1 Player on Every MLB Team Who Has Earned More Playing Time
The New York Mets have an infielder batting over .400 in May, the Toronto Blue Jays have a catcher averaging a home run for every seven trips to the plate and a whole bunch of teams (Los Angeles Angels, Baltimore Orioles, San Diego Padres and others) have a relief pitcher who is repeatedly thriving in a mop-up role.
Why not more frequently put those guys in a position to help the team win games?
As the calendar flips to June, that means we are roughly halfway to the trade deadline. That also means trade rumors, targets, suggestions, etc., will pick up in earnest as the buyers and sellers make their way into their separate camps.
But what if an in-house solution—a benchwarmer who's hitting well, a middle reliever who's ready for some eighth- or ninth-inning work, or a spot starter who might thrive as a regular in the rotation—could fix some problems?
One point of clarification to make before we dive in is that this is about the players who deserve more playing time, not the ones who deserve less of it. There are plenty of instances in which we'll hypothesize how to get a bigger role for the listed player and might single out a struggling teammate or two. However, this is not a "how to fix every team's biggest weakness" type of exercise. Our goal is to highlight underutilized players.
Teams are split up by division and listed alphabetically by location.
American League East
Baltimore Orioles: Keegan Akin, LHP
Baltimore's second-round pick in the 2016 draft made 23 starts over the previous two years, and well, they weren't great. He entered this season with a 3-12 record and a 6.19 ERA. But Akin has been excellent in a long-relief role this season (at least 2.0 IP in all 13 appearances), slashing both his walk rate and home run rate en route to a 1.71 ERA.
Meanwhile, in the O's starting rotation, John Means is out for the year, Spenser Watkins had a 6.00 ERA before landing on the IL and Kyle Bradish has a 7.31 ERA. And let's be honest, Baltimore is already hopelessly out of the playoff chase and should be using the rest of this season to figure out who fits where in 2023. Might as well give Akin another extended audition as a starter.
Boston Red Sox: Franchy Cordero, UTIL
Now in his sixth season in the majors with just 167 career games played, Cordero has never been anything more than a versatile backup. But the 27-year-old is currently playing better than ever before, batting .269 with a drastically better strikeout rate than usual (22.1 percent compared to 35.0-plus in four of the previous five seasons).
Cordero did enter play Saturday having started in 16 of Boston's prior 24 games, but considering Bobby Dalbec, Enrique Hernandez and Alex Verdugo entered Saturday batting a combined .214 in May with just two home runs, Cordero should really be in the starting lineup on a daily basis.
New York Yankees: Ron Marinaccio, RHP
What the Yankees really need is someone who can replace Joey Gallo and/or Aaron Hicks in the outfield, but healthy in-house options are unfortunately nonexistent on that front.
But this 26-year-old rookie reliever should be getting more work. He had a 2.17 ERA and a 14.2 K/9 in 66.1 innings of minor league work last season. He has also posted a 13.5 K/9 in limited work (6.2 IP) for the big league club this season. And in his lone appearance with a hold/save on the line, he went 2.0 innings with three strikeouts and no base runners allowed Wednesday against the Orioles.
His ERA is 6.75, but his FIP is 1.50. When healthy, Aroldis Chapman and Clay Holmes are clear back-end-of-the-bullpen options here. But Marinaccio could be a clutch sixth/seventh-inning guy for them.
Tampa Bay Rays: Francisco Mejia, C
As far as percentage of total 2022 payroll is concerned, only the Phillies (J.T. Realmuto) and White Sox (Yasmani Grandal) are more heavily invested in their starting catcher than the Rays are in Mike Zunino ($7 million). So, it's understandable that they are giving him every opportunity to snap out of his slow start and re-harness that 33-HR form that he had in 2021.
But at .263, Mejia is batting 108 points better than Zunino (.155), right on pace with where he was in both 2019 (.265) and 2021 (.260). Neither is much of an asset on defense, so it seems silly not to at least give 50 percent of starts to the catcher who is hitting much better this season.
Toronto Blue Jays: Danny Jansen, C
This one probably deserves an asterisk, because Jansen is Toronto's primary catcher. He missed more than a month on the IL with an oblique injury, which is why he only has 42 plate appearances on the year.
But he homered in six of those 42 appearances, so how in the world do you justify ever keeping him out of the starting lineup?
He can't start every game at catcher, but Jansen should at least be the DH on nights when Alejandro Kirk is behind the plate, and that hasn't happened yet this season.
American League Central
Chicago White Sox: Reynaldo Lopez, RHP
Injuries to Luis Robert, Eloy Jimenez, Lance Lynn, Joe Kelly and others have already forced the White Sox to give just about everyone an extended audition. But one thing we'd love to see more of is Lopez in pivotal relief roles.
Lopez was a mediocre starter for most of his first six seasons in the majors, but he made 11 relief appearances with a 2.21 ERA last season. And he has a 3.20 ERA through his first 19.2 innings out of the bullpen in 2022.
The White Sox do already have three pretty reliable relievers in Liam Hendriks, Kendall Graveman and Matt Foster, but Lopez could feature in that mix, too, as Chicago seeks to catch Minnesota atop the AL Central.
Cleveland Guardians: Eli Morgan, RHP
Morgan made 18 starts last season as a rookie, faring pretty well after an initial rough start. In his final 11 appearances, he had a 4.19 ERA with five quality starts.
And thus far this season, he has been even better in a long relief role, allowing just eight hits with 24 strikeouts in 20.0 innings of work. He has already made four appearances of at least 3.0 innings with at least three strikeouts and either zero or one hits allowed.
Considering Aaron Civale is on the IL and Zach Plesac has really struggled over his last five starts, no time like the present to give Morgan another shot as a starter.
Detroit Tigers: Harold Castro, UTIL
Save for Miguel Cabrera, who is somehow still batting almost .300 at the age of 39, the Tigers' starting lineup has been an absolute disaster at the plate. Seven of their 13 leaders in plate appearances entered play on Sunday batting .200 or worse for the season.
And then there's this 28-year-old utility man with a career .294 batting average who inexplicably only appears in the starting lineup about 40 percent of the time.
I'm all for letting rookie Spencer Torkelson get in as many swings as possible, and you've got to play Javier Baez if you're paying him $20 million for the year. But do we really need to watch Jonathan Schoop, Robbie Grossman and Jeimer Candelario struggle on a nightly basis when there's a better option on the bench?
Kansas City Royals: Edward Olivares, OF
Olivares has been on the IL with a quad injury since May 9, but Kansas City was woefully underutilizing him before the injury—something I noted less than a week into the regular season.
When he does play, Olivares is batting .371. Even without a home run, he has a .907 OPS, good for 23rd among players with at least 30 plate appearances. Yet, somehow, he only managed 38 trips to the plate through Kansas City's first 24 games.
Once he recovers from the injury, hopefully the Royals finally give this young star a chance to shine.
Minnesota Twins: Kyle Garlick, OF
Speaking of minimally used players with a great OPS, Garlick is sitting at .973 with four home runs through 47 trips to the plate—directly ahead of Rafael Devers, Mookie Betts and Bryce Harper at the start of play Saturday.
Despite his impressive numbers, Garlick has only played two complete games. Instead, former first-round draft picks Nick Gordon and Trevor Larnach have split the lion's share of playing time in left field, even though they have combined for just two home runs.
The curious decision hasn't hurt the first-place Twins, but it does seem like they could be even better with a slight adjustment.
American League West
Houston Astros: Seth Martinez, RHP
Since fully converting to a relief role before the 2018 season, Martinez had a great run through the minors. He had a 3.28 ERA with 15 saves in Single-A ball that first year, had a 1.26 ERA in 28.2 innings of Double-A work the following year and posted a 2.81 ERA in Triple-A in 2021. But when he finally made it to the big leagues as a late September call-up, he got shelled for five earned runs in three innings of work.
This year has gone much better, as he has amassed nine scoreless innings of work in five appearances for the Astros. Most of that work has come in mop-up roles, but he could be an asset in higher-leverage spots.
Los Angeles Angels: Jaime Barria, RHP
Once upon a time in 2018, a 21-year-old Barria made 26 starts for the Angels with a 3.41 ERA. But after three mediocre seasons in a "call up for a start in case of emergency" role, the Halos have at least temporarily transitioned Barria to a long-relief role.
The thing is, he has been excellent in that role, and they should be calling his number more than once every eight or nine days. Barria has made just seven appearances, tallying 21.0 innings with a 1.71 ERA and 0.86 WHIP.
Oakland Athletics: Luis Barrera, OF
Barrera has been a darn-near-everyday corner outfielder for the A's since getting called up in early May. In 19 games played, he's batting .298 with a home run and three stolen bases. On a roster that otherwise does not have a single player batting .260 or better, that's kind of a big deal.
And Oakland needs to continue finding regular work for Barrera even after Stephen Piscotty (calf) returns from his time on the IL.
Keep giving ABs to Cristian Pache in center field. Even though he's struggling, he's a building block for the future. But Barrera might also be a guy they can build around, and they should give him ample opportunity to prove it.
Seattle Mariners: Jarred Kelenic, OF
After batting .140 through his first 30 games, Kelenic was sent down to Tacoma, where he has already rediscovered the swing that made him one of the top prospects in all of baseball.
So, you know, call him back up already. Because it's not like Dylan Moore (.149 average) or Steven Souza Jr. (.158 average) is providing any better value out in right field for this Mariners squad that is hurtling toward being a seller at the trade deadline.
Texas Rangers: Sam Huff, C/1B
Huff's minors/majors splits might be the most bizarre of all time. In the minors, he hit .241 in 2018, .278 in 2019, .246 last year and .260 this year. But he hit .355 in 10 games with the Rangers in 2020 and is sitting at .405 this season.
Ride that lightning! He has made nine starts this season and has at least one hit in each of them, including five multi-hit games. And though the two other catchers on the roster (Jonah Heim and Mitch Garver) have been respectable, there's got to be a way to get Huff in the lineup as often as possible, at least until he stops hitting like Ivan Rodriguez.
National League East
Atlanta Braves: Spencer Strider, RHP
Had we done this a week ago, the choice here absolutely would have been William Contreras. However, the Braves have already gotten that message, as he has started each of Atlanta's last six games and 11 of the past 15.
But the guy they evidently have not discovered needs to be starting games is Strider.
While the fifth spot in this rotation has been a hot mess between Bryce Elder, Huascar Ynoa, Tucker Davidson and Kyle Muller, there sits Strider in the bullpen with a 2.22 ERA and a 13.7 K/9 through 24.1 innings of work. And he made 21 starts in the minors last year with a 3.64 ERA and 153 strikeouts in 94.0 innings, so it's not like he's lacking in experience as a starter.
If Mike Soroka (Achilles) were closer to a return, if Ynoa were pitching better in the minors or if they at least had a winning record, I'd understand. But this continued refusal to even give Strider a chance is mystifying.
Miami Marlins: Louis Head, RHP
After nearly a decade of working his way through the minors, Head was an unexpected surprise for the Rays last season. As a 31-year-old rookie, he logged 35.0 innings with a 2.31 ERA and 0.86 WHIP. But then they traded him to the Marlins for a PTBNL, and he has been even better in his new Florida home.
In 13 of his 14 appearances, he didn't allow a single run, boasting a 1.20 ERA. But for all his zeroes, he has just one hold and one save, while several of the pitchers the Marlins have used in high-leverage situations (especially closer Anthony Bender) struggle. For a team that has suffered 14 of its 25 losses by exactly one run, putting Head to better use could be a game changer.
New York Mets: Luis Guillorme, IF
The Mets designated Robinson Cano for assignment in late April, which opened the door for more playing time for Guillorme. And he has not disappointed, batting .409 thus far in May.
But he's still only starting around 50 percent of New York's games.
Yes, Pete Alonso, Jeff McNeil, Francisco Lindor and Eduardo Escobar have the four starting infield spots pretty well locked up. But save for a four-hit performance on May 23, J.D. Davis has struggled mightily as the primary DH. And Escobar doesn't exactly have Brooks Robinson's glove at the hot corner, saddled with the second-worst fielding percentage among third basemen who have logged at least 850 innings since the start of last season. Let him and Alonso platoon at DH and get Guillorme in the lineup every single day.
Philadelphia Phillies: Garrett Stubbs, C/LF
It's understandably difficult for the Phillies to find a spot for this guy. Bryce Harper is at least temporarily the permanent DH because of his UCL injury, and J.T. Realmuto is the everyday catcher. But Stubbs did make occasional appearances in left field over the past three seasons in Houston, so there's got to be some way to get his .379 batting average and 1.162 OPS into the lineup more than just once in a blue moon.
Thirty-three plate appearances is a small sample size, of course. And he was merely a .182 hitter in the big leagues during his time with the Astros. Until he cools off, though, get creative to get him in there.
Washington Nationals: Luis Garcia, IF
This is the lone spot where we're going with a player who hasn't appeared in a major league game yet this season, but for crying out loud, how are the 17-31 Nationals not giving this 22-year-old phenom a shot?
Garcia played 110 games for the big league Nats over the past two seasons, hitting .254 with eight home runs. Thus far this season at Rochester, he's batting .327 with eight dingers. Meanwhile, 35-year-old Alcides Escobar is playing pretty much every day at shortstop and batting .220 with no home runs. Give the fans something to cheer for, please.
National League Central
Chicago Cubs: Keegan Thompson, RHP
The Cubs have done a fine job of extracting as much value as possible out of this long reliever/spot starter. The 27-year-old has recorded at least eight outs in each of his 11 appearances and currently has a 5-0 record and a 1.58 ERA to his credit.
But let's stretch him out and see what he can do.
Thompson did throw 77 pitches in Saturday's win over the White Sox, but his season high in pitch count up until that point was just 65. And we're not talking about some life-long reliever easing his way into the gig. Thompson was almost exclusively a starter in college and the minors from 2014-19, and a darn good one at that. He just might be the ace of this disappointing staff if they give him that opportunity.
Cincinnati Reds: Graham Ashcraft, RHP
After making seven starts with a 1.65 ERA at Triple-A Louisville, Ashcraft got the call to the big leagues to make his MLB debut on May 22. In two starts since then, he has logged 10.2 innings, allowing just two total runs to the Blue Jays and Giants.
Not. Too. Shabby.
He figures to get another start against the Nationals this coming week and may well already be considered a permanent fixture in the starting rotation until further notice. But with Mike Minor on the verge of making his 2022 season debut, the Reds might be tempted to send Ashcraft back down to Louisville. Considering this team already has next to nothing to play for this season, that would seem to be a colossal error in judgment.
Milwaukee Brewers: Mike Brosseau, IF
Brosseau has gotten a good amount of playing time over the past two weeks with Willy Adames currently on the IL, but this .281 hitter deserves to be more than just a stopgap solution for the Brewers.
Not only is Brosseau hitting well this season, but there are several weak spots in Milwaukee's lineup. Most notably among them is primary third baseman Jace Peterson, who is batting .220 and slugging .344 dating back to the start of the 2018 season. Considering Brosseau is hitting righties well this season and they already have several left-handed bats (Christian Yelich, Rowdy Tellez, Kolten Wong and Omar Narvaez) in the regular lineup, they really don't need to be platooning Peterson and Brosseau at the hot corner.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Anyone Under the Age of 26
Per usual, the Pirates are in "exploratory mode." As in, "which of these young guys could we actually build around and compete with in the next few years." They recently called up 23-year-old outfielder Calvin Mitchell to make his MLB debut, and 22-year-old infielder Tucupita Marcano also rejoined the big league club Friday. And 23-year-old Oneil Cruz can't/shouldn't be far behind them.
But the most intriguing of the bunch might be 22-year-old pitcher Roansy Contreras. He went five scoreless innings in a start against the Rockies on Tuesday and now has a 2.13 ERA on the season.
(He's also scheduled to get the start against the Padres on Sunday, though this was written based on stats through the end of play on Saturday. Regardless of how that start goes, it's encouraging to see the Pirates trying to figure out if their loaded farm system is going to pan out.)
St. Louis Cardinals: Ryan Helsley, RHP
What a luxury that St. Louis can just keep calling up guys who can hit. Juan Yepez, Brendan Donovan and Nolan Gorman have each made their MLB debuts in the past five weeks, and they enter play Sunday batting .275, .306 and .360, respectively. Will be interesting to see how the Cardinals handle their embarrassment of riches when Dylan Carlson and Tyler O'Neill return from the IL, because those rookies are already looking like staples in the lineup.
What they need to consider, though, is making Helsley the full-time closer.
Giovanny Gallegos has been mostly fine in that role since inheriting it from Alex Reyes late last season, but Helsley has been out of this world this season, allowing just two hits, three walks and one unearned run with 27 strikeouts in 16.1 innings of work. He does have two recent saves, but one came with Gallegos unavailable, and Helsley was brought in for two outs to mop up Kodi Whitley's hiccup in the other. Commit to the hot hand while the NL Central is still a tight race.
National League West
Arizona Diamondbacks: Jordan Luplow, OF
Luplow's .175 batting average this season leaves much to be desired, but he has legitimate power, boasting 34 home runs in 529 at-bats since the beginning of 2019.
And, let's be honest, .175 isn't much worse than what the Diamondbacks have gotten from their DH spot this season. Seth Beer was hitting .210 before getting sent down to the minors, and Cooper Hummel is sitting at .186 for the year. Luplow should have more than 12 starts this month.
Colorado Rockies: Ryan Feltner, RHP
There's no great candidate for the Rockies. Pitching isn't good across the board, and there's not a single healthy bench bat with at least 20 plate appearances and a batting average north of .165.
But maybe give Feltner an extended audition as a starting pitcher?
He has a 5.40 ERA through two big league starts this year, but he racked up 14 strikeouts in those 10 innings and has been solid in the minors since the beginning of last season. It's worth a shot for a team fading fast and hoping to avoid bottoming out altogether.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Ryan Pepiot, RHP
Pretty hard to throw stones at a team darn near on pace for a run differential of plus-500, but could we find a way to keep seeing Pepiot even after the many injured starting pitchers work their way back into the rotation?
The 24-year-old Pepiot got the call for his MLB debut when Clayton Kershaw hit the shelf, and he has given the Dodgers a 3.18 ERA in his three starts since then. He'll need to get the walks under control (11 in 11.1 IP) if he wants to last in the majors, but the 2019 third-round pick has the swing-and-miss stuff to be a valuable middle/long reliever for this "World Series or bust" team.
San Diego Padres: Nabil Crismatt, RHP
The Padres already have a solid six-man starting rotation with a seventh good arm (Mike Clevinger) on the IL. Thus, stretching Crismatt out into a longer role isn't really an option.
That said, it sure does seem like they could be getting more critical usage out of a guy with a 1.19 ERA through 22.2 innings of work. Crismatt does have three wins on the season but just one hold from over a month ago. He was a mop-up long reliever with a 3.76 ERA last season, but he could be part of the bridge from the starters to lights-out closer Taylor Rogers.
San Francisco Giants: Tommy La Stella, IF/DH
The Giants are easing La Stella back into everyday work, which is understandable. He missed more than half of last season and was out for the first five weeks of the current campaign because of an Achilles injury. No sense in rushing a guy who they're going to be paying $11.5 million next season.
But if he's healthy enough to DH every day, he certainly should be getting every start possible, because he's one of the best hitters on this roster. He already has six extra-base hits in just 33 plate appearances, including a towering home run in his second game back.