Back in February, USA Today’s 2011 MLB Preview Magazine published a lengthy piece by yours truly, whereupon I rendered my thoughts on who the most over and underrated players in the game were as we approached the new campaign.
I figured I might as well do a monthly update on these “predictions,” so as to capriciously praise or condemn myself.
Miguel Cabrera: One of baseball’s best — if not the best in the AL — who rarely gets included in those lists, is off to his usual strong start, near the top of the league in many meaningful categories. How many have noticed? Few. The man who just turned 28 should eclipse 1500 hits sometime in July. Amazing. (Grade so far on my prediction: PASS)
Shin-Soo Choo: I didn’t go out on a limb here as many view this guy in similar fashion. He’s finally coming around a bit after a slow start, but with his team hot (welcome back, Grady Sizemore!), the Korean has begun to hit. His RBI numbers are particularly strong, since he finally has some talent around him. (Prediction Grade: Mixed)
Paul Konerko: The veteran just continues to rake, as he’s near the top of the AL in nearly all meaningful categories, yet Pauly still doesn’t get all the recognition he’s earned. On pace for around 40 Hrs and 140 knocked in. Will probably get his 400th career long ball and 2000th hit in 2011. (Grade: PASS)
Adam Dunn: Like the White Sox, Dunn’s been a major disappointment so far. No explanations for now, but I expect him to heat up as the weather does. (Grade: Fail)
Ryan Howard: The “centerpiece” of my article is the Phillies’ big first baseman, who’s been at the top of my list of overhyped ballplayers for years. Though his RBIs remain relatively high, his homerun numbers (and overall power categories like slugging, OPS and OBP) continue to fall, while his strikeouts remain near the top of the league. If you’re looking for a player on the back-end of his career, doesn’t walk, whiffs a lot, is slow, suspect with the glove, but will get you 25-30 HRs with 100 RBIs and a .275 average, he’s your man. Just not an elite player deserving of an elite contract and elite publicity from ESPN. Those are facts.
Basically, as I said in my article, I’m hard-pressed to find a player in the league for whom there is a greater disconnect between perceived value and actual value. Finally, I think people are beginning to agree with me. (Grade on my prediction: Mixed)
Carlos Pena: Quite a signing by the Cubs, eh? Yes, it’s only a month in, but Pena’s already proving, as I noted, to hardly be an everyday player. The punchouts remain high, the average still appallingly low (below .200 for second year in a row), and Carlos cannot hit lefties. He makes $10 million per year. An absolute joke. A tougher fan base would’ve already forced Mike Quade’s hand, but most Wrigley fans don’t care about winning, just carousing. (Grade for me: PASS)
BJ Upton: A sad story about kid with potential who simply cannot realize it. Upton continues to hit very low average, limited power and high strikeouts. Though he’s hit a bit better this week, all in all, the aforementioned is a horrific combination. I wish BJ the best, but he’s just not producing. (Grade for me: PASS)
Jeff Francoeur: He was a stretch to include, yet I was willing to take the risk; so far, I’m way off. Despite struggles last season, “Frenchy” is tearing it up for an erstwhile surprising Royals squad. We’ll see how long he stays in KC as they go toward a youth movement, but he’s doing well so far (Grade: Fail)
Mark Reynolds: I’m not a GM, but I do know what kind of players I dislike, and Reynolds is the type. I don’t understand what teams see in him. While Mark has been so futile he’s made Ryan Howard (199 Ks in 2007 and 2008) and others prone to the punch-out vanish from the headlines, he’s “only” on pace for about 160 Ks in 2011. However, the Orioles’ third baseman is baseman is hitting under .200 AGAIN, and this time not even producing power. At least in Arizona he mashed 121 dingers over four seasons. The local media is so desperate for anything from the free agent acquisition that they’re writing full articles hailing games where he gets a hit! (Grade: PASS)
Stay tuned for another update at the end of May.