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Saturday, January 19, 2019

10 unheralded MLB players who could become stars

Robbie Ray

Not all MLB stars start as top prospects. Many are drafted well after the first round, and others still don’t really find their footing until they reach the MLB level. Baseball is filled with players like this.

Here are ten players who could follow that path. These are players who had their prospect status fade before finding success, or players that were never really top prospects to begin with.

1) Robbie Ray, Diamondbacks

Ray is a star already, but he’s still a well-kept secret in the eyes of many. He was the prized piece when the Detroit Tigers traded Doug Fister to Washington, but the deal was perceived as disappointing by many at the time, and Ray had to fight that perception. He was later sold off in the trade that saw Arizona part with Didi Gregorius, and developed quickly with the pressure off. Ray’s ERA was 2.89 and he’s coming off back-to-back 200 strikeout seasons. It’s not sacrilege to say he’s better than Zack Greinke at this point.

2) Chad Green, Yankees

Aroldis Chapman and Dellin Betances will get much of the publicity in the Yankees’ bullpen, but don’t deny Green. An unheralded trade acquisition from the Detroit Tigers, Green was converted to full-time reliever in 2017, where he struck out 103 batters in 69 innings and posted a 1.83 ERA. Those are closer-type numbers from the 26-year-old, even if he doesn’t have a shot at the job as long as Chapman is in New York. There’s an argument to be made that he’s better as a multi-inning relief ace anyway. But with the stuff he has, he could be a future closer somewhere.

3) Eugenio Suarez, Reds

The 26-year-old Reds third baseman cashed in with a $66 million contract after becoming entrenched as a starter and one of the better players many haven’t heard of. Acquired for Alfredo Simon ahead of the 2015 season, Suarez hit 26 home runs in 2017 with a sturdy .367 on-base percentage. Couple that with solid defense and you have a very good all-around player who’s just entering his physical prime. Suarez still has potential to improve.

4) Jimmy Nelson, Brewers

Nelson was already looking like a Milwaukee ace, but a shoulder injury ended his 2017 season prematurely and has left lingering questions as to how good he’ll be when he returns. He’s expected back around midseason, and if he can recapture his pre-injury form, he’ll be back on the road to stardom. He’d struck out 199 in 175.1 innings with a 3.49 ERA, an unexpected turnaround for a guy who had been more or less an average starter up to that point. If he keeps it going, he’ll be a genuine ace.

5) Whit Merrifield, Royals

Merrifield is 29, making him older than everyone else on this list. But there are late bloomers in every sport, and the numbers that he has put up are undeniable. He hit 19 home runs and led the American League with 34 stolen bases in 2017, where he also hit .288 and played solid defense all over the field. He profiles almost like a Ben Zobrist type except with more speed, and his skill and versatility make him an exceptionally valuable player. If he posts a similar line to his 2017 season, all bets are off.

6) Manuel Margot, Padres

Margot was signed as an amateur free agent and was a lower-level top prospect before being traded to San Diego in the Craig Kimbrel trade. While he has work to do to get there, Margot has serious potential to become a quality leadoff hitter. He strikes out more than is optimal, but he has double-digit home run pop and can steal a base as well. Still just 23, he’s nowhere near his prime yet, and has plenty of room to improve.

7) Eddie Rosario, Twins

Rosario wasn’t considered a top prospect until more or less just before he made it to the majors, but the stats he’s been putting up since show what he’s capable of. He has so many physical tools — elite power to the tune of 28 home runs, the ability to hit for a high average at .290, and a great outfield arm. Defensive fundamentals remain an issue, as does patience at the plate. Clean those two things up and he’s on his way to all-around stardom.

8) Jake Lamb, Diamondbacks

Lamb has a habit of fading in the second half, which only serves to increase expectations and whet peoples’ appetites for more. He still has nearly two 30-homer seasons under his belt and an All-Star appearance, though his numbers have sagged twice in the second half, bringing his averages down to a less impressive .249 and .248 in the process. Consistency is the name of the game for Lamb; if he can find it across a whole season, he has the chance to become one of baseball’s better power hitters.

9) Alex Claudio, Rangers

Claudio certainly doesn’t qualify as the sort of late-inning reliever that baseball craves these days — hard-throwing with lots of strikeouts. The Rangers lefty struck out just 56 in 82.2 innings, and his fastball sits comfortably in the mid-80s. It hardly mattered. Claudio got ground balls at a rate of nearly 67 percent in 2017, and his ERA was just 2.50. It may not be as flashy as some of his counterparts, but if he can do that consistently, he’s got closer potential.

10) Yolmer Sanchez, White Sox

Sanchez’s days as a legitimate prospect looked over after he barely hit in his first three big league seasons, bottoming out at .208 in 2016. 2017 saw his average jump 60 points to .267, and he’s gotten off to a very good start in 2018 as well. He’s already an above-average defensive player who can handle multiple positions, but his bat was always supposed to limit him to the status of passable big league regular. If he can hit above .280 and play solid defense, that’s an extremely valuable player. Maybe he won’t, but he’s showing flashes of being able to do it.



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