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Milwaukee shortstop Jean Segura has been one of the league’s biggest surprises this season.

Lynne Sladky • Associated Press,

MLB Sunday Insider: 10 surprise players this season

  • June 15, 2013 - 7:32 PM

It happens every year. Players have breakout seasons or make an instant impact. They can be young players who make the game look easy, or players with some experience that suddenly figure things out.

This season, we are trying to figure out how to pronouce Jean Segura’s name (it’s Jean as in blue jeans). And we are wondering if Daniel Nava can continue to come through with clutch hits. They are among this list of ten players who have been some of the biggest surprises this season.

1. Josh Donaldson, 3B, Athletics

He was sent down twice last season, once after hitting .094 in April and again after batting .182 in May and June. He returned in August and stuck around on a team that reached the playoffs. This season, his plate discipline is vastly different, and he entered the weekend batting .310 with nine homers and 42 RBI.

2. Patrick Corbin, RHP, Diamondbacks: Part of the trade for Dan Haren in 2010, Corbin (9-0, 2.28) is making the Angels pay for dealing him. He throws four pitches for strikes and uses his slider to finish off hitters.

3. Jason Grilli, RHP, Pirates

He had five career saves heading into the season. Now Grilli is living large with a 0.94 ERA and 23 saves. And his 47 strikeouts would lead the Twins pitching staff.

4. Shelby Miller, RHP, Cardinals: Oh, to be 22 years old and have a 97 miles-per-hour fastball. Miller (7-4, 2.21) has stepped up on a Cardinals staff that has been hit with injuries. On May 10, he gave up a leadoff hit, then retired 27 straight batters.

5. Jean Segura, SS, Brewers

Good range and excellent arm. But his bat could be special. Segura (.339-10-30) is willing to hit the ball where it’s pitched — probably because he has power to all fields.

6. Matt Harvey, RHP, Mets: There is a push for the hard-throwing Harvey (5-1, 2.04) to start for the National League in the All-Star Game at Citi Field.

7. Daniel Nava, OF, Red Sox:

In 2007, he was playing independent ball. On Wednesday, he hit a winning home run at the end of a 10-pitch at-bat. Nava (.296-9-44) will be a big write-in candidate for the All-Star Game.

8. Hyun-Jim Ryu, RHP, Dodgers: He’s a rookie but pitches like a polished pro. While his teammates provoke fights on the field, Ryu (6-2, 2.85) has quietly taken the team lead in victories.

9. Carlos Gomez, CF, Brewers

Go-Go (.326-11-36) showed flashes last year of something sinking in and has taken off this season, leading baseball in WAR (Wins Above Replacement). Can he keep it up?

10. Mitch Moreland, 1B, Rangers: Since his first 17 games, Moreland is batting .333 with 10 homers and 25 RBI. That’s one less team that will be looking for a first baseman before the trade deadline.

Central Intelligence

The Tigers are, and will be, a very dangerous team to tangle with.

They entered the weekend eight games over .500 and leading the American League Central by 4½ games, yet some wonder why they haven’t made a mockery of the division yet. Patience.

They have a good offense. Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder are one of the best 1-2 punches in the game. The starting rotation is to die for, led by ace Justin Verlander. They have the two big areas covered. Next up: the bullpen.

Tigers starters had posted a quality start (pitch at least six innings, give up no more than three earned runs) in 19 of their past 20 games before Saturday. They were just 11-8 in those games.

That suggests bullpen problems. But picking up bullpen help before the trade deadline shouldn’t be a problem with a team with World Series dreams.

• • •

Kansas City had won eight of nine games since Billy Butler handed out bottles of barbecue sauce with his name on it — Billy Butler’s Hit It A Ton Barbeque sauce.

The Royals have used it as rally sauce, keeping bottles in the dugout during games and dousing Eric Hosmer with it after his walk-off hit on Wednesday.

• • •

After batting .265 in April and .257 in May, the Indians were batting .239 as a team in June with a .298 on base percentage.

Consequently, they were 3-8 this month heading into the weekend.

• • •

White Sox manager Robin Ventura turned down a chance to extend his contract after last season. With the Sox struggling, Ventura left the team to watch one of his children graduate high school. Fair or not, he felt he needed to address speculation about his heart not being in his role.

“For one reason or another, there is a whisper that because it is going the way it is, I am not going to come back,’’ Ventura said. “That is the furthest thing from the truth. For me, I’m in it for as long as I’m in it, and then you go from there. In a situation like this, I would be ashamed to walk away just because it’s tough. That is part of being in it with these guys. I’m here as much as they are as far as turning it around.’’

The 3-2 pitch

Three observations …

• If MLB wants to build interest in the draft, give it the spotlight. Schedule a leaguewide off day for the first day of the draft so all the attention will be focused on the draft.

• Speaking of the draft, six African-Americans were selected in the first round, the second most since 1992. This comes as baseball ponders why African-Americans made up only 8.5 percent of Opening Day rosters this year.

• Let’s see. The Angels have traded Mike Napoli, Patrick Corbin and Jean Segura in recent seasons. That explains it.

… and two predictions

• Kohl Stewart will make his Twins debut in June 2017.

• The Rangers will take over first place in the AL West by July 4.
 

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