Flashback to the beginning of 2023…

After going to the World Series, the Philadelphia Phillies were without Bryce Harper after having Tommy John surgery and were going into the year without their culture hero Rhys Hoskins after a preseason injury. Harper was so desperate to come back and support the team as soon as possible that he was learning how to play an entirely different position at first base to play with a bionic arm as soon as possible because the Phillies were going from miracle World Series run to ending April with a 15-16 record and looking like the year may be a lost cause.

Harper came back in May, bionic arm and all, and the Phillies returned back to their true-to-form selves. They rattled off an 18-7 June and made the NLCS for the second consecutive season. 

Point being, it’s so early in the season that there are still superstars that are arriving as the true iterations of these teams are still baking in the oven. To pull off a successful April and May is a testament to teams’ capabilities to overcome early-season injuries and adjust slumps to start the year before coming into their true form.

There’s an iconic Dragon Ball Z meme of “This isn’t even my final form!” that comes to mind when describing the state of some of these teams to start the year—the idea that there are some rosters performing during the doldrums of the season’s beginnings that could have a slumping superstar yet to arrive.

Here are some superstars that are still potentially on the way to perform for some teams that have started off slow yet the teams have still held the line steady.

It isn’t their final form if you will.

Aaron Judge // New York Yankees

The New York Yankees have arguably gotten off to the loudest start of the league thus far due to their electrifying love for newly-acquired Juan Soto, in contrast to many self-inflicted troubles or bad luck in the previous several seasons, adding the most competent and intelligent bat in the league gives you a different kind of energy surrounding the team, and it’s well-earned and deserved to start first in the AL East and top 5 in home runs and ERA without even having Gerrit Cole. The emergence of Anthony Volpe, also looking like the shortstop of the future now at just 22 years old, has made the Bronx Bombers feel like they’ve got a budding dynasty on their hands!

But have we just forgotten about Aaron Judge? The 2022 MVP that made national storylines because of his 62 in one season that is larger-than-life when healthy?

Judge has gotten off to a slow start with his massive body, making strikeouts that look BAD when they’re bad, with .211 to start the year. But after a 2023 marred by injury, to Judge’s credit, he’s still been on the field, he’s still drawing walks, and don’t look now, but he had 3 homers in his last 5 games against a first-place Brewers team. If he can get it going, the Yankees haven’t even unlocked their MVP slugger yet, despite their most exciting start in years.

Julio Rodriguez // Seattle Mariners

We’re having deja vu with the 2023 Mariners, which got off to an incredibly slow start, couldn’t produce any offense, and led the league in strikeouts with a sophomore-slumping Julio Rodriguez. Julio did take off in a tremendous way in the second half of the year with stretches where he had the most hits in a 4-game span and looked like his Rookie of the Year self, but the slow start out of the gate was too much to overcome. We’re seeing that again this time – Seattle leads in strikeouts, has the worst-ranked offense, and Julio is only batting .275 with one home run.

Yet they lead the AL West, which consists of the Astros and World Series Champion Rangers.

Seattle has held the line even without runs coming in. They have one of the most highly-touted pitching staffs in all of baseball that has been dealing even with Woo on the IL to start the year. If there was a way for Julio to take off as he has over the past week to make the Mariners the prolific offense they had last August before coming up just games shy of the postseason, they’re going to benefit from a slow start in Houston and Texas as they need to take advantage of a wide-open division.

Matt Olson // Atlanta Braves

The Braves still look like the most dangerous lineup top-to-bottom in baseball. They have the best record in the National League and won a series against the defending World Series Champion Rangers and then the best record in the AL, the Cleveland Guardians. Even though they lost Cy Young favorite Spencer Strider for the year, they’ve looked entirely unphased and able to adapt, which is the moniker of winning organizations.

However, remember that guy that finished fourth in NL MVP voting last year that golf-clubbed the

PHOTO: Getty Images

league-leading 54 homers in 2023? That would be first baseman Matt Olson, who often gets lost in the shuffle of their loaded lineup.

Olson hasn’t had the best start to the year- just 3 homers and a .212 batting average. He’s almost become a victim of “well, someone has to get out, right?” in a Braves lineup that has 8 other guys hitting over .250. With a lineup where other teams are having to pitch around a reigning MVP in Ronald Acuna Jr., a slugging Marcell Ozuna to start the year, and Michael Harris II also emerging as one of the smartest bats in the game, Olson will start to get some pitches simply because other teams can’t afford it and will have to pitch to him. For the Braves to put this up without his power that could soon emerge is terrifying.

Cody Bellinger // Chicago Cubs

Cody Bellinger is only in his second season as a Chicago Cub, and he’s already become a cult hero. Viewed as a “flier” signing after trending downward with the Dodgers after once winning MVP, Bellinger readjusted his game to hit more balls linear rather than swinging upward and hit .307 and finished top-10 in NL MVP-voting last year. After a typical Scott Boras client stand-off this offseason, Bellinger re-upped with Chicago to their delight and will be the man in Chicago for 3 more years.

Bellinger is on the IL with fractured ribs immediately after hitting a towering home run on the 20th. However, despite now having to recover from injury and getting off to a bit of a slow start at just a .226 average, Chicago has remained at the top of a competitive NL Central. Shota Imanaga looks like an NL Cy Young Candidate as a bargain international signing, and his replacement, Pete Crow-Armstrong, is getting some big league reps as one of the most highly-touted rookies to start the year and even had a homer for his first hit.

Bellinger is already getting “BELL-I! BELL-I! BELL-I!” chants from a raucous Wrigley crowd in April before moon-shotting home runs. He’s beloved, and he’ll be able to feed off of that energy in their push for October. They’re a loaded team looking to make a statement about their offseason moves after coming up short last year.

PHOTO: Getty Images

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