Every season, there are countless players who find a way to outperform what is expected of them. They might have inwardly known their own potential, but all of us on the outside had yet to truly witness it. This season, the Yankees have seen their fair share of unexpected or untapped talent come to fruition.
Gio Urshela leads the way for the Yankees in terms of unheralded heroes. He’s not the only shocker in the league, however. There are other similar players across the game; they could have come to their teams as parts of small, unnoticed trades, or they could be former prospects who never reached their ceilings. Let’s take a look at these previously overlooked studs, the most unheralded infielders of 2019:
Bell has been an above-average hitter before 2019, as he has never dipped under 100 wRC+ in any of his three campaigns. But this season, not only is Bell the most productive everyday player on the Pittsburgh Pirates, he is currently the most productive first baseman in the major leagues. Bell is walking less and striking out more than he is used to, and squaring up the ball like he never has before. His isolated slugging of .355 is twice as much as it was compared to last season, and his BABIP is over .300 for the first time in his career.
Compared to the rest of the league, Bell is 13th in barrels per plate appearance, right between Mike Trout and Christian Yelich, and fifth in terms of rate of balls hit at 95 mph or greater. His breakout earned him the National League Player of the Month award for the first time in his career and perhaps not the last. In a tight National League Central where the Pirates are currently only 5 games out, Bell has given that city a reason to be optimistic for June baseball.
Tommy La Stella
After making his major league debut with the Atlanta Braves in 2014, La Stella had been a regular fixture on the Chicago Cub bench over the last 4 seasons. His plate discipline has consistently allowed him to stay well below the league average in strikeouts, but this season his swinging-strike percentage is the lowest since he entered the majors. Compared to the rest of the league, La Stella ranks 3rd in swinging strike rate among players who have more than 150 plate appearances. You can see why the Angels traded for him as they now have four of the top eight players in this category.
As the current leadoff hitter in front of Mike Trout, La Stella’s plate discipline is heavily valued, but his ability to hit for power this season is what has put him over the top. His .527 slugging is the highest of his career, and his 144 wRC+ this season is second compared to all second basemen behind Derek Dietrich. A bench player for the Chicago Cubs turned everyday player, he now has the opportunity to bat in front of one of the best hitters in the league right before his last arbitration season in 2020. The financial raise he sees might not be much, but the expectations on him from his fans in Los Angeles have never been higher.
Didi Gregorius was on the injured list for the first two months of the season, and Miguel Andujar will be gone for the rest of it. The Yankees’ infield was in desperate need of production, someone who could step up to fill the void, and Urshela did just that. He stands out as perhaps the most unheralded player in all of baseball.
Urshela has been able to put the ball in play and find hits consistently as he is currently tied for first place with Yoan Moncada among all third basemen in BABIP. His low strikeout rate combined with his high BABIP has allowed Ursehla to rank third overall in batting average compared to the rest of the third basemen in the league. His success at avoiding weak contact has continued, as he is currently second in the league in that regard, right in front of JD Martinez and right behind Matt Carpenter.
As the 2019 season continues, more players will force us to pay attention to them like these three have. Some will even do it late in the season, like Luke Voit did with the Yankees last year. No matter what team these players are on, or what position they play, it’s always exciting to see a player improving, making their team better, and maybe even adding extra excitement to the playoff race.