BERNIE’S BASEBALL WORLD: UNDER APPRECIATION DAY

Appreciation is the recognition of the good qualities of someone or something.

Today I want to share some thoughts about people in baseball I feel do not get enough appreciation.  Of course, you, the reader may not share the opinion of this writer. But here are some of my thoughts.  I think these guys are still too far under the radar:

Jose Ramirez

Photo Credit: Ryan Morris

JOSE RAMIREZ-3B-CLEVELAND INDIANS

Ramirez has proven he is more than a one-year wonder. He was great last year as he took over the 3B position in Cleveland and claimed it as his own.  Along with Mike Napoli, they were the heart and soul of the Tribe.

Ramirez hits in the clutch.  Ramirez hits with power.  Ramirez plays outstanding defense. Watching his helmet fly off his head as he navigates bases is an extra treat he brings to his game.  But frankly, he doesn’t get much buzz.  So, here’s to you Jose Ramirez…buzz.

DAVID STEARNS-GM-MILWAUKEE BREWERS

The Brewers may well be in the playoffs. This year. Why?

Because David Stearns, their under the radar general manager knows what’s he doing.  He identified slugger Eric Thames as a power-hitting first baseman playing in Korea.  He signed Thames to a multi-year, inexpensive contract and he and his Brewers now reap the rewards.  He identified Manny Pina as a catcher with great mechanics, terrific “pop” time and a rifle arm.  He’s really a great “find” and a very good shepherd for Brewers pitchers.

If Thames doesn’t hit another home run, he will have been a tremendous success. He has put the Brewers on the map.

I credit Stearns with the knowledge of metrics and the ability to make them work to the team’s advantage.  To me he is in the group picture with today’s astute general managers that are transforming the game- guys like Stearns, Jed Hoyer-Theo Epstein, and Mike Hazen are among them on my short list.

MARK REYNOLDS-1B-COLORADO ROCKIES

Who knew? Reynolds had a great 2016 season. And he’s repeating it this year. Granted, he is in an extremely hitter-friendly playpen called Coors Field.  But he didn’t have as much success in homer-happy Milwaukee and/or Arizona parks.  Why now?  Reynolds has shortened his swing and is less aggressive at the plate.  His swing is much more measured.  He is a much more selective hitter.

The Rockies can win the NL West. Why? Perhaps it’s due to a trio of pitchers that I will profile below, and the timely, thunderous bats of almost every player in their lineup.  Each can take the ball out of the park.  Reynolds is special.

MARWIN GONZALEZ-1B-2B-SS-3B-OF-HOUSTON ASTROS

I don’t think there’s an All-Star quality player more under the radar than Marwin Gonzalez.  He can hit. He can hit with power and he’s a versatile and very good defensive player.

Gonzalez has power enough to hit home runs and gap doubles. He offers double-digit homers, RBIs, a terrific batting average and timely hitting to the Astros pennant drive.

A sparkplug for the team. Manager AJ Hinch, himself under appreciated, can count on Gonzalez to give him a quality at-bat each and every plate appearance. And he plays all over the field, offering Hinch flexibility as he fills out his daily lineup card.

TOREY LOVULLO-MANAGER-ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS

I can’t imagine a more perfect manager for the Dbacks than Torey Lovullo.  He has amazing patience. He has a terrific “feel” for the game. Lovullo knows how and when to rest his players. He tells his players in advance when they will get a day off.  He respects his players. He respects the media.  He is warm, witty and caring.

Lovullo will not be bullied or pushed to make changes his fan base may desire. For example, when closer Fernando Rodney had a few hiccups early in the season, Lovullo stuck with him. Lovullo may have had some acid reflux moments with Rodney, but he didn’t waiver in his belief that “Rodney is our closer.”

Yes, the Dbacks had injuries last year to key players like AJ Pollock and David Peralta. Their pitching was awful.

This year, Pollock is injured again and so is Yasmany Tomas.

But the Dbacks are winning.  Why? Stability. Lovullo has inserted Jake Lamb at third base and Brandon Drury at second.

Last year Lamb was on the bench versus lefties. Drury was a part-time outfielder.  Lovullo has steadied the waters.

Didi Gregorious

Photo Credit: Ryan Morris

DIDI GREGORIUS-SS-NEW YORK YANKEES

The next time I see the name Didi Gregorius in a story about the great shortstops in the game today will be the first time.  We do read a great deal about Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor, Addison Russell, and Corey Seager. Gregorius? Nope.

Gregorius is among the best defensive shortstops I have seen in a long, long time.  The first time I saw him play he was in the Cincinnati Reds spring camp.  I couldn’t believe his great hands and terrific first-step quickness. The ball just disappears in his glove at shortstop.  When he was traded to the Dbacks, he made every difficult play look easy.  His arm is a cannon.

At the time of his trade to Arizona, Gregorius was an easy out.  In fact, I went on record over and over asking fans to be patient with Didi.  I compared him to Omar Vizquel and Brandon Crawford.  Both were terrific defensive shortstops before they could hit a lick.  I felt Gregorius would hit.  He has.  And he will continue to hit.

We often forget the pressure Didi must have felt when trying to replace the irreplaceable Derek Jeter. But Didi overcame the heat that came with following Jeter as the Yankees shortstop.

He was a bit shaky at first, but he has settled in and is playing tremendously on both sides of the ball.

We still haven’t seen Didi’s speed.  He will steal bases when he is given the opportunity.  He’s a great shortstop and he’s still under the radar in most of the country.

ANTONIO SENZATELA, GERMAN MARQUEZ, KYLE FREELAND-Ps-COLORADO ROCKIES

Each of these three guys has helped keep the Colorado Rockies at the top of the National League West standings.

Together, Senzatela, Marquez and Freeland keep their team in games.  They each have great movement on their pitches and induce swings-and-misses and ground balls.

The issue with the three is the number of innings they can pitch.  Do the Rockies spot-start the three in the second half of the season?  Do they put them on the mound every fifth day?

Will they all be treated in the same manner?

Pitching in Coors Field is a very difficult task. Not only is Coors a hitter’s haven, so is Chase Field in the NL West.  Each of those guys pitches plenty of games in very hitter-friendly parks.  Each has fared well in those venues so far.

Senzatela got battered by the Diamondbacks while pitching recently at Coors. But that will happen. He’ll recover.

We’ll see how many innings each of the Rockies trio pitches in the second half. Regardless of the outcome, their first half performances kept the Rockies viable and exciting.

TREY MANCINI-1B/OF-BALTIMORE ORIOLES

I got to see Mancini hit this past spring training at the Orioles camp in Florida.

I came away in late March thinking the Orioles had a diamond in the rough.  On the Short Hops podcast and on RotoWire Sirius/XM radio, I spoke glowingly about Mancini.

I grabbed him on a couple of my fantasy teams knowing that he wasn’t a starting player at the time, but that he had huge upside.

So far, the Orioles and my fantasy teams have been rewarded. Mancini is a guy with a very good eye at the plate and very, very good power. He can hit the ball out of any park. And so far, he has.

Playing first base and the outfield, not may people know about Trey Mancini. He’s the real deal and I hope he has a very bright future.

JAKE LAMB-3B-ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS

Lamb should be on the NL All-Star team.  So far this season, Lamb has been a catalyst for the Diamondbacks success.

In tandem with slugger Paul Goldschmidt, Lamb has made a tremendous impact on his team and on the opposition.

Lamb was benched last year when he didn’t hit lefties.  How can a player hit lefties from the bench?  This year he is playing against all pitching. And he’s hitting all pitching.

Lamb is a home run threat every time he comes to the plate. Yes, he’ll strike out.  But he’s very dangerous.  The combination of David Peralta, Jake Lamb and Paul Goldschmidt provide the Dbacks with a thunderous trio of hitters that can break open a game with one swing.  And Peralta, while he doesn’t have the power of Lamb, is a major contributor to the team’s success.

Lamb has a sweet, upper cut swing.  He can drive the ball out of any park in the game.  And he can take a pitch to deep center field as well.  Strong and powerful, Jake Lamb’s time has come.

But he’s still under the radar.

AVISAIL GARCIA-OF-CHICAGO WHITE SOX

Garcia had long been physically compared to Miguel Cabrera.  Indeed, he does look like a littler version of Miggy. But he doesn’t have Cabrera’s power or ability on offense.

This year, Garcia has come to life. The White Sox have been patient with Garcia, waiting for him to realize the upside they saw when they picked him up from the Detroit Tigers in a three-team trade that included the White Sox sending Jake Peavy to the Red Sox, the Tigers sending Brayan Villarreal to the Boston Red Sox, the Red Sox sending Jose Iglesias to the Tigers and the Red Sox sending Cleuluis Rondon, Frankie Montas and J B Wendelken to the White Sox.

After hitting only .245 last year for the White Sox, Garcia is hitting .341 at the time this is being written.  He is one short of the 12 home runs he hit all last year.

BUNTS:

I have always maintained that big and strong sluggers come to life when the weather turns warm. Sure enough, that’s happened again this season.

Edwin Encarnacion has started to show the power and selectivity the Indians spent a considerable amount of money to obtain in the offseason.  Burnt by paying Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher mega-bucks in free agency in the past, the Indians took a chance on Encarnacion.  They signed him to a three-year $60MM deal to hit home runs and impact games on the shores of Lake Erie.  He has begun to do that.

The Indians passed on signing Mike Napoli in favor of Encarnacion.  Napoli signed a one-year deal with the Rangers for $8.5MM.  Napoli is heating up and is starting to hit home runs for his new team, just as he did for Cleveland last year.

Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez and the Orioles Manny Machado are two other players that seem to like the summer weather that is a bit warmer than the fall.  Bottom line? Don’t give up on your team’s power hitters.  If they did it before, chances are they can do it again. Especially when the weather heats up.

Friends, our trip to Cuba is still on as planned. We leave January 19 and return January 26.

President Trump has announced new guidelines for Cuban trips.  Our Viva Cuba Tour headquarters have confirmed that our People-to-People educational tour meets all the guidelines to proceed as planned.

For complete details on how you can join us in experiencing a great educational trip to Cuba, contact me at my email address: BPleskoff@aol.com

An island of beautiful 1950’s automobiles, fabulous waterfront hotels, and baseball in Cuba awaits your arrival.

Follow me on Twitter @BerniePleskoff

Bernie Pleskoff

About The Author

Bernie Pleskoff is a former professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. Bernie's work has been featured on MLB Pipeline, MLB.com and FanRag Sports, among others. In addition to his BERNIE'S BASEBALL WORLD column, he's a scout/analyst for FanRag Sports.com. You can follow Bernie Pleskoff on Twitter @BerniePleskoff