Less than a week from now, the tidal wave of baseball will hit. All 30 MLB teams will be back in action – with expanded 28-man rosters for the first month – and the lockout-extended drought will turn to a flood within days.
Whether you’re looking to dive all the way in with a custom channel-changing system or remind yourself of the sport’s top talents, there’s a lot to keep track of. There will be 840 players plying their trade every day.
There are the undeniably good players, like Mike Trout. There are the undeniably fun players, like Willians Astudillo.
For those who value their time, or simply want to experience the best of the best, prioritization is needed. And those people should start with the players who are fun AND good, stars who reside in the center of the sport’s Venn diagram of positivity.
For that, we have devised a whole roster’s worth. The Ampersand All-Stars. The Overlords of the Overlap. This is the 2022 Fun & Good Team.
Until this week, the stellar 27-year-old backstop had the most notable Will Smith hit on a big stage in recent memory.
Let’s see if he has any ideas to reclaim that title.
On the Fun & Good bench: Salvador Perez
There were two good choices for this, and both hail from Canada. We’re giving the tiebreaker to Joey Votto on seniority. The 38-year-old on-base wizard has made strong impressions on David Letterman, Jerry Seinfeld and a lot of less famous people he did not have to make time for.
He’s not just about fun quotes and fan interactions, though. After a resurgent 2021 that saw him focus more on his power stroke and crush 36 home runs, Votto is in the Hall of Fame-case-making stage of his career.
On the Fun & Good bench: Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
If there were a Fun & Good & Quadrilingual Team, Albies might stand alone. The diminutive second baseman from Curaçao just turned 25 in January, but he’s already building an impressive career resume. He homered 30 times and stole 20 bases last year, and figures to threaten the same plateaus for years to come.
Plus: He’s got a great buddy comedy going with best friend Ronald Acuña Jr., who is set to return to the field in May.
Full disclosure, San Diego Padres superstar Fernando Tatis Jr. would have taken this spot if healthy, but his wrist injury is set to keep him out for three months or more and there is simply too much baseball to consume while he’s on the shelf.
The pitch for Franco is simple: He isn’t the best player in baseball right now, but he has the potential to get there. Discovering if and how he does it is worth the price of admission.
On the Fun & Good bench: Javier Báez
Baby-faced with full adult strength, the Red Sox third baseman can look a bit like a smiling snowman has come to life to rip dingers over the Green Monster. It feels like he’s been in the league forever, yet he’s only 25 and might still have more in the tank after a 38-homer season.
If you have so much as a passing familiarity with Twitter, you probably know Nick Castellanos as the serial interrupter of awkward, somber broadcast moments.
You’re missing out if you’re listening to announcers provide his soundbites, though. He’s much more fun unleashing the quips himself. The candid Castellanos has raised his profile with a .292 / .346 / .571 slash line since a trade got him out of Detroit in 2019, but also by fist-bumping fans and bringing them on his postgame interviews.
Or, most recently, by uttering a delightfully blunt personal mission statement in his introduction to Philadelphia.
With Fernando Tatis Jr. sidelined for at least a couple months, direct your attention to center field in Chicago for the game’s likely leader in Thrills per Minute (TpM). Even in terms of metrics that actually exist, Robert is a marvel. A totally ripped 6-foot-2, Robert can pummel baseballs with exit velocities topping 117 mph – up in elite Aaron Judge, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. territory. In his first taste of the playoffs back in 2020, he deposited a home run 498 feet up in the Oakland bleachers.
He’s also fast – so fast and so strong in center field that he also occasionally patrols left field, too, to the chagrin of the less defensively gifted Eloy Jimenez.
In an injury-shortened 2021, Robert put up a scorching .338 / .378 / .567 line and tamped down the strikeouts that hindered his rookie season. That line over a full season would… win MVP. We do not need to dwell on the likelihood of that to enjoy Robert, but the way he did it speaks to the full throttle way he plays. After excessive aggression on bad pitches fueled some of his rookie mistakes, he countered that by somehow swinging more, more than almost anyone in the league. The White Sox would probably prefer if he tried a slightly less swing-happy approach, but for fans of the Fun & Good Team, all Luis Robert action is good action.
On the Fun & Good bench: Byron Buxton
Right field: Juan Soto, Washington Nationals
At 23, he’s probably the best pure hitter in baseball. The locked-in alter ego that steps into the batter’s box shimmies, struts, shuffles and stares down its competition. It’s the best (only?) Between-pitches show in baseball.
Put simply: If everyone were like Soto, no one would be calling for a pitch clock.
Designated hitter / starting pitcher: Shohei Ohtani, Los Angeles Angels
Any team built around the word “and” would be woefully incomplete without Ohtani. Now the beneficiary of a rule specifically designed to allow him to continue as DH after leaving his starts on the mound, Ohtani figures to have more opportunity to accumulate mind-boggling stats on both sides of the ledger.
As we were all rapt in his greatness during the second half of 2021, Ohtani was making meaningful adjustments on the mound to avoid energy-sapping walks and last longer in his starts. After a June 30 meltdown at Yankee Stadium, Ohtani averaged 6 1/3 innings per outing and walked only nine batters in 70 1/3 frames. Winning Cy Young and MVP in the same season would technically qualify as less rare than what he did last season, but it’s nonetheless on the table as his next baseball-breaking feat.
Starting pitcher: Jacob deGrom, New York Mets
Starting pitcher: Max Scherzer, New York Mets
The otherworldly pairing of deGrom and Scherzer atop the Mets rotation has already broken new ground by creating an actual buzzy spring training game. Their piggyback game against the St. Louis Cardinals is just the appetizer for what will hopefully be a historic one-two punch all summer.
What makes this particular pairing of generational talents so appealing is the yin and yang dynamic. The smooth, mechanically optimized deGrom throws 101 mph fastballs and a befuddling 94 mph slider without apparent strain. It counts as news when his facial muscles betray his temperament. Scherzer, on the other hand, regularly looks as if he might emote himself out of his skin. The 37-year-old exertion junkie is just about the only pitcher on the planet who could qualify as a “co-ace” with deGrom at the moment, and now he will get to do so in a Mets clubhouse where basically nothing normal ever happens. Buckle up.
Starting pitcher: Yu Darvish, San Diego Padres
Even if you aren’t a Japanese speaker or reader, you need to follow Darvish’s Twitter, where he is the most personable – and often the funniest – baseball player online. Google Translate exists for a reason.
Less easily understood: His dizzying array of pitch options, which number somewhere north of six and south of a dozen, depending on the day.
Starting pitcher: Luis Castillo, Cincinnati Reds
He’s set to start the season on the injured list, but Castillo’s slingshot arm action, electric fastball combo and tumbling changeup are the closest thing we have, aesthetically, to Pedro Martinez.
Starting pitcher: Nathan Eovaldi, Boston Red Sox
We’re going with a six-man rotation to accommodate Ohtani’s preferred work schedule. And we are confident Eovaldi can pick up the slack.
After wandering through the wilderness of high expectations and mediocre results, Eovaldi’s heroic performance in Game 3 of the 2018 World Series seems to have galvanized him. Injuries scuttled his 2019 season, but the past two have been a career high. He relentlessly throws strikes, with 97 mph heat and four different darting secondary pitches that make him a joy to watch. As a bonus, he has developed a steely determination to stay in the game that makes his starts all the more entertaining.
Relief pitcher: Josh Hader, Milwaukee Brewers
Relief pitcher: Devin Williams, Milwaukee Brewers
Spiritual cousins to the Mets ‘rotation combo, the Brewers’ bullpen has a wild closing kick. Hitting Hader’s fastball seems about as easy as stopping a train with a two-by-four.
And Williams’ “Airbender” changeup has everyone else battling for second place in the race for the most GIF-able pitch.
Relief pitcher: Emmanuel Clase, Cleveland Guardians
Relief pitcher: Camilo Doval, San Francisco Giants
Call them the next wave of relievers whose whiff-worthy offerings you’ll be watching on loop. Clase throws a triple-digit cutter. Doval pulled a modern day K-Rod, showing up just in time to electrify the playoffs closing games for the 107-win Giants.
Relief pitcher: Tyler Matzek, Atlanta Braves
Relief pitcher: Diego Castillo, Seattle Mariners
Relief pitcher: Sergio Romo, Seattle Mariners
Relief pitcher: Amir Garrett, Kansas City Royals
In middle relief, what you really want are pitchers who add the spice of life that the phrase and concept of “middle relief” seem to sap from the game. These are the pitchers who will make you forego a sixth-inning snack break and energize your seventh-inning stretch.
Matzek throws nasty stuff with the added bonus of having an incredible comeback story. Castillo is something like Supersized Fernando Rodney. He has a tendency to make his innings… interesting, but he generates a ton of power from his ginormous backside and a 2.98 career ERA is a testament to the fact that it usually works out! Romo, the 39-year-old Even-Year Magic Giants stalwart, will join the Seattle bullpen this year as the majors’ preeminent old reliever whose weird stuff still hopefully works. And Garrett? Well, where better to reclaim the promise of his 2019 and 2020 campaigns than the beef capital of the world? The man who once charged an opposing dugout figures to energize the Kansas City bullpen with 95 from the left side and possibly some vocal us vs. them team spirit.