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We've just seen the completion of the first full week of the 2024 Major League Baseball season, and that means any reactions based on the wee sample of games to date must be heavily qualified. Nothing means anything yet. That said, it's never too soon to talk about what's surprised us thus far on the individual level, and for purposes of this particular discussion we're limiting this to pleasant surprises. Optimism above all. 

Framed as a question or two, which early season surges have caught our attention? Which players now have at least this small semblance of a foundation for an unexpected breakout or bounce-back season in 2024? Let's have a quick look, in no particular order. 

Ronel Blanco
HOU • SP • #56
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Blanco of course authored the first and thus far only no-hitter of 2024, and in his next start he held the mighty Rangers lineup hitless until the sixth inning, thus mounting the rare threat to Johnny Vander Meer's long-standing record. Those two sparkling performances have given Blanco a 0.00 ERA for the season with only one hit allowed in 15 innings. Mind you, this is coming from a 30-year-old who entered 2024 with a career ERA of 4.78 in seven starts and 17 relief appearances spread across two seasons for Houston. Even in these small doses, that's compelling stuff from a pitcher who's in the rotation only because of injuries. Blanco's getting much more drop on his changeup thus far in 2024, and that's a positive development to monitor.

Shota Imanaga
CHC • SP • #18
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The 30-year-old lefty signed out of Japan this past winter of course got overshadowed by the Dodgers' inking of Yoshinobu Yamamoto, but thus far Imanaga has been a true linchpin in the Cubs' rotation. He's yet to allow a run in two starts, and in 10 innings he's struck out 12 batters against zero walks. Imanaga's also spotted more than 70% of his pitches for strikes. The concern coming in was his penchant for allowing homers in Japan. It was even more a concern given that MLB is a much more power-oriented league than NPB is, and Wrigley Field is of course a nifty setting for home-run hitters. So far, though, Imanaga hasn't given up a longball, and let's note that his most recent start came against the mighty Dodgers lineup. Early on, he boasts a 68.4% whiff rate on his spitter. 

Frankie Montas
CIN • SP • #47
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The 31-year-old right-hander battled injuries and ineffectiveness during his Yankees tenure, but through a pair of 2024 starts with Cincy he's back to looking like the moundsman who finished sixth in the AL Cy Young vote as a member of the A's in 2021. Across 11 2/3 innings with the Reds this season, Montas has allowed only one run and struck out nine against three walks. Relative to recent seasons, Montas is leaning more on his fastball and cutter than he has been, so that tweak to his pitch mix may be playing a role in his early success. We know Montas is capable of producing high value, so this one bears monitoring. 

Tyler O'Neill
BOS • RF • #17
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The 28-year-old O'Neill has always been a "tooled up" sort, but injuries and occasional ineffectiveness have dimmed his potential. In 2021 with the Cardinals, O'Neill proved he's capable of putting together a high-level season, but thus far it's been a one-time thing. Will 2024, his first season with the Red Sox, be an exception? In the early going, signs are positive. He's showing his best exit velocity off the bat since that 2021 season, and his increased launch angle seems designed to allow the righty slugger to take full advantage of the Green Monster in left. Another O'Neill "trendlet" to watch is his improved plate discipline so far. He's significantly improved his K% and BB% relative to career norms, and he's drastically bettered his chase rate on pitches outside the zone. Given the way his Cardinals tenure ended, O'Neill seemed like a promising change-of-scenery candidate, and so far he's been just that for Boston. 

Garrett Crochet
CHW • SP • #45
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Very little has gone right for the White Sox thus far in 2024, but Crochet's thus-far successful transition to starter has gone swimmingly. That's surprising given his injury history and his prior role as a fastball-slider reliever. He's still got the big fastball, and the heater plays up even higher thanks to Crochet's elite extension off the mound. He's also added a cutter, which helps push his repertoire into starter territory. All that plus a drastically improved first-strike percentage have helped Crochet pitch to a 2.00 ERA through three starts with 21 strikeouts and only one walk in 18 innings of work. Most impressively, Crochet's strongest start of the season came against the juggernaut Braves offense.  

Anthony Volpe
NYY • SS • #11
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Volpe was a Gold Glove shortstop as a rookie last season, but he's cracking this list because of his bat. No doubt, Volpe's current slash line of .424/.486/.606 through nine games isn't going to come close to being sustained. Those top-line numbers of his are driven by a high batting average, and that's not going to keep up. As well, his quality of contact is pretty ordinary thus far. What's encouraging, however, is the progress Volpe has shown in terms of plate discipline. He's cut down on his strikeout and whiff rates, and he's improved his walk rates. As well, he's been excellent in the early going at laying off pitches out of the zone. All of that is quite encouraging in a 22-year-old hitter who's faced some challenging opponents so far. Volpe in the minors put up strong numbers against much older peer groups, so this isn't out of nowhere. All of this plus his excellent fielding paint a very promising picture for Volpe and the Yanks.

This hasn't been an exhaustive list of (very) early-season pleasant surprises, but these are the performances that have caught our eyes thus far. They've also earned your attention moving forward to see whether these initial gains prove sustainable.