MLB: 10 Under-the-Radar Players Who Will Make an Impact in 2011

Barrett HansenAnalyst IIMarch 28, 2011

MLB: 10 Under-the-Radar Players Who Will Make an Impact in 2011

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    PHOENIX - SEPTEMBER 21:  Carlos Gonzalez #5 of the Colorado Rockies bats against the Arizona Diamondbacks during the Major League Baseball game at Chase Field on September 21, 2010 in Phoenix, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Predicting the final stat lines for Albert Pujols or Roy Halladay is almost boring. Just look at the last 10 years of consistently stellar production and pick some numbers in that statistical range.

    Players like Carlos Gonzalez offer a little bit more excitement. Acquired by the Rockies in the trade with the Oakland A's that sent Matt Holliday to Oakland and brought Huston Street to Colorado, Gonzalez burst onto the scene in 2010, winning the National League batting crown with a .336 average.

    More people had Butler in the NCAA final last year than CarGo winning the batting title. 

    Now we have a chance to look around the league as Opening Day lurks just around the corner and wonder: Who is this year's Carlos Gonzalez? Which player is going to surprise the league with All-Star play in 2011?

    In short, which players will make the biggest impact for their teams in 2011? Here are 10 possibilities.

Brian Matusz

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    BALTIMORE - AUGUST 09:  Brian Matusz #17 of the Baltimore Orioles pitches against the Chicago White Sox at Camden Yards on August 9, 2010 in Baltimore, Maryland.  (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
    Greg Fiume/Getty Images

    The 24-year-old lefty hardly impressed with his overall numbers in 2010: 10-12 with a 4.30 ERA and 1.34 WHIP leaves a lot to be desired for the No. 2 starter in a rotation.

    However, let it be known that over his final 11 starts, he logged a 7-1 record, 2.18 ERA and 1.03 WHIP. To top it off, only one of his opponents over that stretch had a sub-.500 record (the 80-82 Angels).

    The O’s second ace should come up big this year for Buck Showalter’s new-look Orioles, as they hope to make a splash in the impossibly difficult AL East. 

Shaun Marcum

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    PHOENIX, AZ - FEBRUARY 18:  Pitcher Shaun Marcum #18 of the Milwaukee Brewers participates in fielding drills during a MLB spring training practice at Maryvale Baseball Park on February 18, 2011 in Phoenix, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Ima
    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    With incumbent ace Yovanni Gallardo and newly-arrived Cy Young-winner Zach Greinke ahead of him in the rotation, Marcum will probably not get the attention he deserves.

    In 2010, his first season back from Tommy John surgery, Marcum recorded a 3.64 ERA and 1.15 WHIP in 195-plus innings to go along with 165 strikeouts and only 43 walks for the Blue Jays. If he can pitch like that while facing the Red Sox, Yankees and Rays on a regular basis, imagine what he can do in the NL Central.

    Marcum will be an integral part of the Brewers' chances this summer, providing ace-caliber production from the third spot in the rotation.

Mitch Moreland

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    SURPRISE, AZ - MARCH 11:  Mitch Moreland #18 of the Texas Rangers hits a RBI double against the Cincinnati Reds during the second inning of the spring training game at Surprise Stadium on March 11, 2011 in Surprise, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/
    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Moreland did not exactly take the baseball world by storm in his rookie campaign last year. He arrived on the scene in late July and logged a mediocre .255 batting average with 25 RBI in 145 at-bats spanning 47 games.

    He did, however, go yard nine times and he posted a solid .833 OPS in his limited playing time. Last year's production extended over a full season translates to around 30 home runs and 80 RBI.    

    He’ll likely bat seventh in the loaded Rangers lineup, behind Adrian Beltre, Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz and Michael Young, which will give him plenty of opportunities with men on base to put up some big numbers.

Gio Gonzalez

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    OAKLAND, CA - SEPTEMBER 08:  Gio Gonzalez #47 of the Oakland Athletics pitches against the Seattle Mariners during a Major League Baseball game at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum on September 8, 2010 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Ge
    Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

    His overall numbers from 2010 are hardly poor—15-9 with a 3.23 ERA, 1.31 WHIP and 171 strikeouts in 200-plus innings is a respectable season by all accounts.

    But in 15 post-All-Star starts, the southpaw posted an 8-3 record with a 2.59 ERA and 82 strikeouts to 39 walks in 93.2 innings. He headlines an Oakland A’s pitching staff that is sneakily better than most give it credit for, and he rolls into 2011 primed for a huge year. 

    Look for Gonzalez to be a legitimate ace down the road for the revamped Athletics as they hope to challenge for the AL West crown once again.

Jonny Venters

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    ATLANTA - JUNE 17:  Jonny Venters #39 of the Atlanta Braves against the Tampa Bay Rays at Turner Field on June 17, 2010 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    The Braves say that they will utilize both Venters and Craig Kimbrel as closers to start the year. However, many already consider Kimbrel the closer. The 22-year-old was sensational last year, allowing just a single earned run with 40 strikeouts in just 22.1 innings.

    Venters was no scrub himself, posting a 1.95 ERA with 93 strikeouts to 39 walks in the 83 innings of his rookie campaign. He only allowed one homer all season. At age 26, he has the edge in experience over Kimbrel.

    If he outperforms the youngster, or if Kimbrel gets injured, Venters will get his chance. But even if he doesn’t close much this year, Venters can provide the crucial eighth-inning support that the Braves will need to contend in the tough NL East. 

Mike Stanton

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    PHOENIX - JULY 08:  Mike Stanton #27 of the Florida Marlins at bat during the Major League Baseball game against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field on July 8, 2010 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Diamondbacks defeated the Marlins 10-4.  (Photo by Christian
    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    In his age-20 season, Stanton launched 22 bombs in just 100 games with an OPS of .833. Not bad for a guy just two years out of high school.  

    He’ll begin his sophomore campaign finally able to buy a beer, and also as a huge power threat in the middle of the Marlins lineup.

    The Fish already sport a good pitching staff and a much improved bullpen. Stanton could be the spark that pushes the team over the top come September.

Jay Bruce

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    CINCINNATI, OH - SEPTEMBER 28: Jay Bruce #32 of the Cincinnati Reds bats against the Houston Astros at Great American Ball Park on September 28, 2010 in Cincinnati, Ohio. The Reds won 3-2 to clinch the NL Central Division title. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Gett
    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    Bruce made his debut in 2008 amidst much fanfare. His slow progress in the big leagues has greatly deflated the original hype, but by no means has he gone away. Last year he hit .281 with 25 knocks and an .846 OPS, and he has shown steady improvement each year in the big leagues.

    Lest we forget, he’ll turn 24 next week.

    With the probable regression of both Scott Rolen and defending MVP Joey Votto, Bruce could be the guy this year for the Reds, a team that hopes to earn a playoff berth for the second year running.

Daniel Bard

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    SEATTLE - SEPTEMBER 13:  Daniel Bard #51 of the Boston Red Sox pitches against the Seattle Mariners at Safeco Field on September 13, 2010 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    Bard quietly put together an impressive season last year in Boston. In 74 innings, he struck out 76 batters to the tune of a 1.93 ERA and 1.00 WHIP, logging 32 holds.

    Should Papelbon falter, a strong possibility given his 3.90 ERA last season, Bard will be right there to step in.

    If Bard is relegated to set-up duty all year, he'll still have a critical role to play. Even with their star-studded offense, the Red Sox have a tough road ahead of them in the AL East. They will need all the help they can get in the bullpen to close out close games against their rivals.

Daric Barton

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    PHOENIX, AZ - MARCH 03:  Daric Barton #10 of the Oakland Athletics bats against the Milwaukee Brewers during the spring training game at Maryvale Baseball Park on March 3, 2011 in Phoenix, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    The guy will never wow anybody with his numbers. He hit .273 with 10 dingers, 33 doubles and an OPS of .798 last season.

    However, the guy chased the fewest pitches out of the strike zone of any player in the majors last year. His patience in the box is reminiscent of Scott Hatteberg, another Billy Beane player who batted lefty and threw righty. In 2004, Hatteberg’s best season in Oakland, he hit .284 with a .787 OPS, 15 home runs and 30 doubles, not unlike Barton's line last year.

    Barton appears to be fitting in nicely with Oakland's offensive model, and he also has above-average defense to boot. Still only 25, Barton can be a catalyst on offense and a rock defensively for the A’s this year.

Jonathan Sanchez

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    ARLINGTON, TX - OCTOBER 30:  Starting pitcher Jonathan Sanchez #57 of the San Francisco Giants pitches against the Texas Rangers in Game Three of the 2010 MLB World Series at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington on October 30, 2010 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo b
    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    This is the year Sanchez stops being the king of the five-and-two-thirds exit.

    He ended 2010 scorching hot, with a 3-1 record and 1.17 ERA in September. He also finished the year with a filthy .204 batting-average against, good for best in the majors.

    This year, Jonathan Sanchez finally gains some consistency. He will go deep into games and establish himself as a premier starter in the National League, joining Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum as one of the deadliest three-headed monsters in the majors.