The Top 10 Underrated Baseballers of 2010
Every winning baseball team has a player or two that goes relatively unnoticed, their contributions undervalued by the bigger names on the team.
Sometimes they are bunt specialists, defensive wizards, or pinch-hitting specialists.
But to the true baseball eye, there are many underrated players in the MLB today putting up quite remarkable numbers in equally remarkable ways.
Sadly, most times an underrated player's true value isn't realized until he's gone—the name Mike Sweeney jumps to mind here—but in some cases these players become a mainstay and a key to a winning formula.
Here are my top 10 underrated players in MLB going into the 2010 season.
No. 10: Josh Willingham (OF, Nationals)
Entering his fifth full season in the majors, Josh Willingham has somehow still flown under the radar of most baseball fans.
Perhaps it is because Willingham has only played for the small-market Florida Marlins and the non-playoff Nationals, but his numbers demand otherwise.
Last season for the Nationals, Willingham knocked 29 doubles and 20 home runs with a career-high .367 on-base percentage, despite having an average a full .100 below that number.
Willingham certainly is not the best outfielder in the NL East but is definitely one of the most underrated players and amazingly may even find himself competing for a starting role in camp this spring.
No. 9: Scott Baker (SP, Minnesota Twins)
Although Scott Baker may have gained a little more well-deserved recognition with the Twins' victory in the AL Central, he still is commonly swept under the rug in discussions of up-and-coming pitchers.
In fact, Baker may not be an up-and-comer, as he has simply already arrived.
Last season Baker built on a strong 2008 campaign, putting forth an '09 record of 15 wins and nine losses. Not only was Baker's record 15-9, he also flaunted a 9-4 record on the road and posted a 4-0 record in both the months of June and August.
Baker also hit the 200 innings mark for the first time in his career and posted a remarkable WHIP of 1.19.
The Minnesota faithful may already know Scott Baker well, but it's time for the rest of baseball to wake up to the future of the Twins.
No. 8: Russell Branyan (1B, Cleveland Indians)
Despite being ousted from the Seattle Mariners organization this season and barely finding his way onto the Cleveland Indians roster, Branyan put up rock solid numbers deserving of a Major League job.
Branyan, who is largely considered one of baseball's journeymen, is due for a long-term home, especially with career highs in RBI, home runs, and doubles last season.
Branyan hit over 30 home runs and 20 doubles, both for the first time in his career, yet still managed only a $2 million deal with one of the worst clubs in baseball.
Branyan's lack of notoriety can largely be contributed to his inability to remain with one club, his increasing age, now at 34, and his large strikeout totals.
However, Branyan is certainly one of, if not the most underrated power hitters in MLB.
No. 7: Kevin Correia (SP, San Diego Padres)
Pitching in the excessively large shadow of Chris Young in San Diego, Kevin Correia has quietly put together a record to be proud of.
Despite only being a game above .500 on the year, Correia managed a top 40 ERA amongst major league pitchers and fell only two innings short of the 200 innings pitched plateau.
The remarkable thing about Kevin isn't necessarily his numbers—although the 1.30 WHIP stands out—but rather the fact that the 12-win, 11-loss pitcher put up such numbers in his first full season as a starting pitcher. This transition comes after three full years of relieving.
As a result, Correia's starting talent is highly underrated and the Padres should be pleasantly surprised with his performance this upcoming season; the rest of the NL West, not so much.
No. 6: Clayton Kershaw (SP, Los Angeles Dodgers)
This menacing southpaw had a breakout campaign last season for the Los Angeles Dodgers, making fans of the Dodger blue giddy with anticipation of his potential.
The scariest part is that his potential has already arrived.
In '09 Kershaw posted an average 8-8 record, but it is the rest of his numbers that jump out. Kershaw posted the seventh best ERA in the league, tying Roy Halladay, and posted similar Halladay-like numbers with a dominating 185 strikeouts in just over 170 innings.
I do, however, stand corrected in saying the scariest part about Kershaw is that his potential has already arrived, as the Dodgers held Kershaw on a strict pitch limit last season.
This year the pitch limit should vanish, according to MLB.com, and that is the scariest thing.
No. 5: Alberto Callaspo (2B, Kansas City Royals)
Perhaps the most unfamiliar name on this list is that of Alberto Callaspo, the Royals' second baseman for the 2010 campaign.
In his first full season, the '09 campaign, Callaspo put up 73 RBI, 41 doubles, and a .300 average.
Simply put, while broadcasters were busy shuffling their papers, looking for anything they could find on this mysterious No. 13 in royal blue, Callaspo was busy knocking doubles off the wall in left center.
Oh, and by the way, he's a switch hitter.
No. 4: Nyjer Morgan (OF, Washington Nationals)
The trend of small market ball players seems to continue here with Nyjer Morgan cracking the list of underrated players at No. 4.
Morgan plays alongside the previously mentioned Josh Willingham, but Morgan often makes the defensive plays with his blinding speed.
Last season Morgan stole 42 bags in only 120 games, begging some to ask the question of a 60-steal season in 2010. Aside from that, the speed helps Morgan create infield singles and beat out bunts, contributing to a .307 average.
The speed is by far the scariest part of Morgan's game and may destine him for a career only in the National League, albeit a long one, as speed never takes a day off.
No. 3: Pablo Sandoval (1B, San Francisco Giants)
A .330 average, 25 home runs, 44 doubles, and 90 RBI—is it A-Rod? Nope, it's Pablo Sandoval. In fact Sandoval's numbers are, albeit arguably, better than A-Rod's.
Sandoval put up these ridiculous numbers in only his first full season in the bigs, showing all-around talent.
Sandoval accompanied these numbers with nearly a .390 on-base percentage and even five triples—most likely thanks to the setup of AT&T Park.
Again, Sandoval, hopefully, will not remain underrated for long, as MLB.com is predicting his power numbers should go up! Apparently, there is a new Barry Bonds playing in San Francisco.
No. 2: Shin-Soo Choo (OF, Cleveland Indians)
This cock-kneed batting style, double ear flap helmet-wearing outfielder may just be the best kept secret in baseball—second to only the next slide's player, of course.
Choo, known for his remarkable eye and patience, posted nearly 80 walks and an on-base percentage knocking on the door of the .400 mark. Choo also complements the patience by jumping on mistakes with 38 doubles and 20 home runs.
Choo could be absolutely lights out if he could develop opposite field power. This comes as all but five of his 20 doubles at Progressive Field were to the opposite side, which includes the massive wall in left field, and all 11 of his home runs went out to right center.
Watch for Choo to quietly become one of the better hitters in the game.
No. 1: Billy Butler (1B Kansas City Royals)
It should come as no surprise that the most underrated ballplayer going into the 2010 campaign comes from a last-place team.
However, Butler exemplifies the term underrated, as he put up a .300 average, 93 RBI, and an astonishing 51 doubles without anyone noticing. Fifty-one doubles sees Butler come in at second in that category, only behind Brian Roberts of the Orioles.
Similarly, the underrated Butler also finds himself tied for 18th overall with 183 total hits.
Undeniably, the best part about Butler is that he's only entering his fourth season in MLB.
And the worst part? Well, perhaps that fans in Kansas City don't even know his name.