Who were the 3 most underrated players from the Cincinnati Reds 2021 season

Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Sonny Gray (54) pitches.
Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Sonny Gray (54) pitches. / Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports
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The Cincinnati Reds overachieved in 2021. While the team still finished third in the National League Central Division, not many so-called experts expected Cincinnati to finish the season above .500. The Reds went 83-79; their first winning season since 2013 (the Reds were 31-29 during the 2020 pandemic-shortened season).

While a lot of credit goes to the highly-touted lineup that included All-Stars Nick Castellanos and Jesse Winker, NL Rookie of the Year Jonathan India, and the resurgent season of former MVP Joey Votto, the Reds had some unexpected contributions from a handful of players who may not be as recognizable as the aforementioned quartet.

With the cost-cutting that fans have already seen this offseason, the Reds will need similar production from some under-the-radar players in 2022. But let's take a look back at last season and see who Cincinnati's top three most underrated performers were.

1. Sonny Gray, Cincinnati Reds pitcher

We can't call Sonny Gray underrated as far as his standing in the big leagues is concerned. The Vanderbilt alum does have two All-Star appearances to his credit. But with the success of Wade Miley's 2021 season coupled with the performances of both Luis Castillo and Tyler Mahle, Gray's 2021 season tends to be easily dismissed as a below-average season for the right-hander.

That's a bit of a stretch. Despite multiple trips to the injured list, Gray still managed to start 26 games, which was only two less than Miley. The 32-year-old did post an uninspiring 4.19 ERA, but his FIP was 3.99 and Gray struck out 155 batters over 135.1 innings of work. That's 30 more punch outs than fellow veteran hurler Wade Miley, and good enough for third-most on the team.

Gray's K/9 was pretty much in-line with the numbers he put up during his first two seasons in the Queen City, and his 3.33 BB/9 is his lowest since joining the Redlegs in 2019. Gray's 3.3 bWAR was sixth-highest on the team, which was better than both All-Star outfielders Nick Castellanos (3.2 bWAR) and Jesse Winker (2.7 bWAR).

It may be a bit of a stretch to call Sonny Gray's 2021 season underrated, but to think of he right-hander as the fourth-best starter on last year's Reds team is just foolish. Wade Miley had an outstanding year and Tyler Mahle posted career-bests in several categories, but despite a "down year", I still believe that Sonny Gray is the second-best pitcher on the Cincinnati Reds.

Cincinnati Reds relief pitcher Tony Santillan (64).
Cincinnati Reds relief pitcher Tony Santillan (64). / Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

2. Tony Santillan, Cincinnati Reds pitcher

Tony Santillan may not be starter material (though that has yet to be determined), but the right-hander was an absolute beast once he transitioned to the Cincinnati Reds bullpen. Santillan (1.5 bWAR) was second on the team in bWAR among relievers, with Tejay Antone (2.1 bWAR) leading the way.

Santillan was called up in June and started his first major league game versus the Colorado Rockies. The rookie went 4.2 innings of work and struck out five while allowing four free passes. The right-hander's next outing was at San Diego, and Santillan was pulled early in that affair in favor of a pinch hitter after allowing three runs on four hits.

After two more starts, Tony Santillan was sent to Triple-A Louisville. Not so much because the Texan was struggling, but because the Reds needed reinforcements out of their bullpen. It was assumed that Santillan's fastball/ slider combination could garner an overwhelming amount of swings and misses. That assumption was correct.

When Santillan returned to the Reds in mid-July, he was absolutely dominant in relief. Over 26.2 innings of work, Santillan recorded 36 strikeouts, posting a 12.15 K/9 and a 33.3% strikeout-rate. A 23.1% K-BB is quite impressive.

Tony Santillan was not thought of prior to the 2021 season, and his struggles as a starter are well-documented. But as a reliever, the right-hander was one of the most dominant pitchers out of the Cincinnati Reds bullpen. Santillan could enter the 2022 season as one of David Bell's best options to close out games in the ninth inning.

Cincinnati Reds pinch hitter Tyler Naquin (12) runs to third base.
Cincinnati Reds pinch hitter Tyler Naquin (12) runs to third base. / David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

3. Tyler Naquin, Cincinnati Reds outfielder

Lost in the shuffle of the All-Star seasons from Nick Castellanos and Jesse Winker was the performance of fellow outfielder Tyler Naquin. The former Cleveland star was signed last offseason to a minor-league contract with an invite to spring training.

Naquin skillset combined with a strong showing last spring helped the left-handed slugger earn a spot on the Cincinnati Reds Opening Day roster. An injury to Nick Senzel during the first game of the season saw Naquin thrust into action very quickly.

During his first 27 ABs, Naquin had seven hits, five of which cleared the fence. Naquin posted 14 RBIs in his first seven games for the Reds. Naquin eventually supplanted Senzel in center field and was able to start in place of both Winker and Castellanos when the outfielders were injured or needed a day off.

Naquin eventually succumbed to an injury of his own after colliding with rookie infielder Jose Barrero. The injury ended Naquin's season prematurely, but the 30-year-old had already set career-highs in games played, plate appearances, home runs, and RBIs.

Next. Which Reds position player is most likely to be traded?. dark

All three players had a significant role in the Cincinnati Reds pursuit of a playoff spot in 2021 and the trio is slated to return in 2022. That said, Sonny Gray has been the subject of many trade rumors already this season and could be dealt once the lockout is over.