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Every team, whether it’s a good one or a bad one or whatever comes in between, has an unsung hero. Call them a glue guy, a secret weapon, the X-factor: He’s the player who is key to everything his team is doing — and is generally underpublicized at doing so.
So, this week at The Thirty, we take a look at every team’s most underappreciated player, the guy who’s having an excellent year that many people probably haven’t noticed. Your team’s fans have seen it and know what he means, but the rest of the baseball world might not have caught on yet. Maybe this will help.
Blue Jays: Matt Chapman, 3BOK, so we all knew Chapman was good, and not just defensively: This is a former MVP candidate, after all. But still, it had been three years until he hit like one. But this year: He has a legitimate chance to lead this team in home runs. Who in the world saw that coming?
Orioles: Cionel P?rez, LHPHe’d bounced around from Houston to Cincinnati before landing in Baltimore this year, appearing in 45 big league games over four seasons, to little notice or success. But despite some shaky peripherals — his FIP is a full run and a half above his ERA — he has been nails for the Orioles, a key part of their underrated bullpen.
Rays: Harold Ram?rez, INF/OFRam?rez was always enticing for every organization he has been with — this is his sixth, after the Pirates, Blue Jays, Marlins, Guardians and Cubs — but never got any consistent playing time to show off what he could do. The Rays have unlocked something in him, and, if you can believe this, he has been their best hitter.
Red Sox: John Schreiber, RHPSchreiber appeared in one game for the Red Sox last year, and he had a career 6.28 ERA in 28 games over two seasons with the Tigers before that. So it is pretty wild that he has been without question the Red Sox’s most reliable reliever this year … which of course might be its own indictment.
Yankees: Ron Marinaccio, RHPThere are many, many more high-profile Yankees relievers, ones with leg tattoos and without, but none of them have an ERA+ as low as Marinaccio, who is as low-profile as a Yankee could possibly be.
Guardians: Oscar Gonzalez, RFFor a team that seems perpetually in need of outfielders, Gonzalez has gone on a nice run in August, and is not a small reason the Guardians have started to expand their lead in the AL Central.
Royals: Brady Singer, RHPThe Royals have been waiting on their 2018 first-round pick to work himself into a reliable rotation piece, but he has been more than that this year: He has been an ace, one who gives the Royals a chance to win every time he takes the mound.
Tigers: Harold Castro, 3BSuffice it to say, not much has gone right in Detroit this year. One thing that has? Castro looks closer to the potential star he resembled in 2020 than the underachiever he has been the rest of his Tigers career.
Twins: Gio Urshela, 3BFun fact about Urshela: He has a higher OPS than not only Isiah Kiner-Falefa, one of the MLB players he was traded for, but also Josh Donaldson, the other one.
White Sox: Johnny Cueto, RHPIt has been a bit of a nightmare on the South Side this year, to say the least, but Cueto has stepped up as a legitimate No. 2 starter for a team that desperately needed one.
Angels: Patrick Sandoval, LHPOf all the hurdles of the 2022 Angels season, one of the biggest ones has to be that they finally found themselves some starting pitchers, starting with Sandoval, who has been excellent.
Astros: Framber Valdez, LHPJustin Verlander, correctly, has been drawing all the attention in Houston. But Valdez is having the best year of his career and sure looks like a most-formidable No. 2 in a playoff rotation.
Athletics: Sean Murphy, CIt’s incredibly hard to find offensively productive catchers, and one of the reasons is that no one thinks to look much at Oakland anymore, even though Murphy’s the best hitter on this team by a rather wide margin.
Mariners: Eugenio Su?rez, 3BThought of as the throw-in in the Jesse Winker trade, Su?rez has been better than Winker … and just about everyone else in this lineup.
Rangers: Jonah Heim, CAnother excellent-hitting catcher, and another one playing for a team in the AL West that most of America forgot about weeks ago.
Braves: Kyle Wright, RHPOn this absolutely stacked team, the emergence of Wright — who no one had noticed until the World Series — has made their rotation, and really their whole team, substantially deeper.
Marlins: Jes?s Luzardo, LHPHe struggled so much that the A’s traded him to the Marlins, who did what many teams suspected they might: They turned him into a passable pitcher again. They might turn him into something even more just yet.
Mets: Mark Canha, LFThe Mets brought him in to do exactly what he has done: Quietly, with little fuss, get on base in relentless fashion. On this excellent offensive team, he’s their best on-base guy.
Nationals: Lane Thomas, LFThe Nationals have so many needs that just simply having a league-average hitting outfielder feels like a victory. Thomas is that, anyway. And they got him for Jon Lester!
Phillies: Seranthony Dom?nguez, RHPSure, he’s on the IL now, but he’ll be off soon, and in case you’ve forgotten: By WAR and ERA+, he has been one of the best 10 relievers in baseball.
Brewers: Rowdy Tellez, 1BThe Brewers have been trying to find a Rowdy Tellez-type guy — a power-hitting first baseman who won’t cost them much — for years, and they’ve finally found him. He’s such a perfect fit here, and he’s right in his prime.
Cardinals: Brendan Donovan, 2BThe stealth Rookie of the Year Award candidate can play anywhere and gets on base like almost no one else in the game: If he had enough at-bats to qualify, he’d be third in the NL, behind Juan Soto and teammate Paul Goldschmidt.
Cubs: Christopher Morel, CFThe most exciting player on a not-that-exciting team, Morel provides a spark every time he does anything on the field. When the Cubs are good again, he’ll be one of the best supporting players in the league.
Pirates: Roansy Contreras, RHPIf the Pirates are going to pull it together in the next few years, it will be because of young players like Contreras, who has been an above-average starter so far and could be something quite more as the Pirates continue to build up.
Reds: Alexis D?az, RHPWell, if Edwin D?az were our brother, no one would notice us either. But Alexis has been one of the best relievers in the game and is very much the Edwin D?az of the Reds.
D-backs: Josh Rojas, 3BSo quietly it’s almost silent, Rojas — who suddenly has some company in the middle infield — has the highest OBP on this team.
Dodgers: Evan Phillips, RHPHow do you possibly pick an underappreciated player on this team? When in doubt, go with the knockout reliever who hardly ever gets saves.
Padres: Nabil Crismatt, RHPSometimes it seems this team is only barely holding it all together, and Crismatt, who basically fills in whenever and wherever the Padres need him, is one of the main guys constantly plugging leaks.
Rockies: Jos? Iglesias, SSNamed an All-Star way back in 2015, Iglesias, on his sixth team (if you don’t count the Red Sox twice), has found a place to be a .300 hitter again.