Nick Kappel's Fantasy Focus: The All-Underappreciated Team
Original Article: Baseball Reflections
America loves the underdog; it's a fact. More importantly, fantasy owners love the underdog. Not only are they fun to root for, but they also often come much cheaper than what they should.
If there's one thing you've learned from me this season, it better be the importance of value.
Lucky for you, this week's Fantasy Focus is a perfect example of just that—players who produce above their market value.
So without further ado, I bring to you the All-Underappreciated Team of 2009.
In 2007, Baseball America ranked Miguel Montero as the Diamondbacks' fifth best prospect, ahead of notable players such as Mark Reynolds, Brett Anderson, and Gerardo Parra.
In limited plate appearances in 2007 and 2008 with Arizona, Montero displayed decent power potential but lacked plate discipline and the ability to hit for average.
However, 2009 has been a different story, as the 26-year-old is finally producing like many thought he would. Through 286 at-bats this season, Montero has blasted 12 long balls (one fewer than Brian McCann) and 41 RBI.
The best part is that he's no longer liable to kill your team's batting average, as Montero is currently batting at a .297 clip.
Montero's production has increased as his at-bats have each month since May, so expect even more good things to come from the young catcher from Caracas.
Honorable Mention: Kurt Suzuki
First Base—Kendry Morales
Like Montero, Kendry Morales was once a highly-touted prospect thought to have "above-average power from both sides of the plate," according to Baseball America. The Cuban defector has bounced between Triple-A and the major leagues since 2006 but has finally found his stroke this year in Anaheim.
In 394 at-bats, the Angels' first baseman has slugged 25 HR and has knocked in 76 runs to go along with a .302 batting average.
Up to this point, the 26-year-old is out-producing fellow first basemen Derrek Lee, Carlos Pena, and even Joey Votto. The good news for Morales owners is that he's showing no signs of slowing down and possesses the talent to keep it going.
Honorable Mention: Billy Butler
Second Base—Clint Barmes
Here's a little-known fact: Clint Barmes has 17 HR this year, just as many as Brandon Phillips and nearly double the total of Dustin Pedroia.
Barmes is currently tied for eighth in RBI among second basemen with 60, matching the totals of Ben Zobrist and Robinson Cano.
While his .249 batting averages leaves something to be desired, there's no denying his power numbers. At a position where power is tough to find, Barmes owns a solid 11.7 HR/FB ratio. He's even stolen nine bases just for good measure.
Honorable Mention: Orlando Hudson
Third Base—Michael Young
Michael Young wouldn't have qualified as being under-appreciated three years ago, but his production has dropped off in recent years, allowing him to fly under the radar in 2009.
Through 457 at-bats this season, the 32-year-old has blasted 20 HR, the most he's hit in a season since 2005. In addition, Young is batting at a .317 clip, which is also his best mark since 2005.
Young has been one of the hottest hitters in baseball since the All-Star break, blasting nine HR and driving in 18 runs on top of a .345 average in 29 games.
Behind this current hot streak, Young has hit his way back into the second tier of third basemen, and only his fantasy owners have seemed to notice.
Honorable Mention: Casey Blake
Yunel Escobar has proven himself to be a .300/.371/.429 hitter in limited time since his major league debut in 2007, though it has seemingly gone unnoticed.
Last season in 514 at-bats, Escobar hit 10 dingers along with 60 RBI and sported a .288 average. This year, in just 376 at-bats, the 26-year-old has already matched those totals, posting 11 bombs and 60 runs driven in to go along with a .298 average.
Even though August has not been kind to Escobar, he's slowly crept his way into the top 10 among fantasy shortstops, and it's time you took notice.
Honorable Mention: Ryan Theriot
Left Field—Nyjer Morgan
Despite the fact that Nyjer Morgan has played mostly in center field with Washington, he still has more games played in left field on the season, thus qualifying for him for this position.
Looking for a cheap source of runs, steals, and batting average? Morgan has it all, as the trade to Washington has set him on fire. Through 163 at-bats with the Nats, the San Francisco native has scored 30 times, stolen 20 bases, and has hit for a .356 average.
On the season, Morgan has totaled 69 runs, 38 steals, and a .306 average. A quick comparison to Jacoby Ellsbury's current totals speaks volumes to Morgan's value as a fantasy contributor this season:
Honorable Mention: Chris Coghlan
Center Field—Shane Victorino
Although Shane Victorino is the highest-ranked player on this list, his contributions seem to go unnoticed.
Of the center fielders who figure to qualify for the batting title, Victorino trails only Ichiro in batting average, currently hitting at a .313 clip. Victorino also ranks second in runs scored among center fielders with 82, trailing Johnny Damon by only one run.
In addition to this, Victorino has swiped 18 bases and has even displayed some power, totaling nine HR thus far.
Victorino is pushing for a spot among the top five center fielders in fantasy baseball, but fantasy owners have been shy to recognize it.
Honorable Mention: Michael Bourn
Right Field—Andre Ethier
In just 441 at-bats this season, Andre Ethier has nearly matched his totals from last year, scoring 72 times while blasting 24 HR and knocking in 80 runs. Comparatively, Ethier leads the highly touted Justin Upton in all three categories.
The 27-year-old Ethier also sports a .281 average, which, if it doesn't improve, would be a career worst. He's also shown the ability to swipe a base when needed, totaling five steals on the year.
Ethier currently ranks fourth among full-time right fielders, trailing only Bobby Abreu, the aforementioned Upton, and Jayson Werth.
Honorable Mention: Shin-Soo Choo
Starting Pitcher—Ubaldo Jimenez
Ubaldo Jimenez posted a respectable ERA (3.99) in 2008, but his horrific 1.43 WHIP was a product of a whopping 4.7 BB/9.
2009 has been a different story for the 25-year-old, as he's lowered his ERA to 3.47, while his 1.24 WHIP is supported by an improved 3.6 BB/9 rate.
Despite his success, Jimenez has flown under the radar this season, ranking no worse than 22nd among starting pitchers in each of the following categories: HR/9 (fifth), batting average against (12th), FIP (16th), GB percentage (eighth), and K/9 (22nd).
Jimenez is currently out-producing Chad Billingsley, Matt Garza, Roy Oswalt, and A.J. Burnett, though his trade value remains relatively low.
Honorable Mention: Jair Jurrjens
Only two closers have been more effective than Heath Bell this season—Joe Nathan and Mariano Rivera.
As a first-year closer, the big right-hander has proven that an elite fantasy closer can come from a sub-.500 team. Bell currently owns an impressive 9.91 K/9 rate to go along with a respectable 3.11 BB/9 rate.
In addition, Bell ranks no worse than seventh among current closers in the following categories: HR/9 (second), batting average against (seventh), WHIP (seventh), ERA (fourth), and most importantly, saves (third).
Despite producing at a higher level than other closers such as Jonathan Broxton and Jonathan Papelbon, fantasy owners have yet to show Bell the respect he deserves.
Honorable Mention: David Aardsma
That's all for this week folks! Let me know what you think of this list. If it's well received, expect to see the All-Overappreciated Team next week.
Nick Kappel is a fantasy baseball writer for BaseballReflections.com. In addition to this, he covers the Kansas City Chiefs and Chicago Cubs for BleacherReport.com. Starting in the fall, his work will also be featured on FanHuddle.com.
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