Uncovering the best-kept secrets

Uncovering the best-kept secrets

TUCSON, Ariz. -- The 2006 stats say there's no difference between the Rockies' Garrett Atkins and the Mets' David Wright. Downgrading Atkins because he plays at Coors Field doesn't wash. He hit .311 with 15 of his 29 home runs on the road.

Yet, Atkins can't say he's been profiled by People magazine. And, let's say the fan requests are a little different.

"I normally don't get too many unusual fan requests, just, 'Sign my ball,' 'Sign my card,' 'Sign my bat,' that type stuff," Atkins said. "I don't think I'm quite that important yet. I haven't seen any, 'Marry Me' signs like I've seen in New York."

So, where's the love for Atkins and others like him who seem to fly under the radar?

Several players are developing into stars away from the spotlight. In many cases, being in a small market and with a non-contending team is a combination that makes an electrifying player go unnoticed. Others are local celebrities whom the national spotlight hasn't yet discovered.

"I understand the reason why some guys get more publicity, because they're in bigger markets and those teams win," said Atkins, 27. "That's something we haven't achieved yet."

To compare, Atkins batted .329 and drove in 120 runs. Big-market heartthrob Wright hit .311 with 26 homers and 116 RBIs. So what is there about Atkins that would be worthy of a story in a magazine you can pick up at the checkout aisle?

Atkins laughed. "I don't think I'm that interesting," he said.

The following players have different levels of attributes that could raise their Q Rating. But all of them have big-time production in common.

• MICHAEL CUDDYER, right field, Twins: .268, 24 HRs, 109 RBIs in 2006

Why you should know him: He just got rich, signing a one-year deal worth $3.575 million minutes before a scheduled arbitration hearing.

Why you may not: Last season's homer total was double what he'd hit in any year since breaking into the Majors in 2001, and his RBIs matched his previous career total.

It also might be that Cuddyer, who turns 28 on Tuesday, has to stand in line behind teammates such as pitcher Johan Santana, first baseman Justin Morneau, catcher Joe Mauer and center fielder Torii Hunter for publicity.

"It's hard to ignore the accomplishments that the guys had on this team, the MVP, the Cy Young Award, the batting champion, the Gold Gloves," Cuddyer said. "You have to recognize those guys. There are a lot of guys that had just as big roles on this team as those guys did in helping us win but you don't get recognized as much. And that's fine.

"Shoot, going into last year I didn't even know if I was going to be playing. Just to have that kind of year was great for me. I didn't need any awards or any of that. We got to playoffs, we all had great years and that's what matters to me."

• BILL HALL, center field, Brewers: .270, 35 HRs, 85 RBIs in 2006

Why you should know him: He has a sense of timing and entertainment. He hit a game-winning home run with a pink breast cancer awareness bat. This spring, he stripped out of his baseball uniform down to a track suit when the Brewers were doing sprint tests.

Why you may not: He's been moved around the infield throughout his career -- he led the Majors with 27 homers as a shortstop last year -- but may finally have a position in center field.

What Hall does, he does big -- 53 of his RBIs came via home runs, and 78 of his 145 hits went for extra bases. It's something to keep in mind if the Brewers have their first winning record since 1992 and become a contender.

"I like coming up with the game on the line," said Hall, 27. "I like coming up in tough situations when my team needs me to do something big to help us win. I guess you have to have a little bit of attitude. There's a quiet confidence that comes with it."

But don't get Hall wrong.

"I'm hopefully one of the humblest guys," he said. "It's a humbling sport. As soon as you think you have it figured out, you can be oh for your next 15."

• MATT HOLLIDAY, left field, Rockies: .326, 34 HRs, 114 RBIs in 2006

Why you should know him: He entered the 2006 All-Star Game and got three at-bats, getting rare national television exposure for a Rockie not named Todd Helton.

Why you may not: He goes about as incognito as a 6-4, 235-pounder can.

Holliday, 27, signed a one-year, $4.4 million contract this offseason, and moved from Austin, Texas, to Denver. Yet, you will never see him on the Mile High social circuit.

Holliday's idea of nightlife was having his son, Jackson, now 3, in the clubhouse after games taking swings with his plastic bat. During Spring Training in Tucson, he and his wife, Leslee, welcomed their second child, Ethan, on Feb. 23. He reports the baby sleeps well, so parents do, too.

Even when he does get out, he goes unrecognized. Buzzing away practically all of his curly hair during the offseason may have something to do with it.

"I haven't really thought about it, but I don't get noticed a lot, even in Denver," Holliday said. "I try to keep life as simple as possible. I feel I'm in a pretty good spot right now."

• REED JOHNSON, left field, Blue Jays: .319, 12 HRs, 49 RBIs in 2006

Why you should know him: Check out the long, wavy goatee. The dude is on base so much -- he led American League leadoff men with a .390 on-base percentage last season -- you practically have time to count each individual strand.

Why you may not: Sometimes we forget to look north of the border.

It used to be that no one knew Johnson, 30, or many of his teammates. But the Jays finished last season second in the AL East, their best finish since they won their World Series titles (1992 and 1993).

"In the past, we lived pretty close to the stadium and walked home and would not have anybody even recognize you," said Johnson, also a dazzling defensive outfielder who is overshadowed by center field teammate Vernon Wells. "Now, you see people kind of nudge each other."

Some fans even tried to nudge out Twins fans on a special night for Mauer.

"On 'Joe Mauer Sideburn Night' in Minnesota, there were some Blue Jays fans who manipulated the sideburns and put them on to their chins as a little goatee, and they were yelling my name," Johnson said. "That was kind of cool."

• DAN UGGLA, second base, Marlins: .272, 27 HRs, 90 RBIs in 2006

Why you should know him: Going from a Rule 5 pick in December 2005 to the 2006 All-Star game was one sweet story.

Why you may not: He couldn't crack the Diamondbacks' 40-man roster from 2001-05

Uggla, 27, blew up big locally. T-shirts emblazoned with "Uggla's Uglies" and "Got Uggla?" became all the rage in South Florida as he set a record for home runs by a rookie second baseman, surpassing the previous mark that had stood since 1938, when Joe Gordon hit 25 for the Yankees.

But forget about it outside of Dolphin Stadium or his hometown of Columbia, Tenn., which staged a day for him during the offseason.

"As far as being recognized down here, and noticed down here, I don't think it's a problem -- we get recognized a lot down here," Uggla said. "But when I'm back home, if I'm not in Columbia, nobody really recognizes me.

"So outside of Florida, nobody pays attention, as opposed to playing for the Braves, Yankees or Dodgers, some team like that."

His name may also get him some barbecue in Memphis, where he was a standout at the University of Memphis. Fellow players voted him the National League's top rookie. And Uggla and his fiancé, Tera Sims, welcomed their son, Jackson Daniel, on March 30.

Now, as is the case with many other players, it's time for love on a wider basis.

Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Jordan Bastian, Joe Frisaro, Adam McCalvy and Kelly Thesier contributed. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.