10 Underrated MLB Players Who Go Unnoticed on Small-Market Teams
There is no shortage of challenges facing small-market teams as they look to compete with teams that have a payroll double and in some cases triple the size of theirs.
However, as teams like the Cleveland Indians, Oakland Athletics and Tampa Bay Rays showed last season, it's not always about how much money you have to spend.
For the players on small-market teams, flying under the radar often leads to an unfair lack of attention for guys who could very well be household names playing in a larger market.
With that in mind, here is a look at 10 underrated MLB players who go unnoticed on small-market teams and deserve more attention than they have received to this point.
*All advanced stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference, unless otherwise noted.
RP Rex Brothers, Colorado Rockies
72 G, 2-1, 19-of-21 SV, 1.74 ERA, 36 BB, 76 K, 67.1 IP, 3.1 rWAR
Rex Brothers was a solid reliever his first two seasons in the league, making 123 appearances and posting a 3.49 ERA with 142 strikeouts in 108.1 innings of work. He took his game to another level last year, though, in his age-25 season.
His 3.1 rWAR was good for fourth-best among all relievers, and he showed he was capable of handling ninth-inning duties as well as setting up when he took over for the injured Rafael Betancourt.
The Colorado Rockies signed LaTroy Hawkins to be their closer this offseason, but it would not be surprising in the least to see Brothers in that role before the season is over and for the foreseeable future from there.
SP Alex Cobb, Tampa Bay Rays
22 GS, 11-3, 2.76 ERA, 1.151 WHIP, 45 BB, 134 K, 143.1 IP, 3.9 rWAR
After winning the No. 5 starter job out of camp in 2012, Alex Cobb went on to make 23 starts, finishing the year a solid 11-9 with a 4.09 ERA.
He looked to turn a corner down the stretch that year though, going 4-1 with a 2.49 ERA over his final seven starts, and that carried over into a breakout year last year.
The 26-year-old was 6-2 with a 3.01 ERA through his first 13 starts before suffering a scary injury when he took a liner off his head. The resulting injuries cost him exactly two months, but he actually pitched better upon returning, going 5-1 with a 2.41 ERA over his final nine starts.
Had it not been for the injury he likely would have been in the AL Cy Young conversation, and as long as he can make a full slate of starts in 2014 he has a good chance of emerging as one of the league's best.
2B Brian Dozier, Minnesota Twins
147 G, .244/.312/.414, 33 2B, 18 HR, 66 RBI, 72 R, 14 SB, 3.8 rWAR
An eighth-round pick by the Minnesota Twins back in 2009, Brian Dozier made a rather inauspicious debut in 2012, hitting .234/.271/.332 with six home runs and 33 RBI over 316 at-bats.
While his .298/.370/.409 career line in the minors suggested he had some offensive skills, there did not look to be much home run power in his bat, as he managed just 16 home runs in 1,405 total at-bats.
That proved a poor indication of what was to come though, as Dozier slugged 18 home runs last season to rank fourth among all second basemen. With a .278 BABIP and average 9.9 percent HR/FB rate, according to FanGraphs, he should be able to put up similar numbers in 2014 and heading into his age-27 season could even take another step forward.
3B Matt Dominguez, Houston Astros
152 G, .241/.286/.403, 25 2B, 21 HR, 77 RBI, 56 R, 2.2 rWAR
The No. 12 pick in the 2007 draft, Matt Dominguez entered the 2011 season ranked the Florida Marlins' top prospect and the No. 81 overall prospect in baseball, according to Baseball America.
He was always expected to be a plus defensive third baseman, but a string of subpar offensive seasons in the minors led the Marlins to eventually deal him, shipping him to the Houston Astros for Carlos Lee at the deadline in 2012.
He was handed the everyday third base job out of camp for the Astros last year, and he ran with the opportunity, flashing plus power with 25 doubles and 21 home runs and the glove work everyone expected with 8 DRS to rank fourth among AL third basemen, according to FanGraphs.
That solid all-around first full season has led to some extension talks of late, though the two sides are not close to a deal at the moment, according to Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle.
SP Corey Kluber, Cleveland Indians
26 G, 24 GS, 11-5, 3.85 ERA, 1.262 WHIP, 33 BB, 136 K, 147.1 IP, 1.4 rWAR
Acquired from the San Diego Padres at the deadline in 2010 as part of the deal that sent Ryan Ludwick to the Padres and Jake Westbrook to the St. Louis Cardinals, right-hander Corey Kluber actually opened the 2013 season in the minors.
In the mix for a rotation job after making 12 starts in 2012 and going 2-5 with a 5.14 ERA, Kluber was recalled in the middle of April to replace Carlos Carrasco. After making a couple relief appearances, he made his first start of the year on April 28, and he would be part of the rotation the rest of the way.
All told, he finished 11-5 with a 3.85 ERA in 147.1 innings of work, and a 3.30 FIP from FanGraphs suggests he threw the ball even better than his numbers show. With Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir gone, the team will be counting on Kluber to step up this season, and he has the stuff to have a big year.
C Jonathan Lucroy, Milwaukee Brewers
147 G, .280/.340/.455, 25 2B, 18 HR, 82 RBI, 59 R, 2.9 rWAR
After splitting time with George Kottaras in 2011 and Martin Maldonado in 2012, Jonathan Lucroy finally took over as the Milwaukee Brewers' everyday catcher last season, and he turned in a breakout season as a result.
Hitting in the middle of the Brewers' lineup, he led the team with 82 RBI. That mark was also tops among all catchers, and his .795 OPS was fifth-highest among qualifiers. Add in some plus defense behind the plate, and Lucroy has quietly become a top-five all-around catcher in the National League.
The five-year, $11 million extension he signed prior to the 2012 season now looks like an absolute steal, as he will make just $2 million this coming season.
SP Charlie Morton, Pittsburgh Pirates
20 GS, 7-4, 3.26 ERA, 1.284 WHIP, 36 BB, 85 K, 116 IP, 0.5 rWAR
Picked up in the Nate McLouth trade back in 2009, Charlie Morton had a breakout season of sorts in 2011 when he went 10-10 with a 3.83 ERA over 29 starts. Despite that, he was essentially an afterthought in the first half of last season, as he was still recovering from a Tommy John surgery that cost him most of 2012.
He returned to the Pirates' rotation on June 13, and after an up-and-down first couple months he settled in down the stretch and went 4-1 with a 2.67 ERA over his final 11 starts to give the rotation a big boost. His emergence was particularly important with All-Star Jeff Locke fading badly down the stretch.
The Pirates rewarded the 30-year-old with a three-year, $21 million extension this offseason, and they will be counting on him to step up once again in the wake of losing veteran right-hander A.J. Burnett to free agency.
C Salvador Perez, Kansas City Royals
138 G, .292/.323/.433, 25 2B, 13 HR, 79 RBI, 48 R, 4.1 rWAR
While he is widely recognized as a terrific young player in the game and even made his first All-Star appearance in 2013, it's fair to say that Salvador Perez still does not get enough respect, both for the player he is and for the player he is destined to be.
After missing much of the 2012 season following knee surgery, Perez finally got a full season worth of at-bats under his belt, and the results were terrific, as he had 25 doubles, 13 home runs and 79 RBI.
Offensive numbers aside—and he's bound to improve at the plate in the years to come—Perez is already probably one of the best defensive catchers in the game outside of Yadier Molina. His best is still ahead of him, but a strong case can already be made for him being the best catcher not named Molina or Posey.
SP Tyson Ross, San Diego Padres
35 G, 16 GS, 3-8, 3.17 ERA, 1.152 WHIP, 44 BB, 119 K, 125 IP
Andrew Cashner has received the bulk of the attention in San Diego this offseason and rightfully so, as the right-hander went 5-4 with a 2.14 ERA and .194 BAA in the second half last season.
However, he was not the only pitcher to break out in the second half for the Padres. Tyson Ross also took his game to another level after joining the rotation after the break, as he was 3-4 with a 2.93 ERA and .201 BAA in 13 starts.
A 2.92 FIP via FanGraphs during that stretch suggests those numbers were legit, and in a retooled Padres rotation that also features Ian Kennedy and Josh Johnson, Ross will be counted on to thrive once again.
3B Kyle Seager, Seattle Mariners
160 G, .260/.338/.426, 32 2B, 22 HR, 69 RBI, 79 R, 3.9 rWAR
Bright spots in the Mariners offense have been few and far between the past few years, but third baseman Kyle Seager has quietly emerged as one of the better young third basemen in the game.
After leading the team with 86 RBI and adding 20 home runs and 13 steals in 2012, the 26-year-old raised his OPS by 30 points last year and set a new personal best with 22 home runs.
He's an average defender, and he may never be more than a 20-homer guy, but with some solid additions to the lineup around him and plenty of room to improve on last year's numbers, he could be in for a big season in 2014. If nothing else, he has become a consistent contributor and deserves more credit than he gets.
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