One of the things I love about baseball, despite its relative predictability in terms of the top teams, is how many great players there actually are that fly under the radar. Because teams like the Yankees, Red Sox, and Dodgers can spend boatloads of money and stockpile stars on their 25-man rosters, the casual fan can quickly lose track of some of the game’s brightest players that don’t get a piece of the national spotlight.
Let’s take a look at six players more deserving of your attention, as I only considered players in their fourth big-league seasons or later:
Kyle Hendricks, SP, Cubs
I wrestled with whether Hendricks can really be considered “underrated” considering he was a Cy Young finalist in 2016 and plays for the Cubs, who are not only not a laughingstock anymore, but one of baseball’s most watched teams. But be honest, when you think of elite pitchers in baseball, does Hendricks’ name ever come to mind? He is affectionately known as “The Professor” by his teammates because he looks like your public accountant, but Hendricks, a Dartmouth graduate with an economics degree, is much more Superman than Clark Kent. He burst onto the scene in 2014 and has never posted a season ERA above 4.00. 2016 was his masterpiece, leading the NL with a 2.13 ERA and helping guide the Cubs to their long-awaited World Series title. In his sixth Major League season, Hendricks is 55-37 with a 3.06 ERA and a stellar 3.64 BB/K ratio. He has a changeup that many hitters will tell you simply “never gets to the plate” and is back in business after a rocky start to 2019.
David Peralta, OF, Diamondbacks
Peralta is energetic and fun to watch for a Diamondbacks team that at times can be quite exciting. Peralta originally was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in 2004 as a pitcher, but did not crack the Majors until he was 26 in 2014. He has been consistently productive in the desert, batting .293 each of the past two seasons and breaking out in the power department in 2018 with 30 home runs. He is off to a hot start in 2019, batting .324 with an NL-leading 16 doubles entering play Tuesday.
Jose Martinez, OF, Cardinals
Martinez is in his fourth Major League season — barely — but has been so productive in a quiet manner for the Cards that he has to be on this list. If not for the fact that he is easily one of baseball’s worst outfielders, he would be much more appreciated. He was the subject of trade rumors for that very reason, but the Cards are getting more from his bat than they’re losing with his glove. Martinez is batting .336 with three homers and 20 RBIs a year after posting .305/17/83 numbers. A .312 hitter in 312 games with St. Louis, Martinez has been too valuable offensively to part ways with, and you can bet the Royals, an AL team that could potentially use him as a DH, are kicking themselves for letting him go. Ironically, Martinez became a roster casualty because KC wanted to promote Whit Merrifield (who cracks the honorable mention list here), and the Royals’ trash has now become the Cardinals’ treasure.
Josh Bell, 1B, Pirates
Bell is the owner of some of the most prodigious blasts of 2019. He was a disappointment last year despite playing 148 games, succumbing to something akin to a sophomore slump after a big 2017 in which he blasted 26 homers while playing in all but three of the club’s games. He looks to have put it all together in 2019, with a .329 average, 12 homers, and 39 RBIs for the surprising Buccos. He also has 13 doubles, two triples, and an outrageous 1.093 OPS.
D.J. LeMahieu, 2B, Yankees
It’s hard to say that a 2016 batting champion is :underrated,” but I can’t help feeling that people are still oblivious to how unbelievably consistent LeMahieu has been, not to mention what a critical pickup he was. LeMahieu essentially took starter money to be a backup with the Bombers (because they have the luxury of being able to do that, of course) and has arguably been the team’s MVP thus far. A .299 career hitter who won a batting title with Colorado in 2016 by hitting .348, LeMahieu is tearing it up right now, hitting .333, just two ticks behind Michael Brantley for the AL lead. He is also a Gold Glove defender, yet “settled” for a 2-year, $24 million contract this offseason. Perhaps he was overlooked by most teams because he had a down 2018 season, but he has been as good a hitter as anyone in terms of batting average since entering the league in 2011.
Ryan Pressly, RP, Astros
I couldn’t make this a bullpen pitcher-less list, and so here is 2019’s most dominant reliever. Pressly was an absolute steal for the Astros, who acquired him from the Twins for two prospects last summer. All Pressly did was dominate to the tune of a 0.77 ERA (!) in 26 appearances, then followed that up with a 1.80 ERA in five postseason appearances. And yet, that’s nothing in comparison to what he has done in 2019. Pressly not only has yet to allow a run over 16 appearances spanning 18 innings, he also has not walked a batter in 2019. It’s not as if he wasn’t good with Minnesota, as he posted a 3.75 ERA over parts of six big-league seasons, but there’s no way the Twins or Astros could have seen this run of dominance coming.
Eugenio Suarez, 3B, Reds; Eddie Rosario, OF, Twins; Whit Merrifield, 2B, Royals.