2010, under new hitting coach Kevin Seitzer, they climbed to ninth. So far in 2011, Seitzer has them showing continued patience. This is good news for Royals fans, especially with more talented hitters soon arriving.
  • Royals have four wins, all in their final at-bat. According to Elias, the Royals are the third team in 20 years to win their first four games in such fashion, joining the 2010 Reds and 2003 Reds. The 2010 Reds actually won their first six in their final at-bat. Hope, Royals fans, hope.
  • Starlin Castro has yet to swing and miss at a pitch. He has 34 swings, according to ESPN Stats and Information. Next-best: Alberto Callaspo with 23.
  • There have been 20 blown saves. That's all blown saves, not just ninth-inning ones. There have been 61 games played, so we're averaging a blown save every three games. There have been 34 saves, a ratio of 1.7 saves for every blown save. In 2010, we had 2.2 saves for every blown save, so the bullpens have been shaky early on.
  • The Dodgers have hit one home run in five games. Now, four of those games came against the Giants (and the Dodgers won three of them anyway), but L.A. was 15th in the NL in homers a year ago.
  • The Rays are hitting .138. They have 17 hits and have scored six runs in four losses. Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon are a combined 2-for-27.
  • Orioles pitchers have allowed a .152 batting average. Well, duh, they played Tampa Bay.
  • The Phillies are 21st in the majors in ERA. Greatest rotation ever? Absurd. (Just kidding, Phillies fans! Just a joke. Take it easy. Your team is 3-1. They're fine. The rotation is superb.)
Follow David Schoenfield on Twitter at @dschoenfield. Follow the SweetSpot blog at @espn_sweet_spot.

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