With roughly one third of the season underway, there are some early season surprises and some disappointments. Here is a look at the top 10 surprises...
1. Richmond Riot leading the NL South - Richmond's franchise has lost 318 games in the last 3 seasons. While last season showed some improvements and signs of hope, their 105 loss season did not indicate that they would be tied for the lead in the NL South. Despite a pitching staff that is average at best, Richmond dominates in 1-Run games and their offense is amongst the best three in the National League. Miguel Reynoso is having a breakthrough season in a full-time role, hitting .322 while providing stellar defense. Vic Blank has been an offensive force at a .434 pace; the same Blank that Richmond designated for assignment, waived and demoted but found no takers for early in the offseason.
2. Iowa City leads the AL East and has the best record in the majors- The Iowa City Bison have the oldest starting lineup in the National League, and the pitching staff is not much younger. The Bison did very little in the offseason, losing team wins leader Ruben Amaro (14-4, 2.88 ERA) as a free agent to the Cincinnati Redlegs Revenge, trading closer Stan Pierre to Anaheim and refusing to extend the contracts of 1B/LF Lyle Pritchett and Carlos Rincon. But somehow, the aged Bison hold a 6 game lead over the Buffalo Blizzard. A pitching staff anchored by Cookie Ramirez and Ismael Alvarado has excelled, but the staff has shown signs of fatigue despite carrying 13 arms.
3. Cincinnati in the cellar of the AL East - The Redlegs were many critics' favorites to lead the division. Unfortunately, the young Redlegs have struggled on the road, and are only 2 games over .500 while at home. The season is still young, but the Redlegs' early struggles have been a major disappointment, and they will have to improve against their own division, in one run games and in extra inning games to make up for lost ground.
4. Jin Chi Dong is having a breakthrough season and leading the Seattle Lightning in a serious push for claiming the AL West. The 25 yr old Dong, a Japanese import, has been very good since making his debut 3 seasons ago, but he is finally hitting at the MVP pace that landed him a large signing bonus as an international free agent. Dong is hitting .319 with 20 HRs, and if he continues this pace, he will surpass the 50 HR mark for the first time in his career.
5. Courtney Raitliff leads crop of rookies. The 25 yr old Pittsburgh Pirates' centerfielder leads all major league rookies in hitting and onbase percentage. Raitliff has made a great early season impression despite only 21 at bats above AA prior to this season. Raitliff is the early favorite for Rookie of the Year, but his defense has room for improvement.
6. Oakland's Felipe Colon leads the major leagues in saves despite 7.94 ERA. Colon is a very good reliever, and has shown that he can close games with exceptional skill. His early season struggles are an aberration, and Colon will likely rebound and finish the season with comparable statistics to what he has put up before.
7. Giomar Diaz is unbeaten in 11 starts, 8-0 record. The veteran starter has not won as many games as he did between seasons 6 and 8. In season 9 the former staff ace was released by his former team due to disagreements with management. Diaz has been perfect this season, showing the credentials to regain staff ace status.
8. Cookie Ramirez is not Iowa City's best pitcher. Ismael Alvarado has matched Ramirez in every pitching category... but Alvarado still has a ways to go in terms of durability and innings pitched before he can challenge Ramirez for staff ace status.
9. Evan Spencer is perfect in stolen bases. El Paso's speedy CF has shown he can steal bases - he swiped 50 bases last season - but as of today's play, he has stolen 28 consecutive bases and not been thrown out yet.
10. Ricardo Alomar is hitting .426. Alomar, a DH turned catcher for the New Orleans franchise, has shown some early season offensive dominance second to none.