Every MLB Team's Most Important Bench Player

Sean ZerilloCorrespondent IIMay 31, 2011

Every MLB Team's Most Important Bench Player

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    What makes a good bench player?

    He could be a player who can play multiple positions. Being able to wear many different gloves is a great way for a non-regular to find his way into the lineup on getaway days.

    Career record holder for pinch hits (212), Lenny Harris, played every position during his career except for pitcher or catcher.

    He could be a pinch-hitter in the National League with a big platoon split. A righty who crushes lefties or vice versa.

    He could be a low cost player with a decent amount of upside if a starter goes down. Teams like Tampa thrive off of these types of players.

    They're the baseball equivalent of lottery tickets.

    He could be a fifth outfielder who can't hit but has blazing speed for pinch running situations. Kansas City's use of Joey Gathright and Jarrod Dyson fits this bill.

    He could be a once feared but now aging slugger, who lumbers his way to the plate two out of every three nights in a big situation.

    Or he can be a mentor for a young player; willing to collect a paycheck in exchange for passing on some knowledge to some guy who is actively replacing him.

    Major League benches are made up of all different types of characters.

    What follows is a list of the best among them.


    Data Courtesy Of:



Arizona Diamondbacks: Willie Bloomquist

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    Willie Bloomquist came to Arizona expecting to spot Stephen Drew and Ian Kennedy in the Diamondbacks middle infield.

    But with an early season injury to Drew, Bloomquist found himself as the staring shortstop in April, picking up seven steals and four multi-hit games.

    Bloomquist, a righty, is valuable because he can play every position except catcher. He's also been successful on 78 percent of steals in his career (111 for 141).

Atlanta Braves: Eric Hinske

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    Before the injury to Jason Heyward, Eric Hinske was among the most feared pinch hitters in all of baseball.

    The 33-year-old lefty owns a career .802 OPS against righties with a .456 slugging percentage.

    With Heyward sidelined indefinitely with shoulder soreness, Hinske will receive the lions share of at-bats in a platoon with righty Joe Mather.

    Hinske has been a key cog on world championship teams for the Red Sox (2007) and Yankees (2009). He's a good presence to have on a playoff contender.

Baltimore Orioles: Jake Fox

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    Playing in a division with three of the American League's four highest scoring offenses, the Baltimore Orioles need to score a bunch of runs to win games.

    One option for manager Buck Showalter is to give more at-bats to utility-man Jake Fox.

    Fox, 28, plays catcher, first base, third base and left field and is the owner of 122 home runs and an .886 OPS over parts of seven minor league seasons.

    If the Orioles fall further out of contention, they might considering trading Vladimir Guerrero and giving Fox a crack in the DH role.

Boston Red Sox: Jason Varitek

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    No player is more vitally important to the development of Jarrod Saltalamacchia and the handling of the Red Sox pitching staff than Jason Varitek.

    Despite the fact that he is no a below-average major league hitter, Varitek possess a wealth of knowledge about opposing hitters and how to manage pitch-calling.

    The Red Sox have kept him around, probably for just one last year, so that he can pass off whatever knowledge he has to Salty.

    The switch-hitting 26-year-old is known primarily for his bat, and he's started to heat up with four homers in April.

Chicago Cubs: Jeff Baker

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    Jeff Baker is another guy who makes his way onto this list because of versatility.

    The former Clemson Tiger, in his third season with the Cubs, has split time between first base, second base, third base and right field.

    He's especially deadly at the plate against lefties, with a career .932 OPS against southpaws (.672 against RHP).

    Before the rise of Darwin Barney, some in Wrigleyville were calling for Baker's ascension to the starting second base job.

    He's better suited for his current role, however.

Chicago White Sox: Ramon Castro

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    Backup catchers are expected to do little else but play sound defense and be a warm body when the starter is given a day off.

    That's what makes Ramon Castro special. For the past 12 seasons, this thick bodied righty has packed a deadly punch when given the opportunity.

    Castro owns a .422 slugging percentage and .731 OPS for his career. His best season came in 2007, when he smacked 11 homers in 144 at-bats with the Mets.

    In fact, during his four-and-a-half years in New York, Castro hit 41 doubles and 33 homers over 701 at-bats.

    He hit .278 with eight homers in 115 at-bats for the White Sox last year. Their inept offense could use that again this season.

Cincinnati Reds: Chirs Heisey

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    Chris Heisey has the misfortune of being right handed.

    Starting left-fielder Jonny Gomes (righty) is still hitting below the Mendoza line, and fellow backup outfielder Fred Lewis is a left-hander.

    Naturally, manager Dusty Baker has selected Lewis as Gomes' platoon partner until he can bust out of his slump.

    That leaves Heisey, 26, to backup detail behind Drew Stubbs and Jay Bruce.

    He's an above average defender who does everything well but nothing exceptionally well. Even still, Heisey's defense could force his way into the Reds lineup by October.

Cleveland Indians: Lou Marson

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    I have found it curious that the Cleveland Indians have kept Lou Marson in the majors since promoting starlet Carlos Santana last season.

    Marson, 25, was acquired as part of the Tribe's package for Cliff Lee and was once a Top 50 prospect in baseball.

    He is a good enough defender, but his lack of a major league ready bat significantly hurts Marson's long term value.

    The fact that he's now sitting on Cleveland's bench, regularly, has only slowed his development.

    With the Indians in contention, Marson could be used as a potential trade chip this season.

    They should send him back to AAA where he can be regularly showcased.

Colorado Rockies: Jason Giambi

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    With five homers in May and six on the season in 41 at-bats, people are beginning to ask, "Is Jason Giambi back?"

    The answer is more than likely not, he's simply too old.

    But Giambi showed enough during a May 19th game in Philadelphia to make some people think so. The 40-year-old slugger hit three homers, all to right field, in a 7-1 Rockies victory.

    He and starter Todd Helton have combined for 12 homers and 36 RBI this season, totals which (combined) place them in the top three in the NL for both categories.

Detroit Tigers: Ramon Santiago

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    Ramon Santiago has been a constant in Detroit since returning for his second tour of duty in 2006.

    The middle infielder received his most at-bats in 2010 since playing 141 games in 2003 on the record breakingly bad Tigers.

    Santiago came to the plate 367 times last season and held his own with a .662 OPS.

    He really shined in the field however, saving the Tigers 10.1 runs according to Fangraphs.

    All told, Santiago was worth 2.1 wins above replacement for the season; an impressive figure for a reserve infielder.

Florida Marlins: Emilio Bonifacio

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    Bonifacio is a bit of a Swiss Army knife, having started at least one game at every position except for catcher and first base this season.

    He's a fan favorite in south Florida due to his elite wheels which have helped him nab 35 steals in the past three seasons.

    Once his plate discipline matures, he could take over for Omar Infante full time at second.

Houston Astros: Jeff Keppinger

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    As a middle infielder with gap power, Jeff Keppinger could hold some value on an open market.

    Keppinger finally received a full season of at-bats in 2010, hitting .288 with a .744 OPS while rating as a slightly below average fielder over 126 games at second base and 12 at short stop.

    Though he only cleared the fence six times, Keppinger smacked 34 doubles and showed good plate discipline with a 51:36 strikeout to walk ratio over 514 at-bats.

    Keppinger is an example of good bench player turned starter. He's on this list because I suspect that he'll end up on a contender's bench by season's end.

Kansas City Royals: Brayan Pena

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    Brayan Pena (left) is a switch-hitting Cuban catcher who has long shown good plate discipline skills that suggests his bat can make an impact at the major league level.

    But as a defensive question mark, Pena has been relegated to a backup role once again this season. In his path is starter Matt Treanor, a capable defender who boasts a .625 career OPS.

    Still, it never hurts to have a switch-hitter with power who can catch a game every fifth day.

Los Angels Angels: Russell Branyan

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    The king of the three true outcomes, Russell Branyan, has resurfaced again, and this time in southern California.

    The Angels are Branyan's 13th club in his career, and second this season (Arizona).

    He brings major power to the table, but when he isn't connecting, the results are usually ugly.

    Still, Branyan is a great DH/backup first base option for the Halos.

Los Angels Dodgers: Jerry Sands

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    Jerry Sands has been platooning in left with Jay Gibbons but is 10 years his junior and has far higher upside.

    Sands has been hurt by a poor BABIP thus far, but he does have 10 doubles in his first 104 big league at-bats.

    This is a hitter who owns a .974 career OPS in the minors and still has lots of time to develop.

    He could be special.

Milwaukee Brewers: Carlos Gomez

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    A few years older than Sands, Carlos Gomez is in a similar situation in Milwaukee.

    The 25-year-old Dominican center fielder is stuck in a platoon with Nationals exile Nyjer Morgan.

    Gomez has a high ceiling, but his poor plate discipline has kept him from reaching it. He's struck out 48 times in 170 at-bats already this year.

    He rates as a terrific defender either way, but his inability to get on base limits Gomez to the realm of replacement level.

Minnesota Twins: Jim Thome

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    Among the last of the old guard of nineties sluggers, Jim Thome smacked 25 homers in 276 at-bats for the Twins last season.

    With Joe Mauer rehabbing and Justin Morneau continuing to struggle, Thome's ocassional appearance in the Twins lineup means all the difference in the world for the major league's lowest scoring offense.

    He has an .833 OPS on the year with four doubles and four homers in 72 at-bats. He sits at 593 home runs for his career and has 600 well within sight.

New York Mets: Justin Turner

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    It'd be a shame if Justin Turner is forced back to the bench whenever David Wright returns from injury, because he has been a real sparkplug for the Mets offense in May.

    For the month, Turner hit .342 (27 for 79) with eight doubles, one homer and 21 RBI.

    He can handle second base and third base at about a league average level and could be serviceable at shortstop as well.

    Turner looks like this generation's Mark McLemore (less speed) for the blue and orange.

New York Yankees: Eduardo Nunez

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    Eduardo Nunez may eventually be faced with the unfortunate task of having to replace Derek Jeter.

    For now, the 23-year-old Dominican middle infielder will spot start for Jeter and Cano.

    Nunez profiles as more of an eighth or ninth hitter at the major league level, but he has 20-plus steal capability and the tools to be a good defender.

    His development is the key to making sure the post-Jeter era goes as smoothly as possible.

Oakland Athletics: Andy Laroche

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    As the strikeouts continue to pile up, it's becoming increasingly more clear that Kevin Kouzmanoff is not the third baseman of the present and future in Oakland.

    Andy Laroche is currently riding a five-game hitting streak and appears to be an immediate threat to Koozie's job.

    Laroche hit 95 homers and owned a .900 OPS in the minor leagues. He was a former top prospect and even at 27, it's not too late for him to finally break out.

Philadelphia Phillies: Ben Francisco

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    Ben Francisco appears to be the biggest loser in Phildelphia's suddenly crowded outfield with Dominic Brown's return from the disabled list.

    The UCLA product has been steady in his 130 at-bat stint as a starter this season, hitting six homers, showing a 20:25 walk to strikeout rate and playing solid defense.

    Francisco has proved his worth to the Phillies and may have generated some league-wide interest for himself at the conclusion of this season.

Pittsburgh Pirates: Pedro Ciriaco

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    Pedro Ciriaco is a lanky Dominican shortstop who has the potential to be a multiple time Gold Glove winner at the big league level.

    To do so, he'll have to find a way to get on base more often to keep himself in the lineup. Ciriaco owned a .297 OBP in the minors.

    He did steal 78 bases from 2008-2009, however, so if Pedro can ever find a way to bump his walk rate, he may hold some value as a leadoff hitter.

    Still, I'm not predicting anything big for Ciriaco other than a few web gems.

San Diego Padres: Blake Tekotte

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    A member of the University's of Miami's 2007 squad which ranked No. 1 for most of that season, Tekotte is the first of four of five players from that team who will crack the majors in 2011.

    Tekotte is the prototypical leadoff hitter with good plate discipline (~ .360 OPB), decent power (10-15 homer potential) and good baserunning skills (an efficient 20-plus steals).

    He'll also play average defense at worst in centerfield, and by all accounts will work as hard as anyone on the team.

    It won't be long before Tekotte pushes Cameron Maybin for playing time.

San Francisco Giants: Brandon Belt

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    Brandon Belt is one of baseball's top prospects, and it serves him no good to spend his days riding a bench.

    Aubrey Huff is coming off of a big season, but he owns just a .615 OPS in 2011 and has already struck out 41 times.

    With Buster Posey out for the year, the Giants need a spark for their offense.

    Belt is the logical choice for possible inspiration.

Seattle Mariners: Adam Kennedy

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    Adam Kennedy appears to have been plugged into Bill Simmons' so called rejuvenation machine and has had a late career revival in Seattle.

    The 35-year-old second baseman, long known for his defense, is back on pace for prime year numbers at the plate with a .757 OPS over 127 at-bats.

    At the very worst, he should bring back a decent prospect for Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik before July 31st.

St. Louis Cardinals: Allen Craig, Jon Jay and Tyler Greene

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    The Cardinals have been the highest scoring offense in baseball this season, thanks by and large to contributions they've received across the board.

    From the first man, to the 25th.

    Three of the main contributors have been Allen Craig, Jon Jay and Tyler Greene.

    The trio have combined for 42 runs, eight homers, 39 RBI and 13 steals this season. Jay and Craig each have OPS marks over .900.

    The Cardinals can swing the bats, to say the least.

Tampa Bay Rays: Sean Rodriguez

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    The Rays are still hoping to get something out of Sean Rodriguez.

    The second and third baseman still continues to strike out too much, but he has rapped 15 extra base hits this season in 103 at-bats, for a .427 slugging percentage.

    With Reid Brignac continuing to struggle, the Rays may want to consider moving Ben Zobrist over to short, allowing Rodriguez one final crack at full-time at-bats in Tampa.

Texas Rangers: Endy Chavez

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    Endy Chavez has long been undervalued as a player, particularly because he is an exceptional defender at all three outfield spots.

    He's shown good speed, stealing 32 bases with Montreal in 2004, but Chavez doesn't walk quite enough to serve as a full-time regular.

    Texas is Endy's seventh landing spot. Playing behind the perpetually injured Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz should ensure that Chavez receives a healthy dose of at-bats before season's end.

    As he has at other stops in his career, Endy should become a fan favorite in Texas very quickly.

Toronto Blue Jays: Jose Molina

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    In the wake of the Buster Posey injury, Bengie Molina may return to the Giants and relegate his brother Jose, once again, to the status of second oldest Molina brother in the majors.

    Unlike his brothers, Jose has been a backup throughout his career and quite a good one at that.

    He's hitting a career high .328 during his first 64 at-bats in 2011 but serves more importantly as a mentor to rookie catcher J.P. Arencibia and the Jays young pitching staff.

    I'd assume he also serves as a confidant for rookie manager John Farrell. 

    Despite a .626 career OPS, there must be some reason why Jose has managed to hang around the big leagues since 1999.

Washington Nationals

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    Much like Jose Molina and Jason Varitek, Ivan Rodriguez is also mentoring a young catcher.

    Unlike the situations in Boston and Toronto, however, in Washington D.C. a top prospect is being mentored by a future Hall of Famer.

    Ivan Rodriguez has won a world series (2003), an MVP (1999), 13 Gold Gloves, seven Silver Sluggers and he's been selected to 14 All-Star Games.

    There is little you can do in baseball that this man hasn't done or seen.

    If I were Wilson Ramos, I would thank the baseball gods that they sent Pudge Rodriguez to be my own personal Crash Davis during my rookie year.