13 June, 2023
According to the good folks over at Bleacher Report, these 8 MLB players are right on the verge of big things. Time will tell if they are correct.
8 MLB Underrated Players on the Cusp of Breaking Out
There are always a dozen guys in Major League Baseball who are on the verge of becoming household names and potential All-Stars.
It might be a power hitter like Jake Burger, who would garner considerably more attention for his home runs if A) he made more plate appearances or B) the White Sox were even marginally competitive.
A starting pitcher like Joe Ryan or Bryce Elder, who is flirting with the ERA crown for the first time in his career but is still at least slightly overshadowed by another pitcher in his own rotation, might be the culprit.
And then there’s Luis Arraez, who made a name for himself last season but is making a name for himself once more while still not receiving the recognition and attention he merits.
This whole “underrated” thing is quite subjective. But here are eight young athletes who are all under the age of 27 and are enjoying a fantastic season. They may be about to take the famous “leap to fame.”
Statistics current as of Friday’s game time.
Miami’s Luis Arraez
2023 Stats: .403/.452/.495, 1 HR, 30 RBI
Luis Arráez, who is 26 years old, is hardly a rising star or a breakout story for regular baseball fans.
The only reason Aaron Judge did not achieve what would have been the second batting triple crown in the previous 55 years was because of Arráez, who won a batting title last year. (2012) Miguel Cabrera received one.
Aside from being an All-Star and receiving MVP votes, Arráez was also selected the 2022 AL Utility Silver Slugger.
However, he did it for a team that finished below.500 in Minnesota, one of baseball’s lesser markets, and he is the furthest thing from a power hitter, hitting one home run for every 75 at-bats on average in the previous season.
As a result, when Tony Gwynn II was sent to the Miami Marlins in the winter, he was still mostly unknown and underappreciated. Then, on April 11, he hit for the cycle, boosting his average to.537. He then finished April with a batting average of.438 and recently raised it to.400 with a five-game hitting streak in which he went 14 for 21.
The only player to ever hit.370 in the previous 20 years was Ichiro Suzuki (.372) in 2004, therefore it becomes sense to assume that Arráez will wane somewhat over the next two-thirds of the season.
But Arráez uses the entire field carelessly and almost rarely gets out. The circumstances are ideal for a player to win several batting titles. And if he has to be the first in MLB.We are completely here for him to smash 400 home runs in eight decades to draw attention to how good he has been.
Félix Bautista, RHP, Baltimore Orioles
2023 Stats: 3-1, 16 saves, 30.0 IP, 1.20 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 18.6 K/9
Last year’s trade deadline felt like the Baltimore Orioles were giving up on trying to compete for a playoff spot when they dealt Jorge López for three minor leaguers and Yennier Cano (who at the time had a 9.22 ERA in 13.2 career innings pitched in the majors). López, a 2022 All-Star, had a 1.68 ERA, a sub-1.00 WHIP, and 19 saves at the time of the trade.
As it turned out, they were clearing space at the back of the bullpen for Major League Baseball’s next great closer to shine while selling high on a player who was about to combust.
Félix Bautista (27), who had a 2.19 ERA with 15 saves as a rookie last year, has been even more impressive in 2023, striking out an absurd 62 of the 123 batters he has faced.
The greatest strikeout rate in MLB is 50.4 percent, and he isn’t showing any signs of slowing down. The only run Bautista has given up in more than a month came on an Aaron Judge solo drive. He has struck out 32 of the last 49 batters he has faced.
Early in the season, Cano attracted widespread attention, and with good reason. In his first 21.2 innings of pitching, the pitcher gave up just four hits while issuing no walks or runs.
Although he was just as effective in the ninth inning as Cano was in the eighth, the Orioles remained steadfast in their decision to use Bautista as their closer.
Although it was also a problem during his tenure in the minor levels, Bautista does need to limit his walk rate. However, he might have a long career as a top-tier closer if he can maintain a K/BB ratio in the 3.5 level while throwing with considerable force.
Jake Burger, 3B/DH, Chicago White Sox
2023 Stats: .264/.314/.614, 13 HR, 31 RBI
Few MLB players swing more frequently or harder than Jake Burger (27).
Burger swings at 55.9% of the pitches he sees, according to FanGraphs, striking out approximately six times for every walk. (The respective league averages for 2023 are 46.9% and 2.6%)
However, when he actually makes contact, holy moly, does that ball fly.
Aaron Judge has the highest home run rate among qualified hitters in the majors (8.9), which translates to one home run for every 11.2 trips to the bat. Max Muncy is in third place with a very respectable 7.7 percent, closely followed by Pete Alonso at 8.4 percent.
Burger has hit a home run in 13 of his 153 at-bats, for a percentage of 8.5%.
Yeah. more frequently than Alonso; nearly as frequently as Judge.
In all honesty, it’s unbelievable that he hasn’t already had a multi-HR game this year.
Burger also has eight doubles and a triple, for a.614 slugging percentage that, if he had enough plate appearances to qualify, would place him among the league leaders.
The 2017 draft’s No. 11 overall choice has always been a reliable slugger, but this year he’s pushing it to the limit.
Bryce Elder, RHP, Atlanta Braves
2023 Stats: 71.2 IP, 4-0, 2.26 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 8.0 K/9
Bryce Elder (24) only pitched 54.0 innings in 2022, which was not enough to count as a rookie in 2023. And that’s a shame because it would have been interesting to follow for the following four months the competition for the NL ROY between Elder, Corbin Carroll of Arizona, and Elly De La Cruz of Cincinnati.
However, watching this 24-year-old attempt to win an ERA championship will have to do as a fantastic substitute.
Elder pitched at least six innings without surrendering an earned run in four of his first six outings of the season. Despite giving up four earned runs in his most recent start against the Mets, he still has the best earned run average in the National League with 1.92 at the end of May.
Regression could be painful, according to Elder’s FIP (3.64) and xERA (4.16). Although the ride has been smooth so far, every year there are players who complete the season with an ERA that is at least one run lower than their FIP. (While we’re talking about painful regression, consider Alek Manoah from the previous year.)
Despite how amazing Elder has been, Spencer Strider, his flame-throwing comrade, receives far more attention than Elder. But now that Strider’s ERA has risen to 3.79 following his drubbing on Thursday, it might be time for Elder to start getting more attention.
In any case, he has played a significant role in Atlanta’s ability to maintain its competitive edge while Max Fried and Kyle Wright recuperate from their injuries. If everyone stays healthy, it will be intriguing to see if Elder can make the postseason rotation.
Thairo Estrada, 2B/SS, San Francisco Giants
2023 Stats: .300/.347/.478, 7 HR, 19 RBI, 14 SB
Thairo Estrada, now 27 years old, was the upcoming star in the Yankees minor system six years ago. He batted.301 for Double-A Trenton in 2017 before going on to hit.342 in 20 games in the Arizona Fall League, where he might have been able to advance ahead of Gleyber Torres the following spring.
Estrada was shot in the hip and thigh by thieves in February, but the subsequent surgery to extract the bullet was unsuccessful, leaving him for a few years a shell of his former self. It wasn’t until Estrada was playing Triple-A baseball in San Francisco’s minor system in 2021 that he began to resemble that star in the making once more.
Estrada played 140 games in 2022, hitting.260 with 14 home runs and 21 stolen bases in his first “full” season in the majors.
He came out on fire this season, thus it was a typical case of a “breakout before the real breakout” type of campaign. Estrada was hitting.347 and slugging.543 through 32 games, on pace for about 30 home runs and 45 stolen bases.
Even though he just lost 10 days due to a sprained left wrist and has subsequently moderated, he is still unquestionably one of San Francisco’s most important players.
Furthermore, second base isn’t exactly a hotbed for offensive superstars, which is good news for Estrada’s ability to become a consistent All-Star.
Ha-seong Kim, 2B/3B/SS, San Diego Padres
2023 Stats: .246/.340/.383, 5 HR, 19 RBI, 11 SB
Everyone is familiar with the San Diego Padres’ costly, fabled stars. Along with Fernando Tatis Jr., who is still in the early phases of his $340 million contract, other players making over $14 million this season include Xander Bogaerts, Juan Soto, Manny Machado, Yu Darvish, Joe Musgrove, Blake Snell, and Josh Hader.
But Ha-seong Kim (27), by a wide measure, has been the most valuable player on San Diego’s squad at least in terms of bWAR.
Kim thrived despite being abruptly thrust into an everyday position by Tatis’ injury and ultimate suspension, and she was an essential member of the team last year.
In 2022, only Machado was more valuable to the Padres.
But nobody appeared to have noticed.
Even the Padres didn’t seem to believe in Kim’s long-term durability as a middle infielder for them after signing Bogaerts to take over as the team’s new shortstop, signing Machado to a sizable extension at the hot corner, and giving Jake Cronenworth a seven-year extension despite the fact that Cronenworth primarily played second base prior to this season.
Despite this, he deserves to be an All-Star and is likely to win this year’s utility player Gold Glove award since he significantly improved his defensive performance while switching between three infield positions last season.
Josh Lowe, RF, Tampa Bay Rays
2023 Stats: .295/.340/.546, 11 HR, 39 RBI, 14 SB
Josh Lowe (25), even among Tampa Bay Rays, is, at best, the fourth-most talked-about player, much behind Shane McClanahan, Wander Franco, and Randy Arozarena.
He was actually only the second-most talked-about Lowe from the Rays up until this season, after 2019 All-Star and two-time AL MVP candidate Brandon Lowe.
But it seems as though people are now starting to realize how important this young outfielder has been to the best baseball club.
Only one “Hey everyone, come and see how good I look” type of performance has been made by Lowe, who recorded three hits, a home run, and a stolen base on May 21 in a loss to the Brewers. Although he began the season often in the bottom third of the lineup, if he was beginning at all, he has been consistently strong, spending a significant portion of the last three plus weeks in the leadoff spot.
Along with Ronald Acua Jr., Corbin Carroll, Julio Rodriguez, and Bobby Witt Jr., Lowe is one of only five players to have entered play on Friday with at least 10 home runs and 10 stolen bases. And Lowe reached that point in just 42 games (36 starts).
Lowe also had the same slugging percentage (.546) as MLB’s leading home run hitter Pete Alonso as of Friday.
Given the high caliber of outfielders in the American League, he is unlikely to be named an All-Star. But Lowe deserves careful examination.
Joe Ryan, RHP, Minnesota Twins
2023 Stats: 71.2 IP, 7-3, 2.76 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, 10.0 K/9
Joe Ryan (27), who made 27 starts, had a strong debut season in 2022 with a 3.55 ERA. (3.03 if the 10-run collapse against the Padres in late July is excluded.) Although he received no votes for AL Rookie of the Year, there was some reason to believe that he would play a significant role in a potent rotation in 2023.
He has significantly surpassed expectations and developed into one of the top starting pitchers in the majors.
Ryan, Nathan Eovaldi of Texas, Luis Castillo of Seattle, and none other pitchers with a sub-2.90 ERA, sub-1.00 WHIP, and K/BB ratio above 5.0 are eligible.
This season, Ryan has made nine excellent starts, twice going seven innings against the Yankees while allowing only one earned run. He has once started with a K/BB ratio worse than 2.0, and he has reached double digits in strikeouts three times.
Ryan hasn’t received near the widespread accolades that his talent and output warrant since he is pitching in the aforementioned small Minnesota market and because teammate Sonny Gray (2.15 ERA) has been marginally more impressive.
Give it some time, though. Before being selected as an All-Star twenty years ago, Johan Santana had to win the AL Cy Young with the Twins. Ryan might be on a similar career path.