Filtered throughout every current Major League Baseball team are a mix of players, stars, role players, fill-in guys and big players off the bench, and it is vital for a team to contain the right balance to be considered championship material. While star players such as Mike Trout or Clayton Kershaw are pivotal to the overall success of a team, when it comes time to play playoff baseball, they can sometimes struggle, as evidenced by their recent playoff performances. If the right role players are not in place, then these struggles or even injuries can be detrimental, whereas the right group of players can carry a team to championship glory regardless.
Many undervalued players can make big names for themselves with breakout seasons, or clutch performances in the off season, and as is typically the case in the Major League Baseball, they tend to get over paid for their effort. With most of the attention being paid to past performances and analytics, not many players will feel undervalued, as employees can now be paid by franchises just to find these types of players and give them the money they deserve. It is because of this that many players on this list have yet to have their break out seasons, or still remain tied to their teams on rookie contracts, and without a doubt, these guys will be getting paid big dollars in the years to come, when negotiating begins and their true potential as players are realized.
In the same fashion as the previously released American League version, here is the player from every National League team that offers the most valuable contributions for their current annual contract earnings.
Arizona Diamondbacks: Chris Owings $500,000
After a big offseason and a heavily bolstered rotation, picking up both Zack Greinke and Shelby Miller, Arizona will now rely on its younger core players to back up the superstar starters, with young guys like Paul Goldschmidt, Nick Ahmed and Chris Owings expected to all produce at a high level. Owings is a talented young player, capable of succeeding at a high level in every infield position, with a nice bat and great speed. He is one of the young stars Arizona will look to build their very bright future around.
Atlanta Braves: Julio Teheran $5,400,000
On a team with no bright spots on the horizon, Julio Teheran has established himself as a viable ace, despite little defense and direction behind him on the part of the organization. With an unorthodox action and above average control and velocity, Teheran has taken it upon himself to lead this young, star-less rotation to give the Braves organization and fans some hope. Despite the larger contract, Teheran is a standout performer for the Braves that he is the only logical choice, for the next few years until a few of the youngest prospects in the organization, like shortstop Dansby Swanson make their way to the Major League level.
Chicago Cubs: Kris Bryant $652,000
Rookie of the Year in 2015, Bryant’s debut was met with much anticipation and hype, all of which was lived up to in his first full year, taking the Cubs to the National League Championship Series with the help of ace Jake Arietta, despite losing to the Mets in 4 games. An excellent glove at third, hitting with power and average with maturity way beyond his years, and a great team mate in the clubhouse and on the field, Bryant is a huge reason why the Cubs have a chance at building a dynasty in the next decade, as he leads the fantastic young core with his attitude every day.
Cincinnati Reds: Billy Hamilton $570,000
Is there any man quicker in all of baseball, perhaps all of sport than Billy Hamilton? Rational thinking says that if there is, he has not been found as of yet, as Hamilton has led the league in steals every year as a major leaguer, while playing fantastic center field and hitting for an outstanding average. If Hamilton’s power game and arm can be improved upon, he could become either a valuable trade asset for the Reds or a player to build the future on, as he has franchise changing talent and attitude towards the game.
Colorado Rockies: Trevor Story $507,500
No story (pun intended) has been more surprising and fun to watch in 2016 than that of Rockies short stop, Trevor Story, the replacement of organization great Troy Tulowitzki. He hit 9 home runs in April, his first Major League month, and was the most destructive player in all of the National League in hitter friendly Coors Park. Even if this record setting pace doesn’t continue due to being figured out by pitchers, with a lowly salary under $1 million, his contributions make him a valuable player to the overall future of the Rockies organization.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Kenta Maeda $3,125,000
With the Dodgers loss of starters through injury and free agency, they turned to Japanese stud Kenta Maeda in the hopes of solidifying the rotation behind Clayton Kershaw. With a higher than usual salary for an MLB rookie, he proved in professional Japanese ball, that if he can be anywhere near the player he was, he will be a significant contributor to his team. As early performance indicates, Maeda has the potential to be an All-Star, and if he can avoid injury and gradually improve performance, he could be a steal of a player and be a major part of a destructive rotation.
Miami Marlins: Jose Fernandez $2,800,000
In 2014, Fernandez was seen as the future of a very boring Marlins team, and the best young pitcher in baseball by far. 2 years later, the Marlins, while off to a good start in the NL East (despite being 4th behind 3 other great teams), are not seen in the same league as many other great teams in the NL, and Fernandez has begun to blend in with a crop of many good young pitchers, due to Tommy John’s surgery. Despite this, he has the ability to dominate teams, with a great fast ball and a wicked breaking ball, and has the potential to once again reclaim a spot at the top of the Marlins rotation and take over many other young pitchers who are considered elite.
Milwaukee Brewers: JonathAn Lucroy $2,200,000
A Brewers franchise that has in recent years been down on its luck, since the loss of Prince Fielder and their recent collapse, has had very little to look on in a positive light, especially with the controversy surrounding Ryan Braun, but one constant in the lineup is perennial All-Star catcher Jonathan Lucroy. While not the most outstanding catcher in the NL by far, behind Yadier Molina and Buster Posey, Lucroy gives a team everything they need in a catcher, a solid glove, a good arm and a great bat. He has declared himself one of the best catchers in baseball, and outside of the aforementioned duo, it is hard to find any fault in that logic.
New York Mets: Noah Syndergaard $535,375
For years, baseball experts have been raving about the young, up and coming Mets rotation which included Matt Harvey and Jacob DeGrom, and after a trade with the Blue Jays netted them young flame throwing “Thor”, they had solidified themselves as championship contenders for years to come, evidenced by their appearance in the 2015 World Series. With a fastball averaging 97mph, and amazing secondary pitches, Noah has position himself as the brightest young pitcher in the game, and now that he has experienced post season baseball (and success), there is no doubt he will capitalize on this ability and become on of the best arms of this entire generation.
Philadelphia Phillies: Maikel Franco $517,500
One of the surprising break out seasons in 2015 came via Maikel Franco of the Phillies, a big power hitter who plays fantastic defense at the hot corner, who has become a corner stone of a revitalized young Phillies team in 2016. While rookie numbers can be misleading to teams, there is no doubt Franco has the ability to lead the Phillies into the future, as he is seen as a true 5 tool player, despite being one of the less talked about stars due to great Rookie performances at 3rd from Matt Duffy and Rookie of the Year Kris Bryant.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Gerrit Cole $548,000
Unlike the success of many other young starters like Bumgarner and Wacha, Cole has not had a chance to shine too brightly on the biggest stage in the playoffs, due to yet another loss in the Wild Card game for his Pirates, but throughout the regular season, continues to show he can be a guy to lead this Pirates rotation into the future. Despite struggles, Cole has gone on several tears throughout his career, with win streaks of 5-6 games multiple times, showing that he has the ability to finally put the Pirates over the hill and into the playoffs for real with a bit of help from the back end of the rotation.
San Diego Padres: Wil Myers $523,900
Despite taking a backwards step after his Rookie of the Year start in Tampa Bay, Myers remains a solid contributor, albeit to a less than stellar Padres team, with little hope of playoff success in the near future. He can play several outfield positions, with great range and an above average arm, and has the potential to rekindle the hitting talent for both power and average, which will make him an asset to whatever team he plays on. With more experience, Myers wil improve and with the low salary is fantastic value.
San Francisco Giants: Joe Panik $545,000
During their recent 2014 World Series victory, no player was more pivotal to the success than World Series MVP Madison Bumgarner, yet many role players like Brandon Crawford, Travis Ishikawa and Michael Morse all made their contributions heard. Lost in among these successes was Joe Panik, who quietly sported an above .300 batting average, despite being in his rookie year, and made several clutch plays in the field throughout the playoffs and World Series. Despite injuries, Panik remains an above average 2-hole hitter and an outstanding glove, and his contract significantly helps the Giants keep in tact their completely homegrown infield.
St. Louis Cardinals: Michael Wacha $539,000
Despite the Cardinals, year after year having one of the best rotations in baseball in spite of the constant injuries, Wacha, along with Carlos Martinez, has separated himself from the rest, proving that with a repertoire including above average fast ball, curve ball, slider and change up he can be an ace of the rotation for the future, and a star in the League. Much like most other young starters in the game, he has struggled significantly with injury, but with good health he has proved he can be relied on in the biggest moments baseball has to offer, evidenced by his run in the Cardinals unfortunate World Series loss in 2013.
Washington Nationals: Bryce Harper $3,750,000
A player I’m sure not many expected on this list, Bryce Harper has often been seen as a once in a generation star, along with fellow young sensation Mike Trout, and this was finally capitalized on in 2015 when he earned his first MVP trophy, hitting over 40 home runs in the process. Where else can a team get MVP performance for such a low salary? In the AL in 2015, MVP Josh Donaldson earned a yearly salary of over $10,000,000, and while he earned that, the salary of under $5 million shows how dedicated Harper is not only to his own game, but the success of his team as a whole, allowing them to bring in players like Max Sherzer to gain maximum potential from a great team.
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