MLB Players Who Will Quietly Surprise on New Teams
While high-profile free agent signings and blockbuster trades are what makes baseball's offseason the most interesting and intriguing in all of sports, the overshadowed, under-the-radar moves often prove to be equally as important to a team's success in the upcoming season.
You won't find any perennial All-Stars, MVP candidates or Cy Young Award contenders on this list, instead it is comprised of five players that don't get much attention—but who will make their new general managers look like baseball savants for adding them to their respective rosters.
Who are we talking about? Let's take a look.
*Unless otherwise noted, all statistics courtesy of FanGraphs.
RHP Carter Capps, Miami Marlins
A change of scenery will prove to be just what the 23-year-old flamethrowing reliever Carter Capps needs to get his career back on track.
Acquired from Seattle in exchange for Logan Morrison, Capps was completely ineffective in 2013, allowing 73 hits—including a dozen home runs—over only 59 innings of work out of the Mariners bullpen. While his former home, Safeco Field, was one of the hardest places to go deep in baseball last year, Marlins Park boasted the lowest home run rate in the game, according to ESPN's Park Factors.
With a three-pitch arsenal that includes a nasty curveball (that looks and acts like a slider) and a fastball that consistently sits in the mid-to-upper 90s, Capps knows how to miss bats, averaging more than a strikeout per inning over the course of his short career.
Capps could develop into a fantastic closer down the line, which would certainly come with far more notoriety than his current role of middle reliever, where it's easy to get overlooked. But his impact will be noticeable, and the Marlins will get to develop another talented, young arm for the future.
OF Rajai Davis, Detroit Tigers
Detroit wanted to become a more aggressive team under new manager Brad Ausmus, so the Tigers went out and signed one of the most aggressive base-stealers around, Rajai Davis, to help usher in a new era of Tigers baseball.
"It's the frame of mind that we have to change before it becomes a real factor," Ausmus recently told MLive.com's James Schmehl. "The frame of mind of wanting to go the extra 90-180 feet to force the defense to make a play on you."
Davis, 33, stole 45 bases for Toronto last season in only 102 games—10 more than Detroit swiped as a team. While he'll be splitting time with Andy Dirks in left field, he'll certainly be used as a weapon off of the bench when the opportunity presents itself.
"He has the ability to steal bases, to take the extra base and to force the defense to try and make a play that would be an easy play on a different player, but not on Rajai Davis," Ausmus explained to Schmehl.
While he may not swipe 40 bases for the third consecutive season (and fourth in the past five years), Davis will prove to be a far more valuable addition to Detroit's lineup than anyone anticipates.
3B Kelly Johnson, New York Yankees
An afterthought when put up against the likes of Jacoby Ellsbury, Masahiro Tanaka and the other high-profile additions that the New York Yankees made this winter, Kelly Johnson is going to surprise people by putting up some big numbers for the Bronx Bombers in 2014.
A left-handed pull hitter who posted a 46.1 percent fly-ball rate in 2013—the fourth-highest mark among players who took at least 400 at-bats—Johnson's swing is tailor-made for Yankee Stadium's short right field porch.
Versatile enough to play multiple positions, the 32-year-old Johnson figures to get the bulk of the playing time at third base in place of the suspended Alex Rodriguez, while sitting against left-handed pitchers in favor of Eduardo Nunez.
While everything is magnified in New York, the media capital of the world, Johnson will wind up putting together one of the quietest 25-plus home run seasons in recent history.
C Kurt Suzuki, Minnesota Twins
An excellent defensive catcher and game-caller, Kurt Suzuki's biggest impact on the Minnesota Twins will come from behind the plate, not in the batter's box, something that wasn't lost on All-Star closer Glen Perkins, who explained to the Star Tribune's Lavelle E. Neal III:
I had seen the guy before. He receives the ball really well. With him being in the American League he knows the pitchers and the way I like to work, what I like to throw and when. I’m excited to throw to him and excited when he is back there.
That's not to say that Suzuki won't have any impact with a bat in his hands. A career .253 hitter who offers some power, he knows how to get on base and has historically performed well against nearly all of Minnesota's division rivals with one exception—never a bad thing:
|Opponent (Games Played)||BA||OBP||OPS||XBH (HR)||RBI|
|Chicago (41)||.290||.356||.783||10 (5)||25|
|Detroit (41)||.280||.366||.750||11 (2)||17|
|Kansas City (36)||.260||.358||.701||7 (2)||10|
|Cleveland (33)||.218||.304||.673||8 (5)||15|
But for the Twins, who enter the season with a retooled rotation, Suzuki's steadying influence behind the plate will prove to be invaluable for a starting rotation that has been among baseball's most inept over the past few years.
While he's merely keeping the position warm for Josmil Pinto, Minnesota's catcher of the future who figures to take over as the starter towards the end of the season, Suzuki will provide more during his time behind the plate than most people expect.
LHP Alex Torres, San Diego Padres
Seeing as how I named San Diego as the team that will surprise people the most in 2014, it's only fitting that a Padre be included on this list.
Part of the package that the Padres received from Tampa Bay in exchange for Logan Forsythe, 26-year-old Alex Torres, it's easy to look at Torres as nothing more than a LOOGY—a lefty one-out guy.
Armed with a terrific low-90s fastball and an effective offspeed offering that keeps batters from sitting on his heater, Torres proved to be effective against batters on both sides of the plate for Tampa Bay in 2013, holding the opposition to a combined .159/.244/.224 slash line while averaging 9.6 strikeouts per nine innings of work.
Whether he'll be used in a setup role or purely as a middle reliever remains to be seen, but Torres will quickly prove to be a valuable addition to a revamped Padres bullpen.