Monday, November 28, 2016

1991-2016 All-Underrated Team: Third Base

I have been watching baseball for 26 years now. In that time, I have been obsessed with under-the-radar players. These are my picks for an All-Underrated Team. I have picked one player for each position and their best season.
The Red Sox finished below .500 three seasons in a row coming into 1995.  This was the season that started late due to the strike of 1994.  Boston completely overhauled its roster, bringing in several new players and jettisoning others.  One trade that was made was to send All Star third-baseman Scott Cooper to the Cardinals for Mark Whiten and Rheal Cormier.  That left a hole at third base, but rather than acquire someone to plug in at third, they simply moved Tim Naehring to third full time.  It was a good move.
Naehring had been a touted prospect for several seasons and had been given multiple opportunities to stick in the lineup.  But injuries had kept him away from becoming a full-time player.  Finally, in 1994 Naehring appeared to turn a corner and filled in at second base for injured Scott Fletcher.  He also played a few games at third.  It was not known at the time, but Naehring would take the third base job permanently in 1995.
All but one game of Naehring's 126 games were spent at third base in 1995.  And that full season was actually better than either of Scott Cooper's All Star seasons by a considerable margin.  Naehring hit .307/.415/.448 and had a career high 27 doubles to go along with ten home runs and 57 RBIs.  His OBP was buoyed by walking 77 times versus just 66 strikeouts.  He also was one of the few players to perform well in the ALDS against the Indians, hitting .308 with a home run in the three game set.  On top of his hitting performance, Naehring was also an impressive fielder.  He was tagged with 16 errors, but most of those were throwing errors that were more a product of Mo Vaughn's rather poor ability to scoop throws out.
Naehring looked to be finally fulfilling his potential and he crushed 17 home runs with 65 RBIs in 1996.  In 1997 he was hitting .286 with nine home runs when he suffered a career-ending injury.  Just like that, Naehring was done at just 30.
HONORABLE MENTIONS (Scott Cooper and Shea Hillenbrand do not qualify as they were All Stars in their best seasons and Bill Mueller's Silver Slugger in 2003 eliminates him from consideration for that season):
Bill Mueller 2004
John Valentin 1998
Mike Lowell 2006

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