Today I would like to shed light on guys who have played stupendous baseball that has gone unnoticed. The following five position players have been unheralded for their immense contributions for numerous reasons. But now I’d like to unravel that and give credit where credit is due.
5.) D.J. LeMahieu- When you think about the Colorado Rockies, images of a galore of stars such as Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez, Michael Cuddyer, Nolan Arenado, and Wilin Rosario appear. Charlie Blackmon and Justin Morneau have unexpectedly been added to that list this year, as they’re tearing the cover off the ball. However, with all these fine position players, it has overshadowed the quietly solid production from D.J. LeMahieu.
He doesn’t light it up offensively, but holds his own. In 192 plate appearances this year, the second basemen has amassed a .285/.340/.372 slash line. At first glance it’s very admirable, albeit you have to take into account he is playing half his games in one of — if not the easiest hitter’s ballparks in Major League Baseball. That said, production with the stick is not the reason he is on this list.
Defense, which often gets lost in the world of statistics, is the reason LeMahieu is here. He is arguably the Rockies’ best defensive commodity, even though he is surrounded by Gold Glovers Troy Tulowitzki, Nolan Arenado (injured), and Carlos Gonzalez. Baseball recognized this, and awarded LeMahieu with the 2013 Wilson Defensive Player of the Year Award on the Rockies. The right-handed hitter’s defensive prosperity has persisted this season. He’s accumulated an impressive 8 DRS (defensive runs saved) and 5.7 UZR (ultimate zone rating) in 55 games this season.
4.) Collin Cowgill- My brother is a huge New York Mets fan, so I have observed my fair share of Mets games. It was not a fun year for him last year, but I fondly remember one conversation we had during that juncture about Collin Cowgill. We talked about how he was so talented, flashing an incredible all-around game in the minor-leagues, and how it was such a disappointment he would not pan out for the Metropolitans.
He was traded to the Los Angeles Angels halfway through 2013, and while his performance was ameliorated in the second half with L.A., Cowgill was nowhere near reaching his ceiling.
2014 came with Cowgill beginning the year on the bench. As fate would have it, Josh Hamilton, who was off to a torrid start, sustained an injury very early in the season, giving Cowgill an opportunity to start on a consistent basis.
Well, he certainly made the most of it. The right-handed hitter has churned a stellar .289/.377/.422 clip in 148 plate appearances. He’s been a great bridge in Hamilton’s absence, as Josh returned to the diamond last night. Even with Hamilton’s return, it’s safe to surmise the Angels will make arrangements to get Cowgill in the lineup as much as possible.
3.) Devin Mesoraco- When he hasn’t been sidelined with an ailment, Mesoraco has been among the game’s best hitters. He’s been up to the plate 110 times, slashing a marvelous .347/.391/.693 line.
In the beginning, I was a bit skeptical of Walt Jocketty’s decision to part ways with on-base threat Ryan Hanigan in the offseason. The catcher had a down year in 2013, but there was so much to like about him on the defensive side of the ball. What I forgot to take into account, was Mesoraco’s tremendous offensive minor-league track-record.
His defense has gotten better over the years, but there’s still room left for improvement on that aspect of his game. This year, he’s had the best season he’s ever had in terms of throwing runners out. The 25-year-old has caught 30.8% of runners, which is much better than his career 25.7% caught stealing percentage.
2.) Eduardo Escobar- It has been such a pleasure watching Escobar play this year. This has been, by far, the best offensive season for the utility man. He’s hitting for power previously undiscovered, shooting balls with force into gaps. His .305/.338/.443 slash has been a delight for the overachieving Minnesota Twins.
Right-handed pitching was the switch-hitter’s Achilles’ heel coming into the season. He fared much better against southpaws (.729 OPS) than righties (.615 OPS), however, that has taken a dramatic change. Escobar has been annihilating right-handed pitching this year (.808 OPS) and has been adequate against lefties (.706 OPS). This has forged the 25-year-old into an everyday player.
It doesn’t hurt he can play virtually every position well. He’s been the Twins’ version of Ben Zobrist — a durable and versatile offensive threat.
1.) Josh Harrison- Baseball pundits remain outraged Gregory Polanco has yet to be called up to the majors. The Pirates are not living up to expectations, and aren’t likely to bring him up until his Super Two date passes. They continue to cite the “lack” of production Pittsburgh is getting from the right field position — significantly distorted by Travis Snider — and don’t realize the veracity of the situation. Since Josh Harrison has taken over as Pittsburgh’s predominate right fielder, they have been fine.
Harrison has compiled a superb .303/.336/.479 line in 125 plate appearances while simultaneously holding the right field position down well. In fact, he was producing at such a high level, Clint Hurdle promoted him to the leadoff spot 14 games ago. Since then, the right-handed swinging utility man has composed an exceptional .773 OPS atop the Pirates’ lineup.
He has experience at second base, shortstop, third base, left field, and center field. His versatility, like Eduardo Escobar, comes in handy to the Pirates. When Polanco inevitably gets called up to the majors, Harrison can take over as Pittsburgh’s shortstop and continue to create havoc in the one-hole.