MLB: Chris Heisey and the All-Bench Team
Bench players don't get enough love these days. Especially some of the guys who get a good deal of playing time, but aren't technically at the top of the depth chart.
Some of these guys are sort of starters that share a position and others are utility guys who move around a lot. Each provides some pop or solid glove-work off the pine to ultimately strengthen the team.
If I was starting a team with only bench players, this is my starting lineup.
Catcher: Kelly Shoppach, Tampa Bay Rays
Kelly Shoppach has always played second fiddle behind the plate. Whether he was backing up Victor Martinez in Cleveland or getting the short end of a time-share with John Jaso in Tampa, Kelly has always shown that he has the potential to start.
Shoppach excels against left-handed pitchers, hitting .286 over his career with 21 homers in 315 ABs. He is an excellent option as a pinch hitter when the opposition sends out a lefty reliever and can stay in to play pretty good defense, adding to his value.
First Base: Russell Branyan, Arizona Diamondbacks
Branyan has always struggled to find a job because he is prone to injury and doesn't hit for a great average, but he makes up for it with his tremendous power. Russell has been a difference-maker for the Mariners over the past couple of seasons.
Now without Mark Reynolds, the Diamondbacks are desperate for power and Branyan fills the need while sharing the role with Juan Miranda. He could easily fill the role on his own and provide 25-35 home runs.
Second Base: Ty Wigginton, Colorado Rockies
Wigginton is surprisingly agile for his large body, but he makes his money with his bat. Wigginton carried the Orioles offense in the first half of 2010, earning an All-Star nod. Now he will have the chance to play almost everyday for the Rockies, at least pinch-hitting, and has great power potential. Wiggy will hit around 20 home runs and can hit around .270.
Shortstop: Maicer Izturis, LA Angels
Maicer Izturis, like his brother Cesar, is a fantastic fielder. That's why Mike Scioscia finds starts for him. Izturis plays second, third, and short, fielding all of the positions at a high level.
The quality that sets Maicer apart from his sibling is his ability to hit the ball. Cesar is a gaping hole in the lineup, while Maicer holds his own with the bat. He won't hit for power, but can get on and use his speed to score runs.
Third Base: Mark DeRosa, San Francisco Giants
Mark DeRosa has played many positions in his career and I have him here at third because Panda needs some defensive help sometimes and DeRosa is the backup.
Mark has been one of the best hitting utility players of the past few years. He missed most of last year because of injury and had trouble adjusting in the year before, so it's been a while, but he looks good in the early parts of 2011.
Look to see DeRosa back to about 20 home runs if he sees enough time at the plate. He could easily start at second, third, or an outfield corner if the Giants had openings.
Left Field: Chris Heisey, Cincinnati Reds
Chris Heisey is relatively unknown in the league. He's currently backing up all three of the Reds outfielders, but gets starts and makes the most of them.
The Reds sort of have a new type of outfield because Heisey can slot in for Bruce, Stubbs, or Gomes, so Cincinnati almost has a four person outfield.
Heisey is still developing, but has the ability to be a solid contributor in the future.
Center Field: Tyler Colvin, Chicago Cubs
Tyler Colvin has really turned some heads with his great power. Colvin hit himself onto lineup cards all year in 2010, but still hasn't broken through to the starting lineup.
Colvin can play all three outfield positions, but his major knock is his low average. As he learns and adjusts in the majors, his average should creep up to be acceptable. Other than that, the home runs will make him a bigger name.
Right Field: Sam Fuld, Tampa Bay Rays
Sam Fuld may be a little bit of a cheat because he is now technically a starter, but Matt Joyce, Ben Zobrist, and Johnny Damon all take some of the playing time away, so I'll count it.
Fuld has really burst onto the scene lately for the Rays. When Manny was Manny and retired due to steroids, Fuld became a storyline with fantastic defensive play, speed, and hitting talent.
I want to recognize how much of a sportsman Sam Fuld is. In Monday's clobbering of the Red Sox, Fuld went 4 for 6 with two doubles, a triple, and a home run. The final hit of the day was a double that he could have stopped on. With a huge lead, Fuld could have had the cycle, but chose to pass it because it just wasn't a real single. Play like that is truly spectacular in a stat heavy world. Fuld had an opportunity to cheat history, but was a man and that is to be respected.
Designated Hitter: Jim Thome, Minnesota Twins
The veteran DH is now sharing that spot with Jason Kubel as he creeps closer to the 600 home run mark. A future hall of famer, Thome can still smack the ball, even nearing 41.
When Morneau got concussed in 2010, Thome stepped up to fill in and played very well, hitting .283 with 25 home runs, despite many still viewing him as a bench player suited for pinch hitting in the National League. Jim Thome is still a force to be reckoned with, especially against righties.