MLB: Ranking the Top 10 Under-the-Radar Players in the AL Central

Chris Schad@@crishadContributor IIIMay 11, 2013

MLB: Ranking the Top 10 Under-the-Radar Players in the AL Central

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    In Major League Baseball, teams need a superstar to carry them into contention. But what if the superstar is enduring a painful slump? Or what if the team isn't developed enough to have a legitimate superstar?

    That's where having a solid, under-the-radar player on the roster can pay dividends.

    There are several of these players in the American League Central that help make an impact for their teams through breakout years or solid play.

    Here's a look at some of the top players who have made a contribution that's not noticed by most baseball fans.

10) Connor Gillaspie

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    Third base has been a problem spot for the White Sox since Joe Crede left after the 2006 season. An answer may be coming in the form of Connor Gillaspie.

    With the White Sox struggling to score runs, Gillaspie's bat has been a welcome presence. He's only hitting .278, but he's hit three home runs with nine RBI in a lineup that has had its problems.

    If he can get things going, he'll help turn Chicago's fortunes (and its season) around.

9) Mike Aviles

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    As a player who was traded twice this past offseason, Mike Aviles has been doing a pretty good job solidifying the Indians' utility position.

    He can play a variety of spots over the diamond, and that gives manager Terry Francona options when it comes to giving Asdrubal Cabrera and Jason Kipnis a day or two off.

    Aviles is also back in the American League Central where he hit .286 in four seasons with the Kansas City Royals. The return to where he's had a lot of his early career success should allow him to keep playing a key reserve role for the Indians.

8) Jesse Crain

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    During his time in Minnesota, Jesse Crain was a pitcher that had the ability to dominate coming out of the bullpen, but never was able to put everything together. In 2013, he may be having his best season to date.

    Through the first couple weeks, Crain has held hitters to a .220 average while compiling a 1.20 ERA. A heavy fastball has helped do most of the work, but he's able to mix in a curveball along the way to help get the ball to Addison Reed.

    The Sox haven't had many chances for their bullpen to save a lead, but Crain is making sure that they convert the ones that are given to them.

7) Kevin Correia

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    This past offseason, Twins fans exploded with anger when they heard about the signing of journeyman pitcher Kevin Correia.

    There was fear that Correia would become the latest in the long list of Terry Ryan free-agent failures with an exclusively National League track record, but he's pitched well to help the Twins to a .500 start to the season.

    There's a chance that his 4-2 record with a 3.09 earned run average are an early season mirage, but the Twins rotation was horrific a season ago and will take any help they can get.

    If this lasts, it's a huge boost for a team looking to be surprise contenders.

6) Matt Tuiasosopo

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    Matt Tuiasosopo has to be one of the coolest stories in the major leagues this season but, like his play, it's under-the-radar.

    Tuiasosopo had been toiling around in the New York Mets system for several years when he became a free agent this past winter. Without many suitors, he took to the internetΒ to start writing to clubs hoping that he would earn a job.

    Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski listened, and he's being rewarded by seeing Tuiasosopo become a solid player on the Tigers roster.

    With the ability to play both corner outfield spots, Tuiasosopo has a chance to stick with the Tigers and give them depth at their weakest position.

5) Scott Diamond

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    Like Correia, Diamond was another Twins pitcher that had success, but it wasn't known if it would be a consistent model of what was to come.

    With Diamond, we have an answer.

    After offseason elbow surgery, Diamond has pitched well for the Twins in the opening weeks of the season. A 3-2 record and 3.03 ERA is impressive enough, but he's doing it without hurting himself as he's walked three batters so far.

    He'll never be considered a true ace, but he's a solid pitcher the Twins can rely on in the middle of their rotation.

4) Bruce Chen

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    Bruce Chen is a victim of a lot of sarcasm when it comes to his ability. However, the former journeyman has found a home in Kansas City and has become a serviceable option in the Royals bullpen.

    The 35-year old Chen has an ERA of 2.03 and opponents are hitting a modest but controllable .245 against him. His job is to make sure the ball gets to the late stages of the game, and he's doing a good job of making that happen.

    The back end of the bullpen needs work in Kansas City, but with Chen pairing with Luke Hochevar and Aaron Crow, it's a good bridge for when Greg Holland figures things out.

3) Drew Smyly

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    Drew Smyly came onto the major league scene with a respectable rookie year, but was unable to beat out the more highly regarded Rick Porcello in spring training.

    Smyly had to settle for a job in the Tiger bullpen, and so far he's been on track to replace the struggling former first-round pick in the rotation.

    In 21.2 innings, Smyly has been able to limit his own mistakes with a 0.83 WHIP and give the Tigers help when the solid rotation hasn't been able to go deep into games.

    With Porcello owning an ERA over seven, it will be a matter of time before Smyly starts becoming noticed in places other than Detroit.

2) Lorenzo Cain

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    As one of the key pieces in the trade that sent Zack Greinke to the Milwaukee Brewers in 2010, it might be hard to consider Lorenzo Cain as a key player.

    But injures have made some people forget about the electric center fielder, and he's been able to put everything together in the first part of the season.

    Being fourth on the Royals with a .327 average is good, but he's been able to make solid defensive plays and use his speed to become a catalyst for an emerging Royals team.

    He'll need to stay healthy, but he has all the tools to be known for something other than the Greinke trade.

1) Ryan Raburn

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    When it comes to the term "under-the-radar" Ryan Raburn has to be at the top of this list.

    At the beginning of the season, the Indians were a little shaky despite their attempts to quickly improve their team via free agency. As we're here now, they've recovered thanks in part to the surprising play of Raburn.

    In 22 games, Raburn has belted four home runs for the Tribe. That's led to a team wide power surge that has seen them slug their way toward the top of the division.

    It's unlikely he keeps this up, but for now he's played a big part in what can be a good Indians team.