Every season, there is a player that blows up on the scene out of seemingly nowhere. And while the focus hits the rookie class of the year, there is always a class of players that takes the step up from “good” contributor to game changer, seemingly out of nowhere.
Here at the end of the year, most of these names have become regulars on the highlight reels and Fantasy leaderboards, but before awards season pulls some permanently to the mention among the league’s elite, here my take on those that made the farthest leap forward in the year that was.
9. Edward Mujica: While he curbed down badly at the end of the season, the fact that he was able to save the Cardinals rapidly defaulting bullpen early in the season was impressive and a huge reason the club rebounded into the race early in the first half. He finished with 37 saves in his first year anchoring the ninth inning in his career and made his first All-Star team.
8. Chris Johnson: He went from a throw in portion of the deal that brought Justin Upton to Atlanta, to the most consistent part of the deal in Atlanta. Johnson hit a career-best .321, good for second in the NL this year and added some fire to the team that could have easily gotten detached from the race while running away and hiding in their dominant NL East Championship run.
7. Justin Masterson: The up and down Masterson reached a new peak for the Tribe in their heist of the AL Wild Card upper-hand. His mastery of his sinker/fastball saw him run up 14 wins and a career-best 195 strikeouts, and more importantly, become a legit number one arm for a team in need of one.
6. Andrelton Simmons: A sneaky WAR impacter, the Braves young shortstop stepped into his own last year, and became a force in the field. He had the large range factor (4.92) and his defensive WAR was an absurd 5.4, which breaks out to 3.2 more games saved with his glove than any other shortstop in baseball. Add in his 17 home runs and 59 RBI, all things considered, he changed 12.1 games in the Braves favor.
5. Josh Donaldson: The A’s third baseman is the perfect presence for the perennially underrated A’s. Donaldson flew beneath the radar all year, and didn’t even get an All-Star nod, but went on to hit .301, drove in 93 and doubled 37 times in route to becoming the leader in A’s run to defend their AL West title.
4. Matt Harvey: His 7-2, 2.35 ERA and 147 strikeout first half earned him an All-Star start in his first full season as pro. And while a torn UCL in his elbow ended his second half early and will keep him out until 2015, this year was a revelation on what could be: a top shelf arm of the highest degree.
3. Matt Carpenter: The Cardinals biggest catalyst went from utility man trying his hand at a new position, to becoming an All-Star second baseman that would go on to lead the National League in hits (199), runs scored (126) and doubles (55). And to cap off his transition story, he also led the NL in double plays turned as well.
2. Paul Goldschmidt: The next step in the career of Goldschmidt found him tied atop the National League in home runs (36) and sole leader in RBI (125). However, the third year first baseman was far from just a power conduit, as he hit .302 and stole over 15 bases for the second consecutive year. Add in leading the NL in slugging percentage, on-base + slugging percentage and total bases, and he’s on par to remain an overall force for years.
1. Chris Davis: How can it not be him? Davis did not exactly come out of nowhere; he hit 33 home runs and drove in 85 RBI in 2012, and had two other previous seasons of topping 17 long balls. But he broke out in rare air this year, topping the Majors with 55 homers this summer, becoming the first player since Jose Bautista in 2010 to do so. He also led the MLB in RBI, with 138 and ran direct interference with what was a very solid effort at a repeat Triple Crown for Miguel Cabrera.
What’s even more is how he did it. He had 37 first half home runs, and was on pace to run past 60 for over half of the year, and before hand and wrist injuries slowed his pace in August, he was creating a true debate about if he had the chance to be the “real” (read as non-Bonds) home run king.
For more on the postseason as it unravels and all other sorts of great things, such as what I’m thinking about eating for breakfast right now, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan.