Every Major League Baseball organization has players who fly below the radar. They add value — or are projected to do so in the future — yet are underappreciated, if not unnoticed, by the vast majority of fans. The same is true for coaches, and even some managers, particularly at the minor-league level. Other behind-the-scenes personnel, such as scouts, are largely invisible. Given their contributions, many of these people deserve more accolades than they get.
With that in mind, I asked a cross section of general managers and presidents of baseball operations if they could point to a person in their organization who stands out as being under the radar. With a nearly across-the-board caveat that it’s hard to name just one, all gave interesting answers.
Chaim Bloom, Tampa Bay Rays: “I’ll go with two guys who we feel strongly about that are actually no longer on the radar, because we just put them on our big-league staff. That would be Kyle Snyder and Ozzie Timmons. They were with us in Durham for a while and have played a huge role in the development of a lot of our young players. One of the reasons we’re excited about what’s coming was on display with that club. They won a Triple-A championship with a very young team.
“[Snyder and Timmons] are different, but a lot of what it comes down to is their strong sense of caring for each individual player and listening to, and wanting to get to know, the player. A lot of their success as coaches has been that there’s no cookie-cutter approach. It’s about accessing each player, going to where they are, and figuring out the best way to build that connection. That connection is the vehicle for getting information to them and making them better.”
Mike Chernoff, Cleveland Indians: “They’re all underrated. We have a coaching staff and a culture in our minor-league group of extreme collaboration — guys who are solely focused on the same goal, which is to win a World Series. I hate to single out anybody, because it’s a real team effort in how we do it.
“I think that’s how you break down the barriers between the major leagues and minor leagues, and between player development and scouting. You create a culture where everybody is not only on the same page with the same goals, but you’re bringing people together. That allows for more open-mindedness and more conversations. And as you develop relationships across the organization, you don’t get complacent. You want to keep challenging yourself, so along with collaboration, we’re looking for a high degree of candor.”
Billy Eppler, Los Angeles Angels: “I’ll say Brandon Marsh. He was a high-round draft pick for us [second round in 2016]. He’s evolving. The growth we’ve seen from him physically, fundamentally, and mentally has been noticed by a lot of different people in the organization — and a lot of different people have put their hands on him. He’s got a lot of upside. Why is he under the radar? Probably because of the level he played at. He was in (Rookie-level) Orem.
“As far as his physical tools, he can run, he can hit, he can throw, he can hit for power. Physcally, he kind of looks like a Larry Walker-type body. I would’t want to comp him directly to Walker, but he’s built to bring a power-and-speed element with his game. He’s got some tenacity to him, as well. I think people are going to start noticing him more in the mainstream. In the marketplace, I’ve been asked about him in trades a number of times already.”
Rick Hahn, Chicago White Sox: “Micker Adolfo doesn’t get enough attention. We signed him out of the Dominican in 2013 when he was 16, and at the time, he was the No.2 international prospect. The No. 1 was Eloy Jimenez and the No. 3 was Rafael Devers. Adolfo was in that conversation, so he was viewed as having that type of talent.
“Unfortunately, every year of his pro career leading up to 2017 he had some sort of injury — a hamate, a pulled hamstring… issues that were keeping him off the field. This year, he finally got his first full year under his belt — he was in the Low-A Sally League — and at age 20, which is still just a baby, he began fulfilling some of that promise from a power standpoint and being a well-rounded defender in the outfield. He gets forgotten about a little because he’s been hurt, and because of all the guys we brought in, but Adolfo has both the pedigree and the upside.”
Mike Hazen, Arizona Diamondbacks: “I think Jerry Narron did a phenomenal job for us this year. He stepped in for [Ron Gardenhire] when Gardy got sick and really helped out at the major-league level. He did a fantastic job and [naming him the bench coach] was an easy choice when Gardy got the opportunity in Detroit.
“Jerry is a very smart baseball guy. He’s a very good strategist. Torey and I were coming over from the American League, and it’s obviously a different game for a manager from a strategy standpoint. [Strategy] isn’t the only thing, but within every game, there are decisions made that have an impact on the outcome. Making the right decisions is important.”
Jed Hoyer, Chicago Cubs: “It’s a tough question, because in theory, if I answer it honestly someone is going to ask permission on that person when the article is published. That wouldn’t be in my best interest. But how I can answer it is to say that people always give credit to the head of something, whether it’s the pitching coach, the hitting coach, or the hitting or pitching coordinator. Those positions have a huge impact, but there are so many people providing them information and assisting that process. We almost never look at it as one person having had a huge impact on a particular guy. The idea that “this guy fixed this person” is almost always more complicated than that answer.
“Player-wise, versatility is overlooked. That’s something that’s really helped us the last two or three years. We’ve had guys like Bryant, Zobrist, Baez, and Happ who can move around the field. That has such an unbelievable ripple effect on the roster. Having guys who are open to doing that has allowed us to build a roster in a different way. I think that’s underrated.”
Thad Levine, Minnesota Twins: “I would be reluctant to name a player, because if he’s below the radar screen we aspire to have him stay below the radar screen for right now. But from a competitive-advantage standpoint, I’m going to go with Jeremy Hefner as one of the people in our organization who is below the radar and does an exceptional job. He’s kind of spearheading a lot of our advance scouting processes, with Jeff Pickler and with our analytics team.
“He came to us last offseason. He’d just finished his playing career — he was a pitcher — and Jeff Pickler convinced him to join us in an interim capacity. Now he’s a full-time contributor and effectively running our advance scouting. He’s preparing a lot of our pregame strategy that impacts our decision-making relative to lineup construction, in-game decision-making, and how we handle our pitching staff.”
Mike Rizzo, Washington Nationals: “None of our scouting and player-development guys ever get talked about enough. They’re far under the radar, and guys who put that much time and effort into it shouldn’t be. They are unsung heroes. They’re such an important part of an organization, and they deserve to be recognized. But to come up with any one name wouldn’t be fair to the other guys.”
David Stearns, Milwaukee Brewers: “I’d go with Jordan Yamamoto. He’s a right-handed pitcher from Hawaii who pitched for us in the Carolina League this season. Each year he’s refined his approach a little bit, and he’s polished for a guy at such a young age. [Yamamoto is 21.] He’s flown under the radar throughout his entire career. Jordy has performed well.
“There’s nothing that jumps off the page, but he has above-average fastball command, he works with a quality three-pitch mix, and he’s been successful at each level. He’s not a power guy, and I think that’s part of why [he flies under the radar]. It’s only natural, because the easiest thing to measure is velocity. Sometimes, when the radar gun doesn’t pop, it’s easy to look the other way. But there are a number of guys throughout baseball who have sustained success without elite velocity, and Jordy could be one of those guys.”
Farhan Zaidi, Los Angeles Dodgers: “I’m going to give a lame answer, but I really do believe it. I’m going to say Ross Stripling. For a lot of big-league teams he could be a solid rotation starter. He wound up being kind of a long man and versatile reliever for us this year, but he has a chance to pitch in the middle of a rotation. His first start for us [in 2016], he threw seven innings of no-hit ball against the Giants, and then as the season went on, he transitioned to the pen and did a really good job.
“I think he’s been under the radar a little bit because he was a Tommy John guy and his rise through the minor-league system got interrupted a little bit. I think when your career develops like that, almost out of roster depth, you get moved to the bullpen as opposed to being a failed starter and moving to the bullpen. There’s every reason to believe he can still start; we just didn’t necessarily need him in that role last year. He’s a guy we get asked about a lot, because an option-able starting pitcher who is a strike-thrower with good stuff has a lot of value.”
David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.