While the stars steal all the headlines in baseball, it’s a team’s backups that steal the bases, steal the hearts of fans and push a team far into the Major League postseason.
More often than not, the big market teams feature the best backups – in many cases, players who could start for half of the other teams in the league (perhaps more). It’s also true that some rosters feature former starters that are reduced to the backup role now that their age has caught up to them – but that doesn’t mean that each still can’t hit, or play defense.
At any rate, it’s a tricky one to piece together, but here’s my list of the top ten best backup bench players in Major League Baseball.
I think you’ll be very surprised by the top choice…
Major League Baseball’s Current Top Ten Best Backup Players
10. Felix Pie – Baltimore Orioles
Many listed Pie a “can’t miss, turned bust”, but Terry Crowley has helped him improve his game in Baltimore – most notably to a .400 start in his first 20 AB’s of 2010.
However, the 25-year old Pie was injured and is currently out for a few months.
Upon his return, he’ll still be labeled a backup, fighting to earn playing time in a crowded outfield featuring Nick Markakis, Adam Jones, Nolan Reimold and Luke Scott.
If he can stay healthy, don’t expect him to be a backup for long.
9. Maicer Izturis – Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
While there’s perhaps nothing glaring to jump up for joy about with Izturis, he basically puts together the entire scrappy package – solid defense, speed, flexibility to play multiple positions (2B, 3B, SS) and a pretty solid bat, too – specifically, a .270 average and 10 RBI in 37 AB’s so far this season.
8. Frank Catalanotto – New York Mets
Call him the “kitchen sink”, because everything else is included.
He plays infield… he plays outfield.
He has adjusted well to both the American League and National League – and the guy can still hit, as since entering the league in 1997, Catalanotto has finished the season with an average above .290 seven different times.
7. Melvin Mora – Colorado Rockies
Mora started for the Orioles for years, with the ability to play multiple infield positions well.
Last offseason, it didn’t make sense for Baltimore to keep him, as he didn’t fit in with the youth movement the Orioles have been promoting.
Now a backup playing at Coors Field half the year, Mora has performed well thus far, batting .295 with 7 RBI in 44 AB’s.
6. Marcus Thames – New York Yankees
Over the last four seasons as a backup in Detroit, Thames belted 82 HR’s – an average of over 20 per season, which is pretty impressive considering he never reached 400 AB’s in any of the four campaigns.
Now, Thames is with the Yankees – a stacked lineup that should only help him more – and so far as a backup in New York, he’s batting .428 (28 AB’s).
5. Mike Lowell – Boston Red Sox
Almost traded to Texas in the offseason, Lowell ended up staying in Boston due to injury concerns – and has since taken on more of a backup role. Injuries or no injuries, at the age of 36, Lowell continues to hit (.317 average, 1 HR, 9RBI) and prove that trading for him years ago was one of the best moves the Red Sox have made in their recent history – if not ever.
4. Omar Vizquel – Chicago White Sox
Sure, he’s in his 40’s – and while he still plays great defense, maybe it’s not quite as electric as years back when he won gold glove after gold glove.
Vizquel’s bat has also been quiet thus far in 2010, but as a defensive replacement – plus adding in plenty of experience and leadership – he is one of the best backups in all of baseball this year.
3. Jason Varitek – Boston Red Sox
Considered the captain for years in Boston, it was a new role for Varitek this season, jumping in as the backup for Victor Martinez.
However, flashing a hot bat (.324 avg., 5 HR, 9 RBI in 34 AB’s) – plus with the Red Sox struggling – there has been some chatter about Varitek potentially earning a starting role back, while placing Victor Martinez at the DH spot.
Either way, he’s been one of the bright spots in an otherwise dismal start for Boston.
2. Jim Thome – Minnesota Twins
For years, Thome’s bat was one of the most feared in all of baseball.
Heading into the 2010, the aging Thome accepted a more backup role in Minnesota, but has flourished so far this season – hitting 5 HR and adding in 15 RBI in 57 AB’s.
If the Twins remain on the playoff course, Thome’s bat will prove to be a major plus – whether pinch-hitting during the later innings or adding some left-handed pop in the DH spot.
1. Ryan Garko – Texas Rangers
Before you trash this pick, let me explain.
Sure, Garko has struggled as a backup with the Rangers this season (.074 avg in 27 AB’s) – but look at him and the value he brings as a backup player.
Garko is a good clubhouse guy who plays great defense. On top of that, while so many of the other players on this list cost millions, Garko is a bargain – never costing over a million for a season.
Finally, look at his postseason numbers, where he has batted .314 in 35 AB’s – and if put in the right situation, Garko can help a team greatly during a playoff run.
* Also posted to my Bleacher Report page