Underrated MLB Contributors Late-May Edition

As the 2024 Major League Baseball (MLB) season nears the end of May, the teams everyone expected to make up the league’s upper crust (New York Yankees, Baltimore Orioles, Philadelphia Phillies, and Los Angeles Dodgers) have separated themselves from the pack. Every playoff hopeful, not just these four squads, has at least one superstar in addition to some notable underrated or overlooked players significantly contributing to their team’s early success.

Underrated Contributors in MLB: Late-May Edition

American League (AL) East 

1) Yankees

The first-place Yankees (33-15) are off to a strong start thanks to a solid pitching staff, despite the injury-induced absence of ace Gerrit Cole, and a reinvigorated lineup anchored by the dynamic power-hitting duo Juan Soto and Aaron Judge. Carlos Rodon is healthy and finally living up to his big-money contract following an injury-filled first season in the Bronx. While Rodon and Nestor Cortes are established Major Leaguers, 25-year-old Dominican Republic native pitcher Luis Gil has emerged as one of the rookies to watch in the league and an underrated player for this heralded franchise.

In his latest start on May 18, Gil improved to 5-1,  setting a Yankee rookie record by striking out 14 Chicago White Sox hitters in his latest impressive performance. Meanwhile, on offense, the team’s second-year shortstop Anthony Volpe flies under the radar given the superstars hitting behind him; yet he has established himself as the team’s everyday leadoff hitter and raised his game to another level this season.

2) Orioles 

The 29-15 Orioles feature an uber-talented, largely homegrown lineup led by superstar shortstop Gunnar Henderson and catcher Adley Rutschmann. Unlike some other second-year players, Henderson, last year’s AL Rookie of the Year, has not been slowed by a sophomore slump as he leads all of MLB with 15 home runs. These two, arguably the faces of this franchise, are helped out on offense by breakout, slightly underrated second-year players, left fielder Colton Cowser and third baseman Jordan Westburg.

Then there is left-handed first baseman/designated hitter Ryan O’Hearn, a former Kansas City Royals player who remains an overlooked force in the middle of this team’s lineup, especially when a right-handed pitcher is on the mound, although he struggles against left-handed pitching. 

National League (NL)  East

The Phillies have a boatload of stars from Bryce Harper to Kyle Schwarber to Zack Wheeler and J.T Realmuto. That leaves some players less talked about, none bigger than Ranger Suárez, who has developed into one of the best left-handed pitchers in the NL. This season, he is 8-0 with a 1.37 ERA and 58 strikeouts in nine starts and will be counted on for a Phillies’ team with World Series aspirations. Their main divisional rival, the star-studded Atlanta Braves roster includes very few if any overshadowed players. It seems like a matter of time before this perennially successful team heats up and catches the Phillies in what should be a thrilling divisional race.

NL Central

1) Milwaukee Brewers

The Milwaukee Brewers’ most underrated player is likely second baseman Brice Turang as both their sensational catcher William Contreas and left fielder Christian Yelich have been widely-known names for the past few years. This season, Turang, the club’s first-round pick in 2018, is finally living up to his potential hitting .314 with two home runs, 17 RBIs, and 18 stolen bases. Turang and Contreas, who is batting .341 with seven home runs and 37 RBIs,  are two major reasons behind the Brewers’ surprising 27-19 start to the season under first-year manager Pat Murphy

2) Chicago Cubs

The Chicago Cubs, two games back of the Brewers, are doing well because of their strong pitching. Japanese import Shota Imanaga (5-0, 0.84 ERA) has gotten off to a historic start, slicing up MLB hitters left and right through his first nine MLB outings. Fellow Cubs starting pitcher, Mexican native Javier Assad, is also performing admirably, with a  4-0 record and 1.49 ERA so far this season.

AL Central 

The Cleveland Guardians and Royals are off to surprising starts, considering where they finished last year and the significant changes they each encountered this offseason. Utility player David Fry has emerged as an increasingly trustworthy offensive piece for rookie manager Stephen Vogt, who has the first-place Guardians once again in the mix for the Central division title. Fry is batting .325 with four home runs and 16 RBIs in 32 games, helping out a Cleveland offense that needs production from guys not named José Ramirez, Josh Naylor, or Andrés Giménez if the team wants to return to the playoffs.

Bobby Witt Jr and Salvador Perez power the Royals, a game and a half back. Those two are well-known, but the guy who hits before them, third baseman Maikel Garcia, is not as big of a name at this point. That may not last long if Garcia keeps improving as the 24-year-old already has five home runs, 30 RBIs, and 11 stolen bases this season.

AL West 

The AL West-leading Seattle Mariners feature underrated third baseman Josh Rojas, who has helped boost the team’s offense, which started slow due to its figurehead center fielder Julio Rodriguez getting off to a slow start. Batting atop the club’s lineup, Rojas is hitting .301 with three home runs and nine RBIs and will look to keep hitting as the team seeks to fend off competitors in the tough division. Similarly, Texas Rangers’ infielder Josh Smith has made the most of his playing time, seeing action at multiple defensive positions and hitting .284 with two home runs and 18 RBIs for the defending champions.

NL West

The Dodgers have arguably the largest amount of top-tier talent in the entire league, with the only player one could theoretically label underrated being versatile infielder Max Muncy, who has been a major part of the club’s regular-season success since 2018. The Dodgers already have a seven-game divisional lead, thus it would be surprising if either the San Diego Padres or San Francisco Giants manage to overtake them as the season marches on. Padres’ closer Robert Suarez is possibly not talked about quite enough as he is having an excellent start to the season with 13 saves and a 0.44 ERA. Oakland Athletics’ flamethrower Mason Miller (8 saves, 0.93 ERA) has received more buzz amongst first-year closers because his extraordinary pitching ability is one of the few positive things for an A’s franchise in turmoil.

Further North, the Giants hired new manager Bob Melvin and made all sorts of offseason free-agency additions to bridge the gap between them and their hated rival. Even with the team now employing stars like Matt Chapman and Blake Snell, first baseman/outfielder LaMonte Wade Jr continues to fly under the radar despite being arguably their most consistent hitter. He has begun the campaign with a .321 batting average, two home runs and 15 RBIs.

These players mentioned are just a few not getting as much attention or appreciation across the league. As Summer beckons, they could rise to become bigger names or prefer to stay under the radar. One thing for sure is that these next few weeks will further shake up the standings to the point that teams are soon to be posturing whether to be sellers or buyers as the league inches closer to the midseason trade deadline.

Main Image:  Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

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