Aaron Judge. Mookie Betts.Even baseball fans outside of the Yankees and Red Sox vortex have most likely heard of these superstars. And while guys like Judge and Betts are undoubtedly a big part of their club's fates, it takes a team of 25 -- and often more -- to excel
Aaron Judge. Mookie Betts.
Even baseball fans outside of the Yankees and Red Sox vortex have most likely heard of these superstars. And while guys like Judge and Betts are undoubtedly a big part of their club's fates, it takes a team of 25 -- and often more -- to excel over 162 games.
To that end, every team needs some unsung heroes. The guys who step in when there's a big injury, or step up when others around them are struggling. This week, MLB.com takes a look at five names you need to know, the early under-the-radar stars of the American League East.
Red Sox 1B Mitch Moreland
Why you should know about him: Moreland has managed to be a force, despite starting in only 18 of Boston's first 36 games this season. Nearly every time manager Alex Cora has put him in the lineup, he has made key contributions on offense and defense. Of Moreland's first 25 hits this season, 12 were for extra bases. And who could forget his pinch-hit grand slam in Oakland on April 20?
Why you don't: On a team that includes offensive stars Betts, J.D. Martinez and Xander Bogaerts, it's easy to forget about Moreland. The left-handed hitter is also the furthest thing from a self-promoter, as he quietly does his job every time he gets the chance.
What they're saying: "He's a good hitter. He proved it last year. He had a great season. That's one of the reasons we brought him back. You take a look at what he's doing right now, and not only on the field, but in the clubhouse, what he brings to the equation, it's great. He's putting pressure on the manager to play more. I like that. We do feel that he can hit lefties and righties. When his number is called upon, we feel very comfortable with him. He hits fourth, he hits fifth, this guy, it doesn't matter. He's been in winning situations, and he's contributing to this one." -- Cora
Yankees IF Ronald Torreyes
Why you should know about him: It seems like every time Torreyes is in the lineup, he is able to contribute to helping the Yankees win a game, whether it be on offense or defense. He is versatile in the field, and he has a remarkable ability to barrel baseballs, no matter how long it has been since his last at-bat.
Why you don't: Torreyes started in only 12 of the Yanks' first 36 games. He filled in admirably last April when shortstop Didi Gregorius was on the disabled list, but with the emergence of Gregorius, third baseman Miguel Andujar and second baseman Gleyber Torres, Torreyes has returned to his usual reserve role.
What they're saying: "Pro. He just does a lot of things well. Prepares really well. I love watching him prepare, bouncing around different positions, getting all of his work in. He's been a spark for us. Whether he's sitting over there for a while, he goes out and seems to figure it out in the box. Whatever position you throw at him, he seems to get it done. Just a really valuable piece for us." -- Yankees manager Aaron Boone
Blue Jays OF Kevin Pillar
Why you should know about him: Despite never having won a Gold Glove Award, Pillar is generally regarded as one of the top defensive outfielders. His Superman dives have become his own personal trademark across Canada, and he makes frequent appearances on the highlight reels.
Why you don't: Pillar has never really offered much beyond his glove. Entering Wednesday, he had a career on-base percentage of .306, but surprisingly enough, it's his bat that deserves some praise during the early stages of 2018. Pillar has moved into the heart of Toronto's lineup, and he entered Wednesday tied for the Major League lead with 15 doubles. He also led the Blue Jays in hits (42), average (.309) and slugging percentage (.537).
What they're saying: "When you look at him, his pitch selection has been good. He has been laying off some tough pitches and putting the ball in play. You hope he keeps on this run. He's moved up into the middle of the order, and that's a good thing. ... He was playing pretty well and doing some things in Spring Training that carried into the season. That's pitch selection and putting the barrel on the ball." -- Blue Jays bench coach DeMarlo Hale
Rays IF Daniel Robertson
Why you should know about him: The Rays wanted Robertson to play winter ball following the 2017 season. Instead, he asked if he could stay home and work on his body. Tampa Bay allowed Robertson to do so, and he showed up to camp 15 pounds lighter. The loss of weight has served him well. Robertson has turned into a valuable player on offense and defense, and he can play multiple infield positions.
Why you don't: Robertson had an unheralded rookie season in 2017, when he shined in the field. Now, his offense has come around, and he's moving toward becoming a complete player.
What they're saying: "We came into this season thinking Robby was going to play a lot of second base, and then spell some other guys. [Now], we don't view him as spelling anybody." -- Rays manager Kevin Cash
Orioles LHP Richard Bleier
Why you should know about him: It's tough to envision a reliever having a better start to a year than Bleier, who entered Wednesday with a 0.44 ERA in 20 2/3 innings. He's allowed one earned run over 16 outings with a 0.92 WHIP, as he has quickly become Baltimore's most reliable reliever.
Why you don't: The Orioles are in last place in the AL East and entered Wednesday with the worst record in the Majors. Plus, Bleier doesn't strike out a lot of guys and isn't overpowering. Who can forget the bases-loaded spot in which he retired Judge and Giancarlo Stanton at Yankee Stadium last month? Bleier's entire arsenal is under the radar.
What they're saying: "He's still under the radar a little bit, I think, because the strikeouts aren't glaring at you. When you look at the peripheral stuff and don't understand how Richard pitches, you may not be that impressed with it. But there's a lot of parts about it that should get your attention. He's not an Andrew Miller approach. But you're seeing a guy really come into, 'Here's who I am, and here's what I need to do to be successful." -- O's manager Buck Showalter
Brittany Ghiroli has covered the Orioles for MLB.com since 2010. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter @britt_ghiroli, and listen to her podcast.