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A look at some of the most underrated players in the American League — one for every team

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The concept of underrated/overrated athletes is probably the most, um, overrated angle in sports.

It is, by definition, cloudy to define, because there’s no universal scale of rating. Sure, there are plenty of sites these days that literally rank everything. That, though, is one person’s or site’s opinion.

It is also one of the most time-tested arguments in sports. Or in music. Really, in anything. “Derek Jeter was so overrated.” “Tom Petty was so underrated.” “Popeyes is so underrated, but their spicy chicken sandwich is slightly overrated.”

And so on.

That brings us to the story(ies) at hand. Who are the most underrated players in MLB today? Initially, this was going to be a list of, say, the top 10. But wouldn’t that, technically, make the 11th guy more deserving as more underrated than the others? These are issues that keep me up at night.

Instead, I chose one player from each MLB team that isn’t as known or regaled as he should be given his season or career. Some teams, like the Cincinnati Reds, have roughly 20 of those guys, while it’s slim pickings in places like the south side of Chicago.

We’re running the American League clubs today and the National League ones Saturday. Note: these lists have some recency bias: If a player is having a strong season and few are paying attention outside of his home city, he may make this list. It’s also purely subjective – though I researched it and asked others for opinions – but that is what makes these debates fun.

I have just one rule of disqualification: An underrated player, for this list anyway, can’t be a current or former MLB All Star. That’s considered lofty recognition in the game and, although there are some All Stars who are still underrated (Luis Robert Jr. is my flavor of the year), I needed to draw the line somewhere.

With a few weeks of the regular season left, you still have time to check out some players you didn’t know or maybe should appreciate a little more. Here goes:

The All-Underrated MLB Team of 2023 – AL version

Baltimore Orioles: RHP Kyle Bradish

kyle bradish
Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Besides catcher Adley Rutschman, who is an All Star in his first full season of play, and infielder Gunnar Henderson, who is the favorite for AL Rookie of the Year, this entire O’s roster could qualify as underrated. Bradish, however, may be in a category of his own. He is the best starter on the AL’s best team, and he has been excellent for a year now. Bradish, who turns 27 later this month, had a 3.28 ERA in 13 second-half starts last year and has been hovering around 3.00 this full season. He went from being on the rotation bubble in spring training to someone who should get some Cy Young consideration.

Boston Red Sox: RHP Brayan Bello

brayan bello
David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Raise your hand if you predicted the 24-year-old rookie as the most consistent starter in Boston’s rotation this year. Put your hands down, Red Sox Nation. Bello has been one of Boston’s top prospects for several years and he handled himself well down the stretch last season. But he had a late start to 2023 due to an elbow injury, and the Red Sox had plenty of more experienced – and better paid – rotation candidates. The Red Sox would have been pleased if Bello simply stuck in the rotation this year. Yet, armed with a killer sinker, he is 11-8 with a 3.61 ERA in his first 24 starts, leading the team in wins, innings and strikeouts. If he can avoid the occasional four-inning, high-volume outing, he has the upside to be formidable for years.  

Chicago White Sox: RHP Gregory Santos

gregory santos
Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

This one was so painful. Most of the best 2023 White Sox have either been traded or have made an MLB All-Star team. Pretty much the rest have underachieved. Luis Robert Jr. is underrated because he’s not a household name quite yet. He will be. But because of my no-All-Star stipulation, I had to look elsewhere. Santos, 24, was acquired by the White Sox this offseason from the San Francisco Giants and has had a solid year, graduating from the sixth and seventh innings to the eighth and ninth now. He’s greatly improved his walk percentage and his 99-mph fastball plays at the back end.     

Cleveland Guardians: RHP Tanner Bibee

tanner bibee
Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

We all know the Guardians can develop starting pitching. That’s their gig. Bibee, 24, is another in a long line of Cleveland pitching successes. Heading into this season, Baseball America ranked Bibee as the seventh Guardians prospect and the fourth best pitcher in the system. That might have been, well, a little underrated. The 2021 fifth rounder out of Cal State Fullerton made his debut in late April and has since been one of the game’s best and most consistent starters. In his first 23 games, he’s 10-3 with a 3.05 ERA and a strikeout per inning, putting himself squarely in the AL Rookie of the Year and maybe Cy Young talk.

Detroit Tigers: OF Kerry Carpenter

kerry carpenter
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

These are the stories that are good for baseball. Carpenter was a 19th-round pick out of Virginia Tech in 2019, bashed through the minors and made it to the bigs in 2022, compiling 11 extra base hits in 103 at-bats. The left-handed hitting corner outfielder has been even better in his first full season, slugging .526 and hitting 20 homers. He’s one of only two Tigers to reach the 20-homer plateau in 2023 (former No. 1 overall pick Spencer Torkelson is the other). Carpenter’s also a gamer; he lost a month this season because he ran into the outfield wall in April while making a homer-saving catch.

Houston Astros: OF Chas McCormick

chas mccormick
Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

This guy is the poster boy for underrated. He was a 21st rounder in 2017 out of Division II Millersville (Pa.) University. Projected as an extra guy, a fourth outfielder at best, McCormick became a semi-regular due to injuries. He then became a legitimate postseason hero, hitting two homers against the New York Yankees in the 2022 ALCS, including one against Gerrit Cole, and delivering a potential game-saving catch in the World Series. This year, the former Millersville Marauder has 20 homers, 14 steals and a near-.900 OPS, cementing his legacy as the greatest Chas ever to play the game.  

Kansas City Royals: SS Bobby Witt Jr.

bobby witt jr.
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Ok, hear me out. How can one of the most hyped prospects in the last 10 years, one who was selected second overall in 2019 and debuted in the big leagues at age 21, be underrated? Well, have you looked at the Royals’ roster lately? Not exactly a deep well of talent there. And have you looked at Witt’s numbers recently, either? At 23, he is on the precipice of becoming the 16th player in the sport’s history to homer at least 30 times and steal at least 40 bases in a season. Only Mike Trout and Alex Rodriguez accomplished it at a younger age. But Witt plays for the lowly Royals, so not many fans are paying attention to him right now. That qualifies as underrated, at least given the alternatives.

Los Angeles Angels: OF Mickey Moniak

mickey moniak
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Moniak has officially ridden the baseball bus from complete draft bust to intriguing piece of the future. The Philadelphia Phillies selected Moniak with the first overall pick in a 2016 draft, but he struggled with the Phillies organization and ultimately was dealt to the Angels at the 2022 trade deadline for Noah Syndergaard. The change of scenery worked, and Moniak is starting to look like a solid center field option and late bloomer. His plate discipline is dreadful – nine walks and 110 strikeouts in 83 games – but his OPS is around .800.

Minnesota Twins: RHP Jhoan Durán

jhoan durab
Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

The 25-year-old closer was perhaps the biggest AL All-Star snub. He had a rough July, but otherwise has been clutch. He’s converted 24 of his first 29 save chances and struck out 75 batters in 55 1/3 innings. Originally signed by the Arizona Diamondbacks out of the Dominican Republic, he was part of the 2018 deadline deal involving Eduardo Escobar. Durán was a 20-year-old starter in A-ball back then. Now he has a chance to be a long-time, top-shelf closer.

New York Yankees: RHP Michael King

michael king
John Jones-USA TODAY Sports

How fitting is it for the incredibly underperforming and payroll-bloated Yankees of 2023 that their most underrated player is a reliever that makes just $1.3 million on a roster that should be thick with talent? King, 28, has been a fixture in the Yankees bullpen since 2021 and he might be one of the most underrated relievers in the league. He’s nasty; he struck out 91 batters in his first 78 innings this year. And he’s versatile; he’s finished 10 games; he’s pitched in middle relief and recently has been stretched out as a starter.

Oakland Athletics: 2B Zack Gelof

zack gelof
Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

Talent evaluators in the game aren’t shocked that the 23-year-old Gelof has made it to the majors two years after being drafted in the second round by the A’s. The University of Virginia product was Oakland’s No. 2 ranked prospect heading into this year. But when he was called up in July there was more buzz around the No. 1 prospect, Tyler Soderstrom, a first rounder in 2020. Soderstrom ultimately was demoted, but Gelof has taken off with 10 homers, 10 steals and an .850 OPS in his first 47 games. Unless you are an A’s fan – hey, plenty are left – or a fantasy baseball owner, you probably haven’t heard much about this guy. Stay tuned.

Seattle Mariners: SS J.P. Crawford

j.p. crawford
Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

Unlike some of the teams above, the Mariners are flush with great underrated choices. Ty France, Logan Gilbert, Cal Raleigh and maybe even George Kirby are probably not recognizable to the average baseball fan. Crawford, however, is the defensive glue for the Mariners and his offensive game has jumped to a new level in 2023. Another former Phillies’ first rounder who needed a little extra time to develop, Crawford, 28, has already hit a career high 15 homers and has an .825 OPS that’s more than 100 points higher than his career average. The Mariners smartly extended his contract in 2022, and it’s paying off.  

Tampa Bay Rays: 3B Isaac Paredes

isaac paredes
Jim Rassol-USA TODAY Sports

This was a tough choice. The Rays have at least a dozen players that don’t get the accolades they deserve, including just about every reliever who has ever donned a Rays’ jersey. They are tremendous at finding discarded players with one outstanding trait and building off that until they develop a more complete product. That’s Paredes, whom the Rays acquired from the Tigers in a deal last April for oft-injured outfielder Austin Meadows. Paredes, now 24, previously had been a Top 100 MLB prospect known for a great batting eye and advanced plate discipline. He didn’t necessarily have a position, though, and only showed limited pop. So, he comes to the Rays, hits 20 homers in 2022 and 28 so far this year while putting up an .849 OPS. Incredible.   

Texas Rangers: 1B Nathaniel Lowe

nathaniel lowe
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Here’s one where the Rays didn’t come out rosy. They traded Lowe, the older brother of Rays’ outfielder Josh Lowe, to the Rangers in 2020. Lowe had a mini-breakout for the Rangers in 2021, then won a Silver Slugger in 2022 and is having another solid season this year, leading the AL in doubles while posting his second consecutive .800-plus OPS. He’s only 28, so an eventual All-Star berth is possible. Yet in some baseball circles he’s still Josh’s big brother.  

Toronto Blue Jays: LHP Tim Mayza

tim mayza
Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

Was there any doubt that you’d see two Millersville University Marauders on this list? Mayza left the school just before Chas McCormick entered, but they’ve become friends over the years. Mayza, now 31, was a 12th round pick in 2013 and has become a fixture in Toronto’s bullpen, making 60 more appearances in four of the past five seasons. The only interruption was in 2020, when he missed the full year due to elbow surgery and was outrighted by the Jays. Statistically, he is having his best season, a 1.33 ERA in his first 62 games. He’s tough, too. Last year, he dislocated his non-throwing shoulder in a collision and was back on the mound in 16 days.

Dan Connolly is an MLB Insider for Sportsnaut. Follow him on Twitter.

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