Since many big name players like Albert Pujols, Jayson Heyward, Justin Upton and Shin Soo-Choo have failed to live up to their expectations this year, it is time to flip the page and identify the players who were deemed as "weak" or "non-factoring" and give them the credit that they have earned thus far.
Sports networks consistently talk about big names and whether or not they are living up to potential and fail to discuss the surprise stars who have made an impact under the radar. It is time to put Pujols, Josh Hamilton, Matt Kemp, Ryan Braun, and co. on the back-burner and go over who is beginning to make a name for themselves.
1. Dayan Viciedo - Chicago White Sox
Viciedo went through May hitting a stellar .351 while hitting 8 home runs and driving in 24. His OPS was .995 which ranked 14th in the league. Now why is it that Viciedo has gotten so little recognition outside of Chicago? The Tank, as he is known, hit .287 with 40 homers and 125 RBIs in two seasons in AAA and was one of the exciting stories coming into the 2012 season for the South Siders after the departure of Carlos Quentin.
His defense is better than Quentin, who had a great glove in RF. Viciedo's arm is one of the best young LF arms in baseball as players are already being cautious when thinking about running on him. I do not believe he can keep this .280+ average throughout the season, but finishing at .260 with 25 home runs would finally give The Tank some fantasy respect in the upcoming seasons.
2. Jason Kipnis - Cleveland Indians
The Chicago-native Kipnis has become the lone power-hitter for the Indians with all the injuries they have sustained. Funny thing is that at only 5'11", he has already knocked out nine home runs. Five came in May, which is better than sluggers like Jay Bruce, Adrian Gonzalez and Miguel Cabrera. His respectable .295 May AVG and .351 OBP shows that the little guy is getting patient at the plate and waiting for the right pitches to swing at.
I definitely see his production staying consistent, especially if he has to be the driving force behind an unhealthy Tribe. While I do not think I see any Gold Gloves or Silver Sluggers in his future, (thanks to Robby Cano), Kipnis will definitely be a 2B fantasy star in the next few years and has tons of fans in Cleveland & Chicago alike.
3. Lucas Duda - New York Mets
Despite hitting only .259 on the season, Duda's 8 long balls and 30 RBIs have gone a long way in terms of the revived Mets organization. While his OPS is also mediocre at .773, his 21 walks ranks him in the Top 30 for NL hitters. At only 26 years old and wth a massive 6'4", 254 pound frame, he is definitely a power threat throughout this season and beyond. While we should not expect Adam Dunn-like home run numbers, I see Duda in line for 25 home runs this year to go along with a respectable 80-85 RBIs.
I have a good feeling the Mets will hold onto Duda for awhile being that they can get some good production out of him for a low price, something that the Mets are more accustomed to with only three players being paid over $5 million (Santana, Wright, Francisco).
We are in the midst of seeing the next great star shortstop in Ian Desmond. He has proven himself as one of the key components to the Nationals success this year. His eight home runs and 23 RBI ranks him second on the team in front of stars Jayson Werth & Ryan Zimmerman. His hit total at 57 leads his club and his 34 May hits ranked him fourth among NL Shortstops last month.
While he does not walk much and does have a hefty strike out total at 45, along with only nine walks, Desmond has certainly come into his own after hitting .253 with eight home runs last season.
For the next five to 10 years we get the privilege of seeing Desmond fight with Starlin Castro, Zack Cozart, Troy Tulowitzki, and Jose Reyes in the race to becoming the supreme shortstop in the National League. It is now time for the young Nats' core to continue to live up to the hype as being a hungry dangerous bunch.
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