Most underrated player on each American League team heading into 2022

Seattle Mariners designated hitter Ty France (23) is congratulated by teammates in the dugout after hitting a two-run home run against the Houston Astros during the fifth inning at T-Mobile Park. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports
Seattle Mariners designated hitter Ty France (23) is congratulated by teammates in the dugout after hitting a two-run home run against the Houston Astros during the fifth inning at T-Mobile Park. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports /
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SEATTLE, WASHINGTON – OCTOBER 02: Jared Walsh #20 of the Los Angeles Angels watches his three-run home run during the eighth inning against the Seattle Mariners at T-Mobile Park on October 02, 2021 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
SEATTLE, WASHINGTON – OCTOBER 02: Jared Walsh #20 of the Los Angeles Angels watches his three-run home run during the eighth inning against the Seattle Mariners at T-Mobile Park on October 02, 2021 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images) /

Los Angeles Angels: 1B/OF Jared Walsh

It’s easy to see why someone like Jared Walsh of the Los Angeles Angels may be overlooked and underrated. Surrounded by a lineup consisting of superstars Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout along with All Star-level players Anthony Rendon and David Fletcher, there’s only so much star-power and media attention to go around.

Walsh, 28, received his first significant look in the big leagues last season. He took the opportunity and ran with it. With an aging and rapidly declining Albert Pujols no longer a viable option at first, the Angels handed the reigns to Walsh and he did nothing but deliver for them.

Not only did Jared Walsh make his first career All Star appearance in 2021, he also was second on the Angels in hits, first in doubles, second in home runs and RBI and first in batting average. Were it not for the otherworldly season from Ohtani, Walsh would be considered to be the Angels’ best player last season.

Moving forward, Walsh is locked in as the club’s starting first baseman who will still see the occasional start in the outfield corners. He was one of the American League’s top performers last season and I’m willing to bet that he won’t stay underrated for long.

Honorable mention: RHP Raisel Iglesias 65 G, 34 SV, 2.8 bWAR, 13.2 SO/9, 174 ERA+ in 2021

Texas Rangers: 1B Nate Lowe

There are a multitude of players on the Texas Rangers’ roster that are criminally underrated. Heading into 2022, big first baseman Nate Lowe tops the list.

Lowe, 26, lit up the minor leagues for the Tampa Bay Rays for years before getting his promotion to the big leagues and playing for the Rays in parts of 2019 and 2020. In December of 2020 Lowe was dealt to the Rangers, where he got the opportunity to be the club’s every day option at first.

Last season Nate Lowe played in 157 games, making just under 650 plate appearances, hitting 18 home runs and driving in 72 RBI. Lowe ranked in the top 10% of the major leagues in max-EV (exit velocity) and BB%, drawing walks at a 12.5% clip.

Statcast has Nate Lowe near the top of the league in HardHit%, BB%, Barrel % and maximum exit velocity – he was able to hit the ball harder than the vast majority of the league while playing decent first base. He ranked near the bottom of the league in runs prevented and OAA last season, a mark he will need to improve on if he is to remain at first base and not stuck at designated hitter.

Honorable mention: INF/OF Nick Solak 127 G, 11 HR, 49 RBI, 89 wRC+, 1.1 fWAR in 2021

Houston Astros: OF Kyle Tucker

Kyle Tucker somewhat quietly was one of the Houston Astros’ best offensive players in 2021. In a lineup filled with pop from top to bottom, that’s really saying something.

Tucker, 25, finally received his first full season of consistent playing time and quickly showed the Astros’ front office that that was the right decision. In 140 games, Tucker hit 30 home runs, drove in 92, stole 14 bases, had a .557 SLG% and an outstanding .917 OPS while serving as the club’s primary right fielder.

Kyle Tucker was able to turn this excellent season into a 20th place finish in the American League MVP race despite the fact that he did not (but arguably should have) make the All Star team representing the Astros.

In a lineup featuring Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman and Yordan Alvarez, it’s no wonder Kyle Tucker has flown under the radar. His standout performance in 2021 will surely put him near or at the top of Houston Astros to know.

Honorable mention: Chas McCormick 108 G, 14 HR, 50 RBI, .341 BABIP, 109 wRC+, 2.3 bWAR in 2021

Seattle Mariners: INF Ty France

Ty France, like Kyle Tucker, turned his shot at everyday playing time into a guaranteed spot heading into 2022. France, 27, was acquired by the Seattle Mariners at the 2020 trade deadline from the San Diego Padres. He played in over 100 games for the first time in his career, somewhat surprisingly wrapping up the season as one of the Mariners’ best hitters.

Across 152 games and 650 plate appearances, Ty France hit 18 home runs while driving in 73 runs, ranking near the top of the league in Max Exit Velocity and K%, posting an OPS of .813 and an OPS+ of 128. FanGraphs has France at 3.5 fWAR in 2021 with a 129 wRC+.

A versatile infielder, France is capable of playing first base, second base and third base, ranking at just about league-average at each position. First base will most likely be his home going forward as the Mariners are set at second base and have the intriguing trade deadline acquisition Abraham Toro lined up at third base in 2022.

Mitch Haniger is the most prolific slugger on the Seattle Mariners’ roster heading into the upcoming season but Ty France showed last year that he is surely going to test Haniger for the top spot on the squad.

Honorable mention: RHP Paul Sewald 62 G, 11 SV, 14.5 SO/9, 3.06 ERA, 3.08 FIP, .175 BAA in 2021

Oakland Athletics: INF/OF Tony Kemp

30-year-old Tony Kemp has bounced around the league in his six-year big league career to this point, currently finding a home over the past few seasons as a member of the Oakland Athletics. Kemp received the largest amount of playing time to date last year, appearing in a total of 131 games and making just under 400 plate appearances.

Never much of a power-hitter, Kemp quietly tied a career-high with eight home runs in 2021, driving in 37 and posting a 2.7 fWAR and a 127 wRC+ while avoiding strikeouts and limiting walks amongst the very best in the big leagues — 97th percentile in strikeout % and 92nd percentile in walk-rate.

On defense, Tony Kemp is a capable defender at second base and all three outfield spots, he has never received much of a look at other infield spots. At both second and left field he ranked above-average but the results favored him slightly more in left field last season, he ranked in the 74th percentile in overall OAA.

Chris Paddack facing critical year. dark. Next

Kemp is only 5-foot-6 but he has solid abilities to make a lot of contact and is good for the occasional home run despite ranking near the bottom of the league in HardHit% and all exit velocity leaderboards last year. He is hidden behind some of the star power his Oakland A’s teammates possess but Tony Kemp seems to have shown that he is capable of putting up solid numbers when looking past the surface-level.