You know about the guys who are having huge seasons and the big-name players such as J.D. Martinez and Lorenzo Cain who are proving last year’s breakthroughs were legit. But who are the out-of-nowhere guys who have provided huge value to their teams in the first half? Here’s a quick five-pack of AL players who have provided big results, despite little or no expectations from outside their organizations.
1. 2B Logan Forsythe, Tampa Bay Rays, 2.8 WAR, 2.5 oWAR: If you’re wondering how the Rays are above .500 at the half, you might credit their pitching depth or their new management demonstrating the same adaptability. They certainly haven’t had a big, breakout season from anybody at the plate -- or have they? Relative to the balance of his career, Forsythe is having a huge season. He is cranking out a team-leading .776 OPS after producing just a .646 career clip in almost 1,100 plate appearances in his previous four seasons in the majors. If you had said before this season that Forsythe and his career .343 SLG would bat cleanup or fifth in 60 of the Rays' first 91 games, you would have understandably low expectations for what that might mean. But put into the middle of the order, Forsythe has already hit nine home runs, his most since the 11 he hit in the minors in 2009. He is also putting up a career-high walk rate. That adds up to a 2.5 offense-only WAR, which ranks in the top 20 in the AL, tied with Yoenis Cespedes and slightly ahead of Dustin Pedroia. Again, this is Logan Forsythe we're talking about, so give credit where credit's due.
2. Super-utilityman Brock Holt, Boston Red Sox, 3.3 WAR, 2.2 oWAR: OK, so he’s going to be introduced at the Gap on Tuesday along with all the other All-Stars, but it’s worth giving Holt his due in this group because how he played in the first half is a big part of why the Red Sox have a pulse in the AL East race. Holt has been the ultimate moving part: starting at seven different positions, filling in at second base while Pedroia has been on the DL and being the "when all else fails" fallback among Boston's seven starting right fielders.
But what has really made Holt valuable beyond his positional flexibility is his bat. You might think his .791 OPS and .379 OBP are unusual or an age-27 spike, but it’s worth remembering Holt's career batting line in the minors was .307/.372/.410. He isn't over his head -- he is living up to his track record. With Pedroia coming back after the All-Star break, regular starts for Holt might be hard to come by, but anyone who can contribute that much value at the plate is making a convincing argument to stay in the lineup.
3. Swingman Adam Warren, New York Yankees, 1.8 WAR: Some plans never outlast their usefulness; Warren is the latest example of a young pitcher ready to play in the majors being broken in through a relief role. Warren hadn't been a rotation regular since his most recent full season in the minors in 2012, and the plan to start him this season might have given fans pause, considering his 3.66 ERA in 53 Triple-A starts. However, he provided the Yankees plenty of value as a first-half placeholder while the famous people healed. The Yankees went 9-5 in his 14 turns, and he provided six quality starts -- all in his past eight turns -- which suggest he was growing into the role.
Now he is back in the bullpen, which creates a nice insurance policy for the Yankees. They could return him to the rotation if Masahiro Tanaka, Ivan Nova or Michael Pineda break down again. But given that the Yankees are in first place, they might not want to wait for an emergency to get Warren back into the rotation. After all, how much longer can they indulge CC Sabathia's struggle to be a reliable starter -- something he hasn’t been since 2012?
4. DH Jimmy Paredes, Baltimore Orioles, 1.5 WAR, 1.8 oWAR: Last year's surprise answer at DH was Steve Pearce, but Pearce's 240-point tumble in OPS left the O’s to find a new answer. Although Paredes is 26 years old, he is already a well-traveled journeyman who has played for four organizations and been with five. Since his brief 2011 introduction with the Astros, this is his first real opportunity at regular playing time in the majors. Exploiting this chance, the switch-hitting Dominican has provided huge first-half value against right-handers in particular, slugging over .500 against them while hitting .299/.332/.475 overall. His 10 homers in the first half put his single-season career high of 13 in reach in his first real shot at a job in the majors.
Is Paredes a classic DH? Perhaps not, as he has been more of a natural contact hitter without a defensive home in the minors, but his production so far this season has added up to a value of 1.8 oWAR (offense-only WAR). That ranks third among AL DHs, behind just Prince Fielder and Alex Rodriguez, neither of whom were available off waivers three times in three months, as Paredes was before the 2014 season. Consider him the latest credit to the Orioles’ willingness to find guys whose best tools are their bats and put them to work.
5. CF Billy Burns, Oakland Athletics, 1.5 WAR, 1.5 oWAR: Going into Opening Day, you could be forgiven if you thought the A’s outfield was going to be a disaster -- Coco Crisp and Josh Reddick both opened the year on the DL, and covering center field with a Sam Fuld-Craig Gentry platoon seemed like wishful thinking. Six weeks into the season, the A’s switched to Burns in center, and it provided an instant boost by filling their need for both a center fielder who can cover ground and a solid leadoff option in the lineup.
Where did he come from? The former Nats farmhand was a 32nd-round pick in 2011. He was moved to the A's for Jerry Blevins after the 2013 season in a minor swap. Burns might be the antithesis of the archetypical Athletic, walking barely 4 percent of the time and averaging 3.3 pitches per plate appearance. He's more of a classic speedster, hitting .342 on ground balls (before Sunday), but it has added up to a .739 OPS in the first half. Add that he has hit two home runs to match his career total in the minors, and he has added surprise on top of his surprising value. Can it last? His .668 career OPS between Double-A and Triple-A doesn’t appear encouraging, but keep in mind he had to go back to switch-hitting as a pro after giving it up in college. He will have to prove he won't take a step back in the second half, after his big step forward in the first half.
Honorable mention to OF/1B/DH Chris Colabello, Toronto Blue Jays, 0.0 WAR, 1.6 oWAR: I’ve sung Colabello’s praises in the past, but he hasn't slowed down. He put up an .871 OPS in the first half while roaming between starts at first base, DH and the outfield corners. It's easy to be suspicious of anybody with a .428 BABIP (through Saturday), but that reflects how much success Colabello has had on first pitches; he is swinging 38 percent of the time and hitting .590.
Christina Kahrl writes about MLB for ESPN. You can follow her on Twitter.