Prince Fielder has been on a tear in 2011.
Albert Pujols’ impending free agency dominated the preseason headlines, but once play began, several career-low batting statistics subsequently shifted him out of the baseball spotlight.
One scorching hot streak could change all that, and with Prince Albert that could come any day. However, the media has found fresh meat to feast on with the MLB All-Star Game just one month away.
Even though the Dodgers sit fourth in the NL West (6.5 games back of first), Matt Kemp has been torching opposing pitchers this season. Kemp leads the National League in homers, SLG and OPS.
Prince Fielder has rebounded nicely from a disappointing 2010 that saw him bat just .261 with 83 RBI. Fielder currently tops the NL in RBI with 58, ranks second with 19 home runs and is second to only Kemp among National League batters in SLG.
I can picture the Wrigley faithful just salivating at the thought of the big fella in a Cubs uniform.
Jose Bautista has turned a highly debated offseason contract renewal into an absolute steal for the Blue Jays, by leading all major league players in round trips for the second straight year.
Fellow AL East resident David Ortiz is also getting plenty of love from fans and scribes for not only having his best statistical season since 2007, but additionally adding fuel to the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry with his “bat-flip” controversy.
Those players who have managed to remain healthy—the list of those who haven’t is quite extensive—are roughly 240 plate appearances into the 2011 campaign, making it fairly safe to place judgments on performance.
Outside the sabermetrics universe, there are plenty of sluggers who have not received enough credit for their fruitful play on the diamond. Here we will tip our caps to a select bunch that for one reason or another, have managed to stay inconspicuous.
How good has Pence been? He has the most hits, fifth-highest batting average and sixth-most RBI among all major league outfielders in 2011.
How awful are the Astros? They sit last in the NL Central, 14 games behind Milwaukee; have the fourth-lowest home run total in the majors—not a single Astro has double-digit bombs; and sport the second-highest ERA among all pitching staffs (the Cubs are worse…obviously).
Pence has been the lone bright spot offensively on what is otherwise one of the worst batting orders in the show, if not the worst.
Houston is hardly must-see TV right now, but Pence has remained consistently productive despite the anticipated ill effects of buttressing such a hapless lineup.
Catchers will rarely wow you with their offensive prowess, and it takes a positional comparative to fully appreciate a backstop’s contributions at the plate.
Certain players get more attention than they may deserve, like Matt Weiters or Yadier Molina, but a simple glance at the stats will show that Montero has actually been one of the most productive offensive catchers this season.
Montero ranks in the top 10 in all major metrics, highlighted by his third-best OPS and SLG among all catchers.
The Venezuela native has had 400 at-bats once in his career, and that was 2009 when he hit just under .300, with 16 homers and 59 RBI.
Signed as an amateur free agent in 2001, Montero is beginning to show his full potential at the plate, but playing on the West Coast has certainly made him a well-kept secret.
Arizona has surprised many skeptics this season, and currently sit just a game behind the Giants in the NL West standings.
Montero has been an integral part of the Diamondbacks' surge, and if he continues to rake, he could find an opportunity to shine in the playoffs.
Baseball’s version of Ted DiBiase has never been called underrated, but if you take a look at the baseball headlines, Alex Rodriguez has not been getting the attention he deserves in 2011.
Lately, it seems the only way A-Rod gets noticed is if he and girlfriend Cameron Diaz are rumored to be at odds, or if his steroid-associated cousin is seen lurking around Yankee hotels.
With 13 homers and 40 RBI, Rodriguez is right in the mix of things at third base, and despite Jeter’s horrid start and New York’s decimated bullpen, the Yankees find themselves just two games behind the red-hot Sox in the AL East.
A-Rod has had a lot to do with it.
The guy does make an obscene amount of money, but if you push that aside, he remains successful year after year despite a nagging hip ailment that he just can’t seem to dodge.
Power numbers put A-Rod at the top of the third-base rankings, and he is on pace to keep his 13-year streak of 30-homer, 100-RBI seasons alive.
In 2006, Baseball America ranked Adam Jones as the second-best prospect in the Mariners system behind Jeff Clement (oops).
After just 73 games over two seasons with Seattle, Jones found himself being shipped to Baltimore in a trade centred on Erik Bedard.
Jones is a sensational athlete, but clearly has not yet tapped into his full potential.
Finally, this year it looks like Jones is putting it all together. With nine home runs, 35 RBI, five steals and a .301 BA, Jones ranks highly among all players at his position.
His numbers are almost identical to Pittsburgh’s Andrew McCutchen, who consistently receives more praise than his Baltimore counterpart.
Improving on his steals would do wonders for Jones’ reputation, but keep in mind he is in just his fourth full season, and has likely not yet hit his ceiling.
Drafted in the 17th round of 2007 MLB June amateur draft, Moreland was listed by Baseball America as a top-10 organizational prospect, but quickly slid down the charts as he progressed through three levels of minor league baseball.
Moreland is doing his best to convince the Texas brass that he is more than a platoon player, and with Mike Napoli landing on the DL, he just may get his shot.
His righty-left splits show a slugger who has pounded righties to the tune of .338 BA, eight home runs and 19 RBI.
Unfortunately, Moreland has been innocuous against lefties, who have muted his production. He is hitting just .222 in 52 AB against southpaws.
He may never overcome his one-trick pony reputation, but Moreland has some serious power and will at least make opposing right-handed pitchers uncomfortable for the foreseeable future.
Note: Moreland has as many home runs as Joey Votto, despite having nearly 50 fewer plate appearances.
The Angles have been an utter disappointment in 2011, and no player deserves more derisive treatment than Vernon Wells.
Anaheim is only five games out of first in the AL West, but Texas could turn on the gas at any point, and you have to assume they will.
Izturis has been quietly productive, despite his limitations with the bat.
He will never inspire you with his offence, but Izturis is on pace to surpass his previous career bests in all meaningful categories.
If he can continue to find ample playing time, Izturis should find himself just below the first-tier middle infielders statistically when the season wraps up.
Among the gaggle of middle infielders, who offer anything tangible at the plate, Izturis actually ranks ahead of several more well-known players.
His OBP and SLG are higher than Brandon Phillips, and his OPS bests Ian Kinsler.
Keep an eye out for Maicer.
At 29, the former Indians signee has reached the point where ball players usually peak, or begin a gradual decent to futility.
Peralta has decided to trump the naysayers and help propel the Detroit Tigers up the AL Central ladder with a spirited offensive output.
After a slow trot out of the gate, Detroit is tied for first with Peralta’s former club. With the way the Tribe are currently fracturing, it won’t be long before the Tigers claim sole possession of the leader board.
In 2008, Peralta launched 23 long balls, and drove in 89, both excellent tallies for a shortstop.
Since then, he has failed to match those accomplishments and achieved a meek .249 BA in 2010.
His nine homers in 2011 place third among shortstops, his 34 RBI leave him fourth and his .306 BA has him trailing only Jose Reyes and Jamey Carroll.
Versatility is not his trademark, and stolen bases are not to be expected, but Peralta is currently being flat-out disrespected by pundits, and it is about time to start taking notice.