OK, let’s set the ground rules:
1. Nobody on the Yankees, Red Sox or Phillies can be underrated. (Sorry, Carlos Ruiz.)
2. Nobody who has won an MVP Award can be underrated … even if he’s Canadian. (That’s you, Joey Votto.)
3. Nobody who plays for the Dodgers, dated Rihanna and is currently hitting .444 can be underrated. (Nice start, Matt Kemp.)
With some helpful suggestions via Twitter, here’s my all-underrated team for 2011. We’ll revisit later in the season and see how these guys are doing or if they've graced any magazine covers.
C -- Brian McCann, Braves. Can a five-time All-Star be underrated? I think so, if only because he’s never started in one of those games. Sure, us baseball seamheads know how good he’s been the past half decade, but since 2006 he has more RBIs than Victor Martinez or Joe Mauer, more home runs than Mauer and Yadier Molina combined and a higher OPS than Martinez.
1B -- Daric Barton, A’s. The new Mike Hargrove, except with better defense and fewer rain delays.
2B -- Orlando Hudson, Padres. No obvious candidate here, but Hudson is a solid fielder (four-time Gold Glover) with a decent stick (although he slipped a bit last season). Yet nobody likes him too much: he’s with his fourth team in four seasons.
3B -- Casey McGehee, Brewers. He was such a non-prospect with the Cubs that they waived him after a short nine-game stint in the majors in 2008. The Brewers have enjoyed the productivity of the free talent, as he’s hit .290/.344/.470 with the Brewers.
SS -- Cliff Pennington, A’s. He’s off to a bad start, but was quietly decent in 2010 (yes, “quietly decent” qualifies as a good major league shortstop these days) when he played solid D and stole 29 bases.
OF -- Shin-Soo Choo, Indians. I think he’s our most underrated MVP. One of the best all-around players in the majors last season (second in the AL in Baseball-Reference WAR, eighth in FanGraphs WAR). And to think Cleveland stole him from Seattle for Ben Broussard.
OF -- Logan Morrison, Marlins. He’s only in his first full season, so maybe he hasn’t played enough to be underrated yet, but I predict he’ll remain underrated until he signs with the Yankees in 2017, at which time he’ll become overrated.
P -- Shaun Marcum, Brewers. He went 22-15 with a 3.53 ERA and 1.15 WHIP with the Blue Jays in 2008 and 2010, sandwiched around his DL stint in 2009. His trade to the Brewers isn’t going to improve his recognition factor.
P -- John Danks, White Sox. Durable, consistent lefty with 3.60 ERA since 2008.
P -- Jered Weaver, Angels. Got several nominations for Weaver. His great 2010 did get largely lost in the “Only one pitcher with a good season and lousy run support can get any media attention” campaign for Felix Hernandez. So far, his 2011 follow-up has been even better.
P -- Hiroki Kuroda, Dodgers. Ignore the 30-31 career and appreciate a solid No. 3 or 4 starter with a 3.60 career ERA in his three-plus seasons.