Atlanta Braves: Ranking the 5 Most Underappreciated Players in 2013

Daniel Kock@@dannykockContributor IIIJune 16, 2013

Atlanta Braves: Ranking the 5 Most Underappreciated Players in 2013

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    The Atlanta Braves (40-28) have struggled in recent games but still hold a lead over the Washington Nationals in the National League East.

    Despite injuries and struggles from some of the Braves' key players (Jason Heyward, B.J. Upton, Brian McCann), the Braves find themselves in a favorable position.

    Part of that success should be attributed to other starters and role players picking up the slack.

    Manager Fredi Gonzalez has had the luxury of turning to his bench in key situations without a drop-off in production.

    Here's a look at some of those players as well as other underappreciated players at this point in the 2013 season.

5. Anthony Varvaro

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    The Braves were expected to have one of the top bullpens in the game entering the 2013 season, but it wasn't because of the presence of Anthony Varvaro.

    In fact, it was a question whether Varvaro would even make the 25-man roster out of spring training.

    A few months later, Varvaro has became an essential part of the National League's best bullpen, thanks to a 3-1 record and 2.36 ERA.

    The 28-year-old has earned the trust of Gonzalez by tightening up his command and posting a 1.02 WHIP, which is the second best out of the bullpen behind closer Craig Kimbrel (0.99).

    Varvaro has worked the seventh inning or later in his last seven outings and ranks third on the team with three holds.

    Varvaro has been a very reliable pitcher out of a deflated bullpen so far in 2013.

4. Jordan Schafer

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    Jordan Schafer has played good baseball in limited action due to a crowded Braves outfield.

    The 26-year-old has just one start in June, but he should not be forgotten in the Braves being at the position they find themselves in.

    The Braves needed Schafer to step up with Jason Heyward on the disabled list and B.J. Upton struggling mightily in April and May—and he did.

    In 20 starts, Schafer has hit .311 with a .427 on-base percentage and five stolen bases.

    As a leadoff hitter, Schafer is hitting .288 with a .413 OBP. Money aside, one could make a strong argument he should be getting the majority of playing time in center field and hitting leadoff.

    He's learned his role as a major league player and has taken more pitches, bunted to get on base and generally created havoc on the bases.

    Schafer has had a nice rebound season to this point in 2013 and has been a key contributor for the Braves.

3. Dan Uggla

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    Yes, Dan Uggla strikes out a lot.

    However, many fans let this get in the way of many things the second baseman does well.

    Uggla ranks second on the team in runs scored (35) and walks (38), third in home runs (13) and tied for fourth with a 1.0 offensive WAR rating.

    His 13 home runs and 15.1 walk percentage leads all National League second basemen, and his .404 on-base percentage in June leads the team among players with five or more at-bats.

    There are obvious flaws to Uggla's game, but don't let that blind you into thinking he doesn't have value at second base.

2. Ramiro Pena

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    Similar to Schafer, Ramiro Pena has maximized the opportunities he's gotten to give Gonzalez a productive player off the bench.

    The Braves acquired Pena this offseason for his reliable glove, but he has been a surprisingly good hitter.

    The 27-year-old is hitting .283 with a .337 OBP and a 0.8 OWAR, which is good enough for a tie for second among the Braves bench.

    He has even shown a little pop this year by hitting three home runs.

    Pena can play second, shortstop or third base to give a starter a day off or enter the game in late-inning situations for his excellent glove.

    Pena has served as a poor man's version of Martin Prado in 2013.

1. Luis Avilan

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    The Braves big three to close out games in Craig Kimbrel, Eric O'Flaherty and Jonny Venters has been limited to just Kimbrel, leaving a major gap in the eighth inning.

    All of a sudden the biggest strength of the team looked to be a potential weakness.

    The development of Luis Avilan has allowed the bullpen to continue to be a strength of the team.

    Avilan (2-0) has largely taken over the setup role and has posted a 2.13 ERA while leading the current team with nine holds. He is tied for second in the bullpen with a 0.6 WAR.

    While Avilan is extremely effective against left-handed hitters (.163 batting average), he is not limited to just a situational role as he has held right-handed hitters to a .200 batting average.

    His emergence has helped steady the Braves bullpen in a potentially difficult situation.