Ranking the 10 Biggest Overachievers in Baseball

Zachary PeterselFeatured ColumnistMay 22, 2012

Ranking the 10 Biggest Overachievers in Baseball

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    According to Merriam-Webster.com, the definition of an overachiever is "one who achieves success over and above the standard or expected level."

    In creating this list, I compiled MLB players that have outperformed a variety of expectations. Some players qualified from their performance this season, such as Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Bryan LaHair, while others have destroyed their previous levels of expectations over the course of their careers, such as Jose Bautista and Albert Pujols.

    Each player has a unique backstory. Some were "too small," others went to a small school nobody ever heard of (Indiana Wesleyan, anyone?), or they were drafted as low as the 39th round so their expectations coming into baseball were not high at all.

    Here are 10 of the biggest overachievers in baseball today.

New York Mets OF Kirk Nieuwenhuis

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    Coming into this season, the Mets expected Kirk Nieuwenhuis to spend at least a couple of months in Triple-A before being able to contribute at the big league level, especially after his spring training injury

    In spite of that, an injury to Mets center fielder Andres Torres on opening day forced Nieuwenhuis into the everyday lineup, and he has not only "met" any and all expectations, but surpassed them. 

    The problem for New York moving forward is that Captain Kirk's BABIP is .409, the second highest mark in all of baseball, and his K percentage of 30.8 is also incredibly high, the fourth worst number among all qualifiers. 

    These are two signs that Nieuwenhuis is not likely to be able to keep up his production. 

Los Angeles Dodgers C A.J. Ellis

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    A catcher drafted in the 18th round normally does not amount to anything more than a backup catcher at the big-league level.

    Combine that with the fact that A.J. Ellis had never been a full-time starter until this season, at the age of 31, and you can understand why the expectations for Ellis were so low. 

    That is what makes his season thus far so incredible. 

    Coming into Monday night's action, Ellis' 2.1 WAR was tied for 11th best among all hitters. His slash line of .321/.446/.491, not to mention his 23 walks against 20 strikeouts, should have him in the All-Star game this season, and he is a huge reason why the Dodgers are baseball's best team this late into the season. 

Chicago Cubs 1B Bryan LaHair

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    Talk about a journey. 

    Bryan LaHair was drafted by the Seattle Mariners in the 39th round of the Amateur Draft 10 years ago. Other than a brief opportunity with Seattle in 2008 to play every day, LaHair has spent the majority of the last eight years wasting away in the minor leagues.

    Even this offseason, when it looked like he would finally get his opportunity with the Cubs, new GM Theo Epstein traded for top prospect Anthony Rizzo, and it appeared his chance was gone.

    However, LaHair kept fighting, and he has been nothing short of outstanding this season. With 10 home runss and a .629 slugging percentage, he has shattered even the best of projections.

    While he will not be able to keep up this level of production, he has transformed his image from an infamous "Quad-A" player into a better-than-average MLB regular.

Philadelphia Phillies C Carlos Ruiz

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    Akin to A.J. Ellis on this list, Carlos Ruiz is a catcher who has continuously outperformed the expectations placed on his shoulders, and this year he has been even better. 

    "Chooch" is now beloved in Philadelphia, but when he was first called up, he was nothing more than a defensive-minded catcher and role player.

    Now he is the glue that holds one of the best pitching staffs together and has become the biggest force in the Phillies lineup with Ryan Howard and Chase Utley injured to start the season.

    Ruiz has never hit more than nine homers in a full season or had more than 54 RBI, but he already has seven dingers with 29 RBI, not to mention a career-best .355 batting average.

    This is all despite playing the 2012 season at the relatively old age of 33. 

    Ruiz has finished in the top 25 of the MVP voting each of the last two seasons, and if he can keep up this pace, he will assuredly keep that streak alive.

Atlanta Braves SP Brandon Beachy

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    Forget being drafted—the man with the lowest ERA in all of baseball at the moment was passed on by every single baseball team when he declared. 

    When the Braves signed the young right-hander out of Indiana Wesleyan University, Brandon Beachy became the first and only player from that school to ever join a Major League organization.

    To say Beachy "achieves success over and above the standard or expected level" would be an incredible understatement.

    Considering he is just 25 years old, he still has plenty of room to get better.

Boston Red Sox 2B Dustin Pedroia

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    BaseballReference.com lists Dustin Pedroia at a generous 5'8'', 165 pounds. 

    After he won the MVP award in 2008, he was quoted saying the following:

    Obviously I'm motivated. I'm not the biggest guy in the world. I don't have that many tools. If you look at me and I'm walking down the street, you obviously wouldn't think I'm a baseball player. I think that's the biggest thing that drives me to be a good player.

    I've had to deal with that my whole life. I think that's just been instilled in my mind—that I have to overcome everything to prove people wrong. So far I've done that."

    He was only rated on Baseball America's top 100 prospects once, and that was only 77th overall. While baseball is not a game determined by size or stature, a player of Pedroia's build does not normally generate as much strength and power.

    His quote says it all.

Los Angeles Dodgers OF Matt Kemp

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    While Dustin Pedroia never clocked in higher than 77th on any of Baseball America's top prospect lists, Matt Kemp only made their list once, and that was 96th overall.

    However, his eight-year, $160 million contract extension with the Dodgers shows you how much those expectations meant to him and the organization.

    After being drafted in the sixth round of the 2003 Amateur Draft, Kemp had the odds stacked against him becoming an everyday player.

    Not only is he now the best player for the best team in baseball, but he also should have won the MVP award last season and was on pace to win the award this season before a hamstring injury ended his streak of 399 consecutive games played. 

Boston Red Sox DH David Ortiz

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    Think the Mariners and Twins regret letting this guy go?

    Once upon a time, David Ortiz was traded for Dave Hollins, who played a grand total of 28 games for the Mariners. Then, despite some solid production for the Twins in his six-year stint in Minnesota, they released him in 2002 to make room for Jose Morban, who hit .141 over his 71 at-bat career.

    In Ortiz's first two months with the Sox, he was primarily used as a pinch hitter, backing up then-first baseman Jeremy Giambi. The following two months, Ortiz hit 19 total home runs, and he has since propelled himself into a Red Sox legend and potential Hall of Famer.

Los Angeles Angels 1B Albert Pujols

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    Even acknowledging his incredible struggles this season, Albert Pujols is the greatest overachiever not only in today's game, but of all time.

    In 1999, 401 players were drafted before Pujols , as he lasted into the 13th round of the amateur draft because teams were concerned about his build and what position he would play. However, the initial questions faded almost immediately, as he needed just 15 at-bats above High-A ball to make the Cardinals opening-day roster just two years after he was drafted.

    Fifteen at-bats!

    Not only did he make the roster in 2001, but he put up a .329/403/610 slash line with 112 runs, 37 homers and 130 RBI. The rest as they say, is history.

    King Albert has finished in the top five of the MVP voting in 10 of his 11 seasons (he finished ninth in 2007), and there is no way his struggles for the Angels will last much longer. 

    This man is one of the greatest to ever play the game, and the fact 401 players were drafted before him is simply incredible.

Toronto Blue Jays OF Jose Bautista

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    During the 2004 season, Jose Bautista was a part of five different teams.

    The Baltimore Orioles, Tampa Bay Rays, Kansas City Royals, Pittsburgh Pirates and New York Mets all had their hands on the star outfielder, but they all believed he was not worth holding onto.

    To be fair, the Pirates gave him a chance in 2006 and 2007, but it was not until 2010, 10 years after he was drafted, when he exploded onto the scene with 54 home runs with the Jays.

    To come from where he did, being a 20th-round draft pick, shuffling from team to team waiting to get his opportunity to shine, is a testament to his work ethic and determination to make it in the big leagues.

    It also makes him baseball's definition of an overachiever.