Appreciating the Underappreciated Position Players of 2023 (So Far)

By Axel Post

There are a lot of baseball players. It’s hard to keep track of who has been surprisngly good this season. I’m not going to sit here in this blog and tell you that Shohei Ohtani has had a good season, you probably already know he is good. I’m also going to leave off guys like Brent Rooker, because although he was pretty unknown before the season, you’ve probably noticed his success to begin the year. My goal is to find a middle ground of players, to shed light on what you, my genius reader, may not already know.

Yandy Diaz, 1B, Tampa Bay Rays

You might know that Yandy Diaz is a good hitter and that he’s had a good season. However, did you know he leads the entire league in wRC+ at 188? Making him the best hitter in baseball so far. Last year I thought Yandy had put up a career year, his 146 wRC+ and the 3.8 fWAR were numbers that I was comfortable saying would be the highest marks of his career when it was all said and done. Yandy Diaz heard my thought and promptly spat on my face. He’s already accumulated a 2.1 fWAR this season and is spearheading a Rays team that is an absolute wagon. The Rays have finally stopped playing this man at 3B and it’s really helping his WAR because he throws the baseball with a piece of cooked spaghetti attached to his shoulder and he might as well not even bring the glove out to the field. But man, this guy can hit, walks a ton, doesn’t strike out much, hits the ball as hard as anyone, and is lifting the ball much better this year, as shown by his 11 home runs (he only hit 9 last season). We might be looking at a potential superstar hitter in Yandy Diaz, as the 31 year old seems to be a late bloomer.

Jonah Heim, C, Texas Rangers

Already known as a great defensive catcher, Jonah Heim is following up a good 2022 campaign with a very strong start to 2023. With a wRC+ of 127, he ranks 3rd among catchers with at least 100 PA, behind only Sean Murphy and Will Smith. Among that group, he is 2nd in fWAR with 1.8. Heim will not continue to produce at this level with the bat, but he will for sure continue being a great framer, as he currently leads the league in framing runs with 4, after finishing 2nd last year with 12. He also has already put up 3 defensive runs saved (DRS) after putting up 8 DRS last season. With the defensive ability he already possesses, if he can continue to just be slightly above average with the stick, the Rangers may have themselves a top-10 catcher in baseball.

Jarren Duran, CF, Boston Red Sox

Starting the season playing 11 games in AAA, Duran has accumulated 1.3 fWAR in just 32 games. Duran has a noticeably changed approach this season, with far fewer moving parts and his hands set up higher in his stance, helping him slash .321/.376/.518 for a 140 wRC+, with 7 stolen bases as well. This once top-100 prospect seems to finally be tapping into his talent after a brutal 91 game stretch to start his career. The bat is going to regress, as his BABIP is .418, the 2nd highest mark in the league but I am all the way sold on Duran being able to maintain an above-average bat. As a Red Sox fan myself, the thing I am most excited about with Jarren Duran is that it actually looks like he can play center field now. He’s a great athlete, with great speed, which is why it didn’t makes sense why he looked like a baby giraffe in center field before this year. The numbers back up the eye test with this one, as in just 51 games last season he had -2 Outs Above Average (OAA) and a -9 DRS. This season, he has a +2 OAA and a 0 DRS. Duran looks like a completely new player so far this season, and with the absence of Adam Duvall, he has really stepped up.

Masataka Yoshida, LF, Boston Red Sox

Hi my name is Axel Post and welcome to the Red Sox homer blog. Kidding, only kind of. But I had to talk about these two guys. The hype felt real after the WBC, but after posting a .619 OPS with just one home run through the first 16 games of his career, people seemed to start bailing off that hype train. Yoshida has gone on an absolute tear since then. He hit two home runs in the same inning in Milwaukee on April 23rd and has yet to slow down, posting an OPS of 1.085 with 5 home runs since that first 16 game mark. Overall, he has a 139 wRC+ and has done so while only striking out 17 times in 177 PA, while walking 17 times as well. He’s really fun to watch hit, and his ability to put a bat on the ball is just downright silly. It took him a little bit to get adjusted to the major league level but I think he’s just as good as of a bet as anyone to win AL Rookie of the Year right now. Also, real quick, can he play defense? No, not really. Do I particularly care? No.

Josh Lowe, RF, Tampa Bay Rays

Taken in the first round out of high school in 2016, Josh Lowe may have finally panned out his swing-and-miss problems. The tools have always been there, he hits the ball really hard, having hit a home run 455ft, 111.8mph off the bat this season. He has always been able to run, with a sprint speed in the 87th percentile. The problem has always been piecing those tools together just enough to make a productive ballplayer and I think it has finally happened. He has cut his K% from 33.3% last season to 23.0% so far this season. He’s always going to have the swing and miss in his game, his chase rate has always been fairly high and his swing lends itself to swinging and missing a good amount. The challenge will be managing it, as when he does hit the ball, he hits it very hard and with good lift. This has resulted in 11 home runs already this season and a wRC+ of 177, which ranks 4th in all of baseball. He is one of 5 Tampa Bay Rays in the top 13 for wRC+.

Jake Burger, 3B/DH, Chicago White Sox

Just about the only thing besides Luis Robert that’s been good in the south side of Chicago. Jake Burger has come out of nowhere so far to slash .271/.330/.667 for a wRC+ of 174. He strikes out a lot, 29.2% of the time, and he doesn’t walk a lot, only 6.6% of the time. He swings at just about everything but through his first 106 PA this season he has a Barrel% that is second to only Aaron Judge, and has 10 home runs. He’s hit the second-hardest-hit ball of the whole season thus far with a 118.2mph bomb against Bailey Falter. The approach is very suspect, there are not a lot of guys in the league who can be successful with the current chase rate that he has but you can not deny the power that Jake Burger possesses. He makes for an interesting case study as he is already 27 years old, but he is a former first-round pick, if he can continue to tap into the power potential he could be an interesting trade piece for the White Sox when they inevitably sell at the deadline.

Nolan Gorman, DH/2B, St. Louis Cardinals

Anyone have Nolan Gorman being the best Nolan on the Cardinals this season? No? Weird. The Cardinals have had a lot of turmoil this season, between the slow start, the Tyler O’Neil drama, and the Contreras drama, many of the positives have not been talked about. The biggest positive not being talked about is that 23-year-old Nolan Gorman is on an absolute tear. He has 13 home runs this year and owns a 177 wRC+ this season, slashing .301/.392/.636. The wRC+ ranks third in all MLB. He’s managing the K% at 24.7% and is walking at a great clip, 12.7%. Much like Jake Burger, when he does hit the ball, he abuses the thing, and similarly to Josh Lowe, he produces good lift with his swing path. Last season, between the AAA and MLB level he had a 34.3% K% in 501 PA, the swing and miss concerns were massive, but like a lot of guys on this list he has been able to manage it so far, and has been extremely impressive so far at only 23 years of age.

Christopher Morel, OF/2B, Chicago Cubs

A very late addition to this post but I just simply couldn’t leave him off, he is just too much fun. He has 8 home runs in only 11 major league games played this season and has produced an fWAR of 0.8 in just 11 games. He is on pace to have the greatest season of all time. I will be the brave soul to stick my neck out and say that he will NOT have the greatest season of all time, but feel free to dream about it if you’d like. He’s had a crazy year this far, starting in AAA he hit 11 home runs in just 29 games before being called up, meaning he has 19 professional home runs this season, the most of anyone. In the major leagues, he has struck out 18 times in his 48 PA, while walking only twice, combining those numbers with his 8 home runs to get a staggering 58.3% three true outcome percentage. This level of production will not last but I had to include him, he treats every home run he hits like he just won the World Series and I love him for it. He’s also still just 23 years old with some MAJOR tools, fun guy to keep an eye on. Now please enjoy this video of him in his first career at-bat from last year.

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