Roberts, Morales and Street headline my All-Underrated Team
Roberts, who has always underrated, is enjoying career year in many categories
Morales (Mark Teixeira's replacement) deserves serious MVP consideration
While all these guys are underrated, only one is virtually unknown: Scott Feldman
Brian Roberts of the Orioles stood in the center of his team's clubhouse recently discussing his status as one of the game's most unheralded players because a few feet away his locker had been taken over by a teammate who was happily involved in conversation with some fellow Orioles. Never mind that Roberts is the best player on the team or that he is the only veteran star in the room, or that such an act might be cause for a polite -- and perhaps not-so-polite -- rebuke had it happened in many other clubhouses. Roberts simply shrugged and found a different way to get ready for work.
Of course, it wasn't a surprise that Roberts was overlooked (even by his teammates); when he is out of sight, he is often out of mind. Though he has made two All-Star teams in his nine-year career, he has never gotten the recognition he deserves. This year, he could very well establish career highs in runs, hits, RBIs and doubles. The latter category is one Roberts owns. Since 2003, no player in the game has more doubles than his 295. This year, he leads the American League with 51 doubles and became just the fourth player ever to post three seasons with at least 50 doubles. The other three men to accomplish the feat -- Tris Speaker, Paul Waner and Stan Musial -- are all in the Hall of Fame.
Roberts is not likely to wind up in Cooperstown, nor is he likely to pass Earl Webb's 78-year-old record for doubles in a season (67). In fact, said Roberts, "I didn't even know who he was until someone told me about him recently."
Unfortunately, that's a fate that often befalls Roberts, too. He doesn't seem to mind his lack of notoriety, saying, "I never thought about it much," but his latest above-average season deserves some more respect. Therefore, Roberts is the captain on this year's All-Underrated Team, the best at each position to have not gotten the respect they deserve this year. All the players below have one two things in common: they are all having excellent years and they are all doing so very quietly.
Catcher: A.J. Pierzynski, White Sox
Pierzynski often makes headlines for rubbing people the wrong way, but the man recently named the most hated player in baseball deserves some love for his best season in six years. Pierzynski is batting .312/.345/.452, and his average is second to Joe Mauer among all catchers. He's been durable, too. At age 32, no backstop in the American League has caught more games than Pierzynski's 119, and he could well set a career high for games caught by year's end.
First Base: Kendry Morales, Angels
Morales had shown enough potential in parts of three previous seasons that the Angels felt comfortable not trying to outbid the Yankees to keep Mark Teixeira around last winter. In return, they've gotten a very Teixeira-like performance for a fraction of the cost (he's making $600,000, compared to Teixeira's $20 million). After a slow start, Morales is batting .307/.353/.574 with 30 home runs and 98 RBIs, and ranks in the top 10 in the AL in slugging percentage, home runs, RBIs, doubles, OPS and total bases. Morales deserves serious MVP consideration.
Second Base: Brian Roberts, Orioles
How underrated has Roberts been this year? He has more home runs (15) and RBIs (73) than reigning AL MVP Dustin Pedroia and more hits (164) than Chase Utley. He has a higher on-base percentage (.355) than Robinson Cano, and a higher slugging percentage (.463) than Dan Uggla despite the fact that Uggla has almost twice as many home runs. Roberts is also going to finish the season with over 30 stolen bases, is currently tied for the most runs scored (100) by a second baseman and will likely lead the league in doubles.
Shortstop: Yunel Escobar, Braves
Troy Tulowitzki didn't make the All-Star team, either, but aside from that, it would be tough to make the case that Tulo doesn't get enough attention. That leaves Escobar as the choice at shortstop. He ranks fourth among all big league shortstops in RBIs, fifth in batting average and on-base percentage, sixth in slugging and home runs and seventh in runs scored. Defensively, he's fifth in the NL among all shortstops in fielding percentage and his range is superb; he has the highest zone rating per game in the league.
Third Base: Chone Figgins, Angels
It's a shame Figgins didn't make the All-Star team, and not just because he had promised to replicate Ozzie Smith's famous flip in honor of "The Wizard" if he had. Most of the attention Figgins has gotten in his career has been for either his size (he's just 5-foot-9, 155 pounds) or his remarkable versatility (he's played at least 25 games at six different positions). But lately he's found a way to be a big man at just one position. Figgins is hitting .303 with a .401 on-base percentage and leads the American League with 91 walks and 106 runs scored. Yes, he lacks power at a position that is usually populated by slugging run producers (Figgins' three home runs is easily the fewest among players with at least 100 games at third), but it hasn't stopped him from becoming a valuable asset on the first-place Angels, and it won't keep him from being a highly attractive free agent this winter.
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