Whatever a Major League club's goal happens to be in a given year, contenders and pretenders alike need more than just their most recognizable players to do their part. With that in mind, let's go through each team in the bigs and pick out a guy who is not exactly a star at this juncture, but who could have a bigger role than you realize.
Here are some overlooked X-factors.
A's: Jed Lowrie
Lowrie has had an injury-plagued career, but he's in a good place physically right now and has raked in the first couple games of the year. The reason Lowrie's listed here is because his performance will help determine how long it is until we see top prospect Franklin Barreto, who, like Kendall Graveman, can show the A's did actually get value out of the Josh Donaldson trade. If both Lowrie and Barreto perform, perhaps the veteran will have some trade value.
Angels: Tyler Skaggs
Garrett Richards is back up and running after a stem-cell procedure that could be a game-changer in the industry. Matt Shoemaker is back after getting drilled in the head by a line drive -- an injury that required emergency brain surgery. Skaggs' return from typical ol' Tommy John looks routine by comparison, but don't underestimate his importance in the big picture as the Halos try to find an effective rotation. He wound up with a longer recovery period (18 months) than most TJ recipients, and that could benefit him in the long run.
Astros: Charlie Morton
It's so easy to focus on the guys the Astros didn't acquire for their rotation this winter (Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, etc.) that you can lose sight of who they actually added. Morton's 33 years old and pitched just 17 innings in the bigs before tearing his hamstring last year. But they were 17 good innings! And an uptick in velocity to go with a high groundball rate (in front of a good D) make him interesting.
Blue Jays: Devon Travis
Can this little guy with a productive leadoff bat stay healthy? He hasn't done it so far in his Major League career, but the Blue Jays really don't have any great options beyond him to kickstart that lineup.
Braves: Mike Foltynewicz
Though it'll be fun to see what the two 40-somethings the Braves added to their rotation (Bartolo Colon and R.A. Dickey), don't forget this young holdover. Foltynewicz has the best stuff on the staff, and how he utilizes it will go a long way toward determining how much the Braves climb in the National League East standings this season. He's got a plus fastball-slider combo but has struggled with command at times in the past.
Brewers: Travis Shaw
He's been a doubles machine this week after a strong spring, and maybe that's an indication that he's put his brutal second half of 2016 in Boston behind him. He came to Milwaukee in what is obviously billed as the "Tyler Thornburg trade," but Thornburg's already hurt. Shaw might never mash lefties, but he's controllable and came packaged with a pair of prospects (Mauricio Dubon and Josh Pennington), so, very, very early on, that trade looks good for the Brew Crew.
Cardinals: Jedd Gyorko
"He's a 30-homer guy without a position!" was a fun spring storyline, but you have to remember this guy had sub-.700 OPS marks and below-average OPS+ marks in 2014 and '15 with the Padres. So he's no sure thing to repeat last year's power spike. Gyorko is listed here because he's quite likely the next line of defense at every infield position other than first base, and that's especially important as Kolten Wong still tries to find his way offensively at second.
Cubs: Justin Grimm
Nothing sexy here, but on a club under such an intense spotlight, there's not much that's overlooked. As the Cubs look to be careful with their starters after an intense workload last year -- and with Travis Wood lost to free agency -- Grimm is an important bridge man in the bullpen. There's even the possibility of him pitching himself into a more pronounced role, for the Cubs do have some age/innings/past injury concerns in the back end of their 'pen.
D-backs: Archie Bradley
Arizona put the former top prospect in the bullpen to start the year, but his lights-out 3 1/3-inning performance Tuesday was an extension of a strong spring camp. There figures to be opportunity in that D-backs rotation as the year rolls along, or maybe Bradley makes a name for himself in the 'pen. Whatever the case, this is an organization that needs its young players (and Bradley is only 24) to take a step forward.
Dodgers: Austin Barnes
The Dodgers might be the most flexible organization in baseball, but multiple evaluators this spring pointed to their backup catching situation as a potentially shaky one, depending on how quickly the 27-year-old Barnes, who entered the year with just 41 big-league games to his name, catches on (pun intended). Remember: As good as Yasmani Grandal is, he's certainly battled his share of injuries in the past.
Giants: Aaron Hill
The veteran infielder beat out Jimmy Rollins for the utility gig and should serve as a key bench piece for Bruce Bochy in the late innings. Given the injury issues Joe Panik has had in the past and the sheer unknowability of whether Eduardo Nunez will stick as a regular at third, Hill could also be an important insurance piece. Korean import Jae-gyun Hwang is interesting for the same reason, but he's starting the year in Triple-A.
Indians: Josh Tomlin
Like Corey Kluber and Andrew Miller, Tomlin ventured into career-high innings terrain with a large postseason workload in '16. Take away Tomlin's August, in which he logged an 11.48 ERA, and he was an excellent and underrated asset in the Tribe rotation last year. They need him to stay healthy and effective in the back end of the rotation, because the organizational depth took a big hit with Cody Anderson's Tommy John surgery.
Mariners: Hisashi Iwakuma
A transcendent and unrepeatable 2013 season aside, Iwakuma has been the source of understated reliability in the M's rotation, and they might need him now more than ever. Drew Smyly's already hurt, and Yovani Gallardo's injury prone, so it sure seems essential that Iwakuma deliver something akin to the 199 mostly quality innings he logged in 2016.
Marlins: Dillon Peters
He's not even on their roster presently, nor is he one of their top 10 prospects on MLBPipeline.com's list (he's No. 11… so close!). But Peters is positioned as potentially important insurance depth for a Marlins club that has a very iffy rotation overall and, like every club, will probably need help from down below at some point. Whether it's Peters or somebody else stepping up, this club desperately needs growth from its young arms.
Mets: Travis d'Arnaud
Everything regressed for d'Arnaud in 2016, from his production (a nearly 200-point drop in OPS) to his control of the running game (from a 32.6 percent caught stealing rate in 43 chances in '15 to 21.8 percent in 78 chances in '16). And of course, this is a guy who's struggled to stay healthy. He'd really change the fabric of this team if he can get back to his late-2015 level.
Nationals: Joe Ross
It's the Max Scherzer/Stephen Strasburg show atop that rotation, and maybe the World Baseball Classic and some down-ballot 2016 Cy Young love has exposed more of the world to Tanner Roark. But a Nats club that traded away some valuable rotation depth would sure love to see Ross, who was limited to 105 innings last year because of shoulder inflammation, stay healthy. Ross opened the season in Triple-A because of the off days in the schedule but is expected to be in the rotation soon.
Orioles: Gabriel Ynoa
Like the other candidates for the O's rotation vacancy, Ynoa was optioned out to the Minors because they don't need a fifth starter until the middle of the month. But the general attrition rate and the O's suspect depth puts extra emphasis on guys on the bubble, because it's doubtful the O's have the pieces to swing a major trade. The 23-year-old acquired from the Mets in the offseason is interesting because of his control and groundball tendencies. Maybe he'll be the O's latest low-profile find.
Padres: Clayton Richard
Pretty much every Padre is overlooked. That's what happens when you have an active roster with a total payroll similar to the amount of dead money you're doling out to departed players like Melvin Upton Jr. and James Shields. So take your pick here. I just wanted to use this space to point out this very fun note I got from MLB Network that the only Clayton with more career wins in MLB history than Clayton Richard is, yes, Clayton Kershaw.
Phillies: Hector Neris
You didn't hear much about his sterling 2016, in which he struck out 102 batters in 80 1/3 innings, and -- let's be real -- there's a good chance you won't hear much about his 2017 either, because he pitches for the Phillies. But he seems a good bet to take over the ninth-inning role at some point, and his eye-popping stuff and ascension to that higher-profile role could make him either A. an important long-term asset for the Phils or B. very valuable midseason trade bait.
Pirates: Juan Nicasio
A year ago, everybody (myself included) was talking about Nicasio as the Next Great Pirate Pitching Reclamation Project and, well, that didn't go so well. He struggled in 12 starts. But he quietly settled in to a quality relief season and should be an important setup man for a Pirates team trying to reclaim the bullpen consistency that got away from them early in '16.
Rangers: Martin Perez
Perez settled in after a shaky start to his outing Tuesday against the Indians, and the Rangers really need him to settle into the season quickly and confidently. While the combo of Yu Darvish and Cole Hamels is an obvious reason to feel good about the front-end of the rotation, the major health question marks in the back end make Perez a major X-factor coming off a career-high 33 starts and 198 2/3 innings last year.
Rays: Brad Miller
Miller making a successful defensive transition to second base -- and, oh yeah, repeating his surge to 30 homers and 29 doubles from last season -- would sure help offset the loss of Logan Forsythe in an offense that might be better than anticipated.
Red Sox: Joe Kelly
Not exactly the first name that springs to mind when you think of that Red Sox pitching staff, but Kelly is a potentially important 'pen piece, especially with setup man Tyler Thornburg on the shelf at the start of the season. Kelly was really strong down the stretch of the 2016 regular season but had some spring struggles, so it will be interesting to see how much John Farrell trusts his good stuff but suspect control.
Reds: Raisel Iglesias
Iglesias' past health issues have probably killed the notion of him becoming the ace of this staff, but his pure talent leads you to believe he could occupy a very valuable setup role for the Reds, and that bridge from starter to closer is especially important on a club rolling out such a young and developing rotation.
Rockies: Gerardo Parra
The Rox signed Parra to round out their roster going into 2016, and he was awful. Just terrible. An OPS+ of 65, negative defensive value (minus-1.6 Wins Above Replacement). Bad. But there was a time in the not-at-all-distant past when Parra was quite good, and on a club espousing the value of versatility this year, a bounceback from Parra, who can play all over the outfield and fill in at first base, seems important. He's off to a great start this season.
Royals: Mike Minor
You know how the Royals, in their window of contention, have had a knack for finding diamonds in the rough? They'd sure like Minor to be the latest. The former Braves starter is back in the bigs for the first time since 2014 -- this time in a relief role. And with Ned Yost no longer able to paint-by-numbers as he was when the Wade Davis, Greg Holland and Kelvin Herrera trio was in full effect (Herrera's the only one left), they need somebody like Minor to step up in high-leverage situations late.
Tigers: Matt Boyd
Daniel Norris was the headline acquisition in the 2015 trade that sent David Price to Toronto, and the left-handed Boyd was the other guy. But both made the Detroit rotation out of spring camp, and if Boyd, who had a mostly respectable showing in 18 starts in the bigs last year, can stick as a starter and not wind up labeled a left-on-left reliever, he can significantly lengthen that Tiger rotation.
Twins: Adalberto Mejia
News flash: The Twins need long-term pitching help, any way they can get it. Mejia, the rotund lefty they acquired when they traded Eduardo Nunez to the Giants last summer, doesn't have the raw stuff of Jose Berrios, but he's a strike-thrower who, unlike Berrios, claimed a rotation job this spring.
White Sox: Derek Holland
Obviously it's a year of player development and trade talk on the South Side. Jose Quintana is the big chip, and Todd Frazier and David Robertson are also dangled. But a bounceback year from Holland, who was signed to a one-year deal and has only thrown 203 innings over the last three seasons, would give the Sox an extra asset to flip before the deadline.
Yankees: Luis Severino
Not that Severino is totally under the radar or anything (that's not really possible in the Bronx), but with all the attention of the Yankees' blossoming group of young hitters, the supposed breakout pitching star from 2015 is easy to overlook, especially after a calamitous 2016. Severino pitched his way back into the rotation this spring, and -- let's face it -- is the only source of pure upside in the Yanks' starting set. If they're going to be a surprise contender, you'd have to imagine he'd be a big part of it.
Anthony Castrovince is a Sports on Earth contributor, MLB Network contributor and MLB.com columnist. Follow him on Twitter @Castrovince.