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Tuesday, April 21, 2009
Updated: April 24, 1:01 AM ET
Kinsler, Hill, Markakis emerging as big-time hitters

ESPN.com

Tom Szczerbowski/US Presswire

Aaron Hill might not be a household name yet, but it might just be a matter of time.

OUT OF THE SPOTLIGHT ... FOR NOW

By Tim Kurkjian, ESPN The Magazine

There are a lot of really good hitters in the majors right now who are a little bit "under the radar." Attention seems to be headed their way, and it should arrive very soon.

The Rangers' Ian Kinsler is certainly one of those guys. He hit .319 last year with 63 extra-base hits and he missed the final month and a half of the season with an injury. He might have had 80 extra-base hits if he played a full year, and that is really something for a second baseman. He's continuing to prove what kind of hitter he is this season. I don't think he's going away anytime soon. Five years from now I think we'll be saying that Kinsler is one of the most productive second basemen we've seen in a long time.

While I'm not putting him in the category with guys like Jeff Kent, Craig Biggio and Roberto Alomar quite yet, I do think Kinsler is a great young player with tons of potential. I remember somebody telling me you cannot throw a fastball by this guy. Anytime a young hitter can catch up with anything hard and then adjust off of that, it's impressive.

Another second baseman who's a really good player is Toronto's Aaron Hill. He has 15 RBIs and five homers already this season. If you remember, he hit 17 homers and drove in 78 runs in 2007 but got hurt last season and played only 55 games. But, without a doubt, he can hit.

Ask Rick Sutcliffe
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I'm still not sure everyone understands just how good Baltimore's Nick Markakis is. He's still only 25 years old and he's already had a 100-RBI season (2007) and very nearly a second one last year, when he had 87 RBIs. He's a lifetime .300 hitter. He can run and he can really play right field. He quietly piles up the doubles and extra-base hits, and I'm not sure that everybody is noticing.

Most baseball fans will recognize these names, but it can be tough for players who don't play in one of the biggest markets to get attention. But a lot of guys, given the opportunity to play, can be productive. Look at Ryan Ludwick, for instance. He's kind of come out of nowhere to be a 35-home run guy. He hit more home runs last year than he did in all the previous years of his career combined. He found something in his game, and part of the reason was he got to play every day. I think there are a lot of hitters out there who if they can stay healthy and have the opportunity to get to the plate 600 times are going to be pretty darn good. Ludwick is the perfect example of that. He kind of banged around with a few teams (Texas and Cleveland), but now, finally with the chance to play, he is really fun to watch.

There's a bright future for a lot of young players, especially a lot of middle infielders like Kinsler, Hill and, of course, Florida's Hanley Ramirez. Not everybody knows these guys now, but it won't be long before everybody knows them.

Past Baseball Tonight Clubhouses: April 21 | April 20 | April 19 | April 16 | April 15

TOUCH 'EM ALL

Touch 'Em AllWho went deep? Keep track of all the home runs hit each day on "Baseball Tonight" and on the Baseball Tonight Clubhouse page.

For more, check out the Home Run Tracker page.

Home Run Tracker
NAME HR OPPPITCHER SITUATION
K. Youkilis, Bos4MinBakerBot 1: 1-2, 2 Outs. 1 on.
N. Green, Bos1MinBakerBot 2: 0-1, 1 Outs. 1 on.
M. Lowell, Bos3MinBakerBot 3: 0-0, 2 Outs. 1 on.
K. Suzuki, Oak1NYYSabathiaTop 2: 2-2, 0 Outs. 2 on.
H. Matsui, NYY2OakAndersonBot 2: 1-0, 1 Outs. None on.

The complete list of Wednesday's homers

ON DECK: THURSDAY'S BEST MATCHUPS

Reds at Cubs

One of the best pitching matchups on a day filled with them. The Cubs have won all three games Carlos Zambrano has started this season despite the right-hander's 5.21 ERA, which spiked after he allowed seven runs in his most recent outing against St. Louis. Aaron Harang has a 2.70 ERA through three starts, he just hasn't gotten much help from the Reds' offense. In his three starts, Cincinnati has scored two runs.

Brewers at Phillies

Neither of Cole Hamels' first two starts has gone well. He was gone after 3 2/3 innings of his first outing against Colorado after giving up seven runs, then exited after allowing eight hits and five runs in an 8-7 loss against San Diego. His opponent, Dave Bush, hasn't been involved in a decision in three starts, and will carry his 0-0 record to the mound Thursday.

Dodgers at Astros

Chad Billingsley's numbers keep improving. He was 16-10 a season ago with a 3.14 ERA. He is perfect through three starts this season, and has a 2.84 ERA to go with his 3-0 record. Wandy Rodriguez, despite his 1-1 record, might have more impressive numbers. He carries with him a 1.98 ERA and a .177 batting average against.

For the rest of Thursday's schedule, click here.

BBTN ON THE AIR: THURSDAY

TIME WHO'S ON?
10 p.m. ET
ESPN
Host: Karl Ravech
Analysts: Buster Olney, Fernando Vina, Buck Showalter

12 a.m. ET
ESPN
Host: Steve Berthiaume
Analyst: Buster Olney, Fernando Vina, Buck Showalter

BBTN MINUTE: UNDERRATED PLAYERS

SIMON SAYS

Simon Says ESPN researcher Mark Simon digs deep, looking for the night's best baseball numbers.

Tonight, he looks at the Royals' success away from home this season -- and he traces it back to Kansas City's starting pitching. Brian Bannister pitched six shutout innings in Thursday's 2-0 win against Cleveland:

Royals starters in 2009
Home Road
W-L 2-2 4-1
ERA 5.03 1.79
Quality starts 1 7
Games 6 8

WEB GEMS

WEDNESDAY'S BEST AND WORST

BEST
Dan HarenDan Haren pitched well enough over his first three starts to get a win. In his fourth start, he finally, you know, got a win. Haren (1-3) struck out nine over seven shutout innings in the Diamondbacks' 2-0 win against the Rockies. Haren lowered his ERA to 1.38.
Johnny Cueto• How about the pitching in the Reds' game with the Cubs? Neither staff gave up a walk in the Reds' 3-0 victory. Johnny Cueto topped Ted Lilly by tossing seven shutout innings, allowing four hits. Lilly allowed five hits over seven innings, but surrendered one run.
WORST
Scott Baker• The Twins had a rough day in Boston. Minnesota lost 10-1 in the opener of the split doubleheader with the Red Sox, then fell 7-3 in the nightcap. Scott Baker, who started the first game for Minnesota, didn't set the best tone for the day -- he gave up 10 hits and six runs over 4 2/3 innings.
Brian GilesBrian Giles had yet another rough day at the plate in the Padres' 1-0 loss against the Giants. Now, granted, pretty much the entire San Diego lineup struggled against Barry Zito and three San Francisco relievers, but Giles' 0-for-5, two-strikeout day lowered his average to .159.

NUMBERS TO KNOW

Gil Meche takes the hill for the Kansas City Royals on Thursday, looking to continue a solid start to the season in which he has allowed five earned runs in 20.0 innings pitched. How should the Indians attack Meche? Go after pitches early in the count, because while any pitcher is tough to hit late in the count, Meche is especially difficult:

Gil Meche
Meche AL avg.
2008-09 BA SLG BA SLG
Early .375 .552 .330 .523
Late .188 .287 .222 .346

-- ESPN Stats & Information

FANTASY: PREVIEW OF THURSDAY'S GAMES

AJ Mass examines the nine games on Thursday's slate.

Fantasy Mass ranks the pitchers scheduled to take the mound and supplies loads of other information that could help shape your roster for Thursday. Daily Notes