The most underrated player in the game today? It's Choo. He combines an excellent glove in right and speed on the bases with a career batting line of .297 AVG/.391 OBP/.488 SLG. Last season, Choo notched top-10 finishes in the AL in OPS, walks, OBP, and times on base. He's performed at a similarly high level in each of the last three seasons. Expect that to continue as Choo enters what should be his prime seasons.
Hype. Contrary to popular belief, it's a finite resource, and the guys that follow aren't getting their fair share. Yes, it's the "All-Underrated Team" for 2011! (After reading, please cease and desist from talking about these players so their hype levels remain safely within "All-Underrated" levels; otherwise, the whole system falls apart.) Onward ... — Dayn Perry
SP — Josh Johnson, Marlins
Johnson is fresh off an NL ERA title, and he's come within spitting distance of 200 strikeouts in each of the last two seasons. Johnson's a Tommy John veteran, and he still has minor arm troubles from time to time. With that said, if he can stay healthy in 2011, then he'll have legitimate designs on the NL Cy Young. Given the lack of attention Johnson receives, that might come as a surprise.
RP — Matt Thornton, White Sox
While relievers/closers are uniformly overrated as a species (a good starter is always more valuable than a good reliever), Thornton doesn't have the standing among his peers that he deserves. Since being traded to Chicago and honing his craft under pitching coach Don Cooper, Thornton has emerged as one of the best lefty relievers in the game. He's logged a sub-3.00 ERA in each of the last three seasons, and his peripherals justify those numbers. Between Thornton and Chris Sale, lefty hitters won't stand much of a chance against the Sox in the late innings.
C — Mike Napoli, Rangers
Napoli has been traded twice this winter, which should give you some indication about perceptions of his value. Napoli leaves a bit to be desired defensively, but he can hit, especially by the standards of the position. He's a career .251 AVG/.346 OBP/.485 hitter, and he's coming off a season in which he tallied 26 bombs. Napoli's former manager Mike Scioscia, for reasons sufficient unto himself, preferred the punchless Jeff Mathis, so Napoli was shipped off first to Toronto and then to Texas, where he'll split time at catcher, first base and DH. Napoli's power is real, and the Rangers will be rewarded for giving him regular playing time.
1B — Billy Butler, Royals
Butler is a gifted pure hitter, and he might be on the verge of the breakout. He's not much of a fielder, and he toils on baseball's rural route in Kansas City. As such, Butler doesn't get the bandwidth he deserves. Last season, Butler batted .318 and drew 69 walks. As well, he leads all of baseball with a combined 96 doubles over the last two seasons. At age 24, Butler is only going to get better.
2B — Rickie Weeks, Brewers
In 2009, Weeks was in the midst of a breakout campaign, but then a wrist injury caused him to miss 140 days. So Weeks healed, dusted off his skills and had his breakout campaign in 2010. He hit 29 homers and also chipped in a .366 OBP. As well, Weeks has made impressive strides with his defense in recent seasons. Among NL second sackers, only Chase Utley is better.
3B — Ryan Zimmerman, Nationals
Can a former All-Star and Gold Glove and Silver Slugger recipient be underrated? Indeed, he can. With apologies to Evan Longoria, Zimmerman right now is the top third baseman in the game. He's coming off a season in which he hit .307 AVG /.388 OBP/.510 SLG despite playing his home games in a park that's quite tough on right-handed power hitters. Of course, Zimmerman's defense is something to behold. According to Ultimate Zone Rating, Zimmerman has saved almost 30 runs over and above the hypothetical "replacement" level fielder at the position. Thanks to his well-rounded skills, Zimmerman is one of the five best players in the game today. It's about time he's recognized as such.
SS — Alexei Ramirez, White Sox
Ramirez doesn't get credit for the plus defender he is at short, and he's got some pop, hitting no fewer than 15 home runs in each of his three major-league seasons. It's worth remembering that Derek Jeter is in decline, Alex Rodriguez is a third baseman and Nomar Garciaparra is retired. As such, in the current-era shortstops no longer hit like first baseman. Ramirez should be judged by those standards.
LF — Josh Willingham, A's
Willingham is best deployed as a DH, but there's nothing wrong with his bat. Since he was belatedly given a major-league job in 2006, Willingham has done nothing but hit. He boasts a career OPS+ of 121, which means, on a rate basis, he's been roughly as productive as Victor Martinez. Willingham immediately becomes Oakland's best hitter.
CF — Colby Rasmus, Cardinals
Perhaps it's that he strikes out a lot, or perhaps it's that he's a bit mellow in terms of bearing and appearances, or perhaps it's because his manager doesn't seem to care for him especially much ... Whatever the reasons, Ramus' actual value outstrips perceptions by quite a bit. Last season, Ramsus led all qualifying centerfielders in OPS, and he's got the raw tools to get even better.