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Werth, Gonzalez NL's most underrated

Werth, Gonzalez NL's most underrated

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One flies beneath the radar, in his own dugout, no less. The other flies under the cover of darkness and relative anonymity, because he is getting his hits while most of the country is sleeping.

Philadelphia outfielder Jayson Werth and San Diego first baseman Adrian Gonzalez are the two most underrated players in the National League, according to a poll of Major League executives and managers conducted by MLB.com.

Underrated, but certainly not unnoticed.

Last week, Werth tied a franchise record with four stolen bases in a game against the Dodgers, including a steal of home in the seventh inning of a 5-3 victory when he noticed that Dodgers catcher Russell Martin essentially was ignoring him.

"He probably gets lost a little with [Jimmy] Rollins, [Chase] Utley and [Ryan] Howard there, but he's a very good player. He does everything well," Padres general manager Kevin Towers said of Werth. "He's such an instinctual player, and he's the kind of player who can really hurt you."

As for Gonzalez, he continues to make ballparks from San Diego to Houston to Chicago and all points between look small. Gonzalez hit five home runs on a recently completed road trip and now leads the NL with 15.

"He doesn't give you a lot of room ... you better not make a mistake with him," Dodgers manager Joe Torre said. "He's so quiet up there [at the plate]. But he's got a good sense, and he has good reach. Whenever we have a meeting, we talk about not letting him beat us."

Chicago's Ryan Theriot, Milwaukee's Corey Hart, Philadelphia's Shane Victorino, Pittsburgh's Ryan Doumit and Colorado's Garrett Atkins were the only other players who received two or more votes from Major League executives and managers.

Yet, for the recent success Werth and Gonzalez have enjoyed, it's still evident that, for different reasons, these two players have a fly-beneath-the-radar element to them.

Take Werth, who in 2008, at age 29, had a breakthrough season with the Phillies, who went on to win the World Series. Getting more than 400 at-bats for the first time in his career, Werth hit .273 with 24 home runs, 73 RBIs and 20 stolen bases.

So far this season, it's been more of the same, as Werth has provided a steady bat for a team that still is waiting for Howard and Rollins to get hot.

Even on the same field as Howard, Rollins and Utley, Werth still manages to stand out.

"He always plays so well against us," Mets manager Jerry Manuel said. "But when you think of the Phillies, folks will think of the first baseman [Howard], the second baseman [Utley] and the shortstop [Rollins] first. And now they have [Raul] Ibanez. But Werth hurts you in every way. And he's getting better as a hitter."

Werth is hitting .294 this season with six home runs and 24 RBIs. Better still, he's hitting .333 in May as the resurgent Phillies have overcome a slow start.

"I think he does a lot more than people think," Milwaukee general manager Doug Melvin said. "He's a good runner [and] he has a good arm in the outfield. He's very under the radar, because for as good an offensive club as [the Phillies] are, he brings the right-handed balance."

Werth and Gonzalez, who turned 27 last week, are a lot alike in that they were former first-round picks in the First-Year Player Draft. Werth was the 22nd overall pick in 1997 by the Orioles, while Gonzalez was the No. 1 overall pick in 2000 by the Marlins.

Werth is with his fourth organization, while Gonzalez is with his third. Each developed a little slower than others have, as Werth, originally drafted as a catcher, was moved to the outfield. Gonzalez didn't find his niche until arriving in his native San Diego after a trade with Texas in '06.

"He's a guy who, as a young player in his first couple of years, was just trying to stick," Towers said. "It takes some guys longer. But Adrian understands the ballpark he plays in and what he needs to do to be successful. He is ... establishing himself as one of the top offensive and defensive players in the league."

Gonzalez appears on his way to a third straight season of 30 or more home runs and 100 RBIs. He arrived in 2008, when he appeared in his first All-Star Game and won an NL Gold Glove.

And, based on comments from executives and managers, Gonzalez is only getting better.

"The most underrated player in the National League is Adrian Gonzalez. I think he's one of the best players in the National League on both ends of the ball," Colorado general manager Dan O'Dowd said.

"He's a clutch hitter. He's one of the most feared players in the game, and no one talks about him because he plays at PETCO [Park]. And his numbers are good even though he plays in that park. I see him being able to do everything [as a hitter]. And he's outstanding defensively."

Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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