Well, I'm going to shorten up this year's version of the All Undervalued Team. Last year's version had a few hits (Jayson Werth, Brian Wilson), a few misses (Morgan Ensberg, Sam Fuld), and a few guys who may yet make an impact (Kevin Correia, Matt Murton, Kevin Frandsen). Even so, I thought I'd take another swing at if for 2009.
Anyway, here are a few guys I like for 2009 and beyond.
C - Taylor Teagarden
In Texas, Jarrod Saltalamacchia is the catcher of the present, but Teagarden is the catcher of the future. It'll be interesting to see how it all shakes out, but I'd be surprised if Teagarden doesn't supplant Salty sooner rather than later.
Teagarden's current problem is contact rate. He strikes out a great deal, which will likely prevent him from posting any .300+ batting averages. However, he has very good offensive upside, as he features plus power and controls the strike zone very well. He also has a very smooth, effective swing for a righthanded swing.
On defense, Teagarden is very strong. He has good footwork, which gives him good lateral movement behind the dish and helps quicken his release against would be basestealers.
At this point, his ability to make contact will determine his career path at the MLB level. If he can improve on it, then he could prove to have a few All Star seasons in him. Even if he doesn't, he should prove to be a very solid MLB backstop for years to come. It'll be interesting to see if can supplant Salty or if the Rangers trade him away for much needed pitching. Either way, it shouldn't be long before he is strapping on the "tools of ignorance" full time at the MLB level.
1b - Kila Ka'aihue
Kila had a massive 2008 season in which he slugged .600+ at double-A and triple-A. Kila is not a very athletic player and lacks foot speed. However, his calling card is skill at the plate, as he has plus power and strike zone control. Last year, Kila jumped three levels, starting at double-A moving to triple-A and finishing out the year with a cup of coffee in the Majors.
During his time in the minors, Kila posted a combined line of .314/.456/.628/1.085 with 37 homers and a stellar 104/67 K/BB ratio. It's rare to see a power hitter who walks more than he strikes out in the modern game, but Kila certainly has that ability.
Critics have pointed to the high percentage of his extra base hits that are homers, thinking that the low number of doubles indicates that his power surge isn't for real or sustainable. It remains to be seen whether 2008 established a higher baseline of performance or was more of a Chris Shelton type fluke season. At this point, it's difficult to say which, but it's difficult to ignore a player with such a high walk rate and moderate strikeout rate, especially when he packs the kind of power that Kila possesses.
2b - Jason Donald
Donald is a personal favorite of mine. He's the type of player whose production outpaces his tools. The type of player who almost seems to will himself to success.
The Phillies selected him in the 3rd round of the 2006 draft out of the University of Arizona. He uses a patient approach and controls the strike zone, but is aggressive when he gets the count in his favor. He has a good line drive stroke that produces sneaky power and he plays an intelligent game.
Donald has defensive versatility, but would likely be stretched at shortstop. He profiles best at second, but he will likely hit enough to hold down the hot corner as well. Unfortunately, he is currently blocked in a major way by Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, and Pedro Feliz. It'll take a trade to land him a full time job, but he should be very solid when he gets one.
3b - Matt Tuiasosopo
Tuiasosopo seems to have figured it out. He comes from a very athletic family, but like many pure athletes he has struggled to translate that athleticism into production. However, he seemed to turn the corner in 2008. He posted a line of .281/.364/.453 for triple-A Tacoma, but finished up strong with a .303/.380/.538 line in the second half.
He has a good work ethic and a strong defensive skill set. He also has the ability to control the strike zone, but until recently he lacked any pull power and utilized an inside-out swing. Now that he is more adept at turning on the ball, he is driving it with greater authority. He'll never be a big time homerun hitter, but his well diversified skill set still gives him good value. Incumbent Adrian Beltre is a free agent after the 2009 season, so Tui should be in line for the starting 3b job in 2010.
ss - Jed Lowrie
Lowrie was going to be my choice here, so I'll stick with it despite his wrist injury. He's got a very well-rounded game and a high baseball IQ. When he gets healthy, he should be a very productive offensive shortstop who is no slouch with the leather. If the BoSox are unwilling to make room for Lowrie at short, then I'd love to see the Reds acquire him.
That said, since his injury will knock him out for much of the season, I'll offer up a replacement nominee. I'm still a fan of Paul Janish and think he could be a sneaky valuable shortstop. His offensive game projects as being potentially valuable enough to warrant making him a starter. An above average defensive shortstop who can get on-base is a valuable commodity.
lf - Chris Dickerson
Yes, despite the slow start, I'm sticking with Dickerson. Obviously, he's still a bit raw, but all the tools are there. At this point, he needs to make an adjustment or two, but I find it difficult to believe that someone with his skill set and beautiful swing can't hit .260 at the MLB level.
If he can hit .260, then his power, speed, and ability to control the strike zone would make him a very valuable player. At this point, it's unclear whether he will ever reach his potential, but hopefully the Reds will give him a big enough sample size to prove it one way or the other.
cf -Ryan Spilborghs
Spilborghs may get squeezed out of the crowded Colorado outfield, but he is certainly deserving of a starting job. He can capably handle all three outfield spots and provides solid offensive production. He hits line drives at a good clip and gets on-base at a good clip. He lacks elite power, but he would like mighty good in leftfield for the Reds.
rf - Shin-Soo Choo
Choo is an interesting player and one that has flown almost completely under the radar. This is the season where he is getting a much bigger opportunity to show what he can do. On his career, Choo has a slash line of .286/.381/.484/.865 and a line-drive rate of 23.3%.
He seems a likely candidate to have something of a breakout season in 2009, as his production is about to meet with greater opportunity. He struggles a bit against southpaws, but most young lefthanded hitters do.
sp - Ricky Romero
It's time for a confession, back in 2005 the prospect that caught my eye the most in the draft was Ricky Romero. In the 2005 draft, you couldn't swing a dead cat without hitting an impact prospect in the first round, but Romero was not among them. That draft class included Jay Bruce, Cameron Maybin, Ryan Braun, Ryan Zimmerman, Chris Volstad, and others. Still, Romero was an impressive southpaw at Cal State Fullerton. He seemed polished and ready to move quickly up the ladder, but his progress has been slowed by injury and ineffectiveness.
However, that seemed to change when the Blue Jays kept him in spring training to work on his mechanics. After some mechanical adjustments, Romero seemed to be the pitcher of old. He features a fastball that sits at 90-91 and touches 94, but his best pitches are a power curveball with a sharp, tight break to it and a very deceptive change-up.
His 2009 season has been impressive to date, but unfortunately he was put on the DL with a strained oblique. It'll be interesting to see which Romero shows up when he returns from the DL, but he may finally be ready to reach his unrealized potential.
rp - Ryan Perry
Perry was drafted out of the University of Arizona in the 2008 draft. He has a huge arm, which produces a fastball that can touch 100 mph on the radar gun. He also features a power slider that at times can be a put away pitch. The Tigers continued their practice of being very aggressive in promoting their prospects, as Perry made the team out of spring training after only throwing 14.0 innings at the minor league level in 2008.
Perry could quickly take over the closer role for the Tigers, but for now he is being used carefully by skipper Jim Leyland. Still, if he continues to develop his secondary pitches and refines his command, Perry should be a very effective reliever who can work high leverage innings.