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Nine underrated players who can help your fantasy baseball team

Cincinnati third baseman Eugenio Suarez deserves full attention in mixed leagues. Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Eugenio Suarez ranks third in baseball in RBI (48). He ranks 70th overall on our Player Rater, and fourth among third basemen. Suarez also missed 16 Cincinnati Reds games while on the disabled list nursing a fractured right thumb, the result of his being hit by a Jameson Taillon pitch on April 8, meaning that he has been active for only 76 percent of the team's 2018 schedule.

He is also still available in 11.6 percent of ESPN fantasy leagues.

It's that latter note that's most astonishing, as Suarez has been a consistent mixed league-worthy fantasy baseball player for what has been three full calendar years now, and it's not like that availability percentage is the product of a recent return from the DL, as he has been active since April 26 and never gone more than back-to-back games without a hit since then. Simply put, this is one of the many signals that Suarez is one of the most underrated players in fantasy baseball.

Face the facts: Suarez was the No. 153 overall player on our 2017 Player Rater, ranking 104th in fantasy points, and he finished 183rd and 181st, respectively, in 2016. In addition, counting only his performance from when he took over as a regular on June 11, his 2015 output in the Reds' final 104 games, Suarez was a clear top-150 overall player in Rotisserie terms (using outside valuation sources, as well as my own valuation method) and the 179th-best in fantasy points. What's more, among either third basemen or shortstops since that date, Suarez ranks 13th in home runs (72) and total bases (748), 12th in runs scored (235) and 11th in RBI (248).

All of those thresholds confirm Suarez is an unquestioned mixed league-relevant player. And considering he's a prime age of 26 -- set to turn 27 years old on July 18 -- and has shown incremental growth in terms of his isolated power, fly-ball rate and hard-contact rate year over year during his Reds career to date, Suarez makes a compelling case for top-100 overall and top-10 third baseman, classifying him as one of the best at his position, going forward this year.

Do with those facts what you will. If you're one of the lucky managers in the aforementioned 11.6 percent of ESPN leagues, scoop Suarez up right now. His underrated status could also make him a viable trade target in the other 88.4 percent of leagues. Why not check in with his manager with an offer?

Suarez isn't alone in being underappreciated. He's one of nine such players, using similar factors to define the list. Here's a look at the other eight.


Matt Olson, 1B, Oakland Athletics: He has always been a good source of power, having flashed .230 isolated power with a 4.4-percent home-run rate (a percentage of his plate appearances) during his minor league career, well above this year's major league averages of .165/3.1 for non-pitchers, and as Eric Karabell and I discussed on the June 4 Fantasy Focus Baseball podcast, power trends for young players recently have been considerably greater in the majors than during their minor league days. Olson's .283/7.3 career big-league numbers reflect this.

Olson was never regarded as a blue-chip prospect per the scouts -- his best ranking per Keith Law's annual list, for example, was 81st (in 2015) -- so his early "struggles" this year might've caused many in fantasy to discard his late-2017 outburst as fluky. I use quotations on struggles because Olson's numbers were obviously fluky in the season's early weeks, and since he's a three-true-outcomes hitter (a large percentage of his PAs ending in a home run, walk or strikeout), he's subject to extreme streakiness. Here's the hook: Since last Aug. 8, Olson's 33 home runs have been exceeded by only three players: J.D. Martinez (44), Giancarlo Stanton (37) and Aaron Judge (35). I told you nearly a month ago to trade for Olson, predicting he had another 30 homers in his bat in the season's final three-quarters, and I hope you listened.

Odubel Herrera, OF, Philadelphia Phillies: A top-130 performer on the Player Rater thus far, Herrera has quite a favorable reputation using that measure in his four big-league seasons, finishing 132nd (2015), 75th (2016) and 205th (2017) in his previous three. He's somehow still available in 17.1 percent of ESPN leagues, so apparently some still haven't taken notice. Perhaps that's because Herrera's per-162-games-played career rates aren't that eye-popping in any one category: .288 batting average, 14 home runs, 57 RBIs, 16 stolen bases and 78 runs scored. Or maybe it's because he has run ice cold since Memorial Day weekend, posting a .136/190/.153 slash rates in his past 15 games. Still, players like this, who don't hurt you in any one department, are a lot more valuable in fantasy than you might think. He's like a somewhat less-renowned version of Adam Eaton.

Blake Treinen, RP, Oakland Athletics: Would you believe that since Treinen's trade to the Athletics last July, he's one of five relief pitchers with at least 25 saves, 75 strikeouts and a sub-2.50 ERA? (Aroldis Chapman, Brad Hand, Kenley Jansen and Craig Kimbrel are the others.) Treinen is the No. 6 relief pitcher on the Player Rater and has improved his walk rate in each of the past three seasons, without sacrificing much in terms of his high ground-ball rate (still 50 percent). There's no way he should still be available in 14.6 percent of ESPN leagues.

Eduardo Rodriguez, SP, Boston Red Sox: His true "breakthrough" hasn't yet happened, though his No. 106 overall and No. 28 starting pitcher rankings suggest this year might be it. Rodriguez has improved both his strikeout and swinging-strike rates in each of his four big-league seasons, and he's leaning more on an effective cutter so far this year. Considering his upside, there's no reason E-Rod should be available in roughly one-quarter of ESPN leagues. But here we are.

Cesar Hernandez, 2B, Philadelphia Phillies: Like his teammate, Herrera, Hernandez is a player whose per-162-game averages aren't eye-popping. Since the beginning of the 2016 season, his include a .289 batting average, 11 home runs, 45 RBIs, 20 stolen bases and 92 runs scored. Still, he's one of the speedier players in the game (not elite speed, but in the second tier), has converted 25 of his 32 stolen-base attempts over the last two seasons and has a great eye at the plate. Hernandez's perceived value probably suffers from the presence of future second baseman Scott Kingery on the roster, but keep in mind that the Phillies have granted Hernandez 61 of their 63 starts and 532 2/3 of their 558 2/3 defensive innings at the position. They're not going to bench him and risk deflating his stock for a future trade. Hernandez is a high-floor middle infielder who isn't perceived as one.

J.A. Happ, SP, Toronto Blue Jays: How quickly we forgot Happ's top-15 fantasy starting pitcher season of 2016, and how quickly we assumed that performance was a complete fluke. The truth is that Happ's career path diverged, to that of an extremely underrated contributor, upon his trade to the Pittsburgh Pirates and noted pitching coach Ray Searage in 2015. Searage tweaked Happ's delivery, helping the left-hander restore his four-seam fastball velocity to its current 93 mph average. Since that trade, Happ has 45 wins, a 3.20 ERA and 1.18 WHIP, which rank fourth (tied), 15th and 25th (the ratios among the 139 pitchers with at least 250 innings during that time span), and you probably don't even realize it.

Fernando Rodney, RP, Minnesota Twins: I'm as vocal a critic of Rodney's as anyone, but hey, saves are saves, and he keeps piling them up. Were you aware that only four pitchers have had more than Rodney's 52 saves since the beginning of 2017 (Alex Colome with 59, Edwin Diaz with 57, Jansen with 56 and Kimbrel with 55)? How about that Rodney has a rather solid 26.1 percent strikeout rate during that same time span? My annual criticisms of Rodney center upon his extreme streakiness -- he has multi-month stretches of sheer greatness, and others when he's completely unusable -- and his 41 years of age caution that the end could come for him at any moment, but that doesn't mean that I regard him as entirely without value. I merely won't pay a steep draft-day price to acquire him, but I also think there's no way he should ever be available in what's nearly 50 percent of ESPN leagues right now.

Marcus Semien, SS, Oakland Athletics: The subject of one of our recent Questions of the Day, Semien was a player I then described as "an accumulator" who "belongs in the 'mixed-league middle infielder' class." Let's elaborate upon that, because there's never really been any question that Semien will provide value within that tier -- health willing -- as he's one of eight middle infielders with at least 40 home runs and 25 stolen bases since the beginning of 2016, and he has 23/14 per-162-games-played averages during that time span. You might get the impression reading that about Semien, as well as with a few of the other names on this list, that unusually high statistical floors or players who aren't leading men at their position but more back-end roster types wind up the ones who are most underrated in fantasy baseball. That's often true, as the stars capture the headlines and your attention, but the supporting cast members should never be overlooked.