Spring Surprises, 2011 Edition

Yes, friends, that's right. I want to talk about spring on a day when the high temperature in my little corner of the world is projected below freezing and is only going to drop further over the next couple days.

Specifically, it's that magical time of year again when the light at the end of the offseason tunnel is finally starting to round into view. No longer will we be forced to huddle close around a lukewarm stove and watch the barely simmering pot of speculation stew taunt us with its undercooked vegetables and half-raw meat. No longer shall we be bound to the news cycle, waiting to hear of contract rumblings. Oh, wait. Nevermind. I suppose we're stuck with that a bit longer.

Purple metaphors aside, Pitchers and Catchers Report Day is less than a month away, and the time has come to start speculating about how spring training may play out. Specifically, we're going to speculate about this year's surprising players. I've done this a couple years in a row now, and the community has actually been pretty accurate to date in predicting breakouts.

Last year's surprise was Jaime Garcia, winner of the Riverfront Times' "Best Athlete's Butt" award for 2010. I've been told when being informed of his victory, Garcia was suddenly taken with a fit of joyous weeping and heard to exclaim winning such a prestigious award more than made up for his distant third place finish in the Rookie of the Year balloting. Jaime and his deliciously form-fitting trousers are now firmly entrenched in the Cardinals' future plans, and so it falls on us to find the next up-and-comer ready for his baseball bar mitzvah. (I'm going to pretend I'm not thinking of a debutante ball sort of situation instead of a bar mitzvah so as to try and preserve some slight shred of masculine pride.)

So here are the guidelines for the third annual El Vivi Birders Spring Surprises Challenge: I want one (1) pitcher and one (1) position player who you feel will be the buzz or buzzes of camp this spring. Minor league types are, of course, generally preferred, but if you have a strong belief that Lance Berkman's newly svelte self will translate into Schumakerian March exploits then you may go with that as well. (For the record, though, I think picking Berkman is kind of cheating, and will likely make quiet passive-aggressive asides directed as posts in that vein while reading them. You have been warned.)

Players chosen do not have to make the team; Dennis Dove stayed in Memphis in March of 2007 but clearly was the big surprise of that particular spring training. (I think. Researching facts is not my strong suit.) All I want to know is who you think will come into camp and make that big impression we see at least one player make each year.

My choices this season are as follows: on the pitching side, I'm going with David Kopp. Long a favourite prospect of mine, Kopp enjoyed better health in 2010 than at any other point in his professional career, and commensurate results. His strikeout rate is worrisomely low, but he fits well into the Dave Duncan pitcher profile and has better stuff than one would think looking at how few bats he misses. Lance Lynn is very much seen as the next starting prospect who will be ready for an opportunity with the team, but I'm betting after this spring Kopp has put his own name in that blank. I also considered Adam Reifer here but ultimately decided to go with the starter who's likely to see more innings.

On the positional side of the ledger I'm looking squarely at Tommy Pham. Seemingly an eternal fixture on breakout lists (I've predicted a big season for him at least four times I know of, and he's only been in the system four full seasons), Pham is moving into that sweet spot for springtime attention. He finished the season at Double, meaning he's only a step or two away from the big leagues and will get plenty of attention, and he has already had one breakout spring in 2010. The athleticism has always been there for Pham but the results have been slow to come; after putting together his best season last year I think the momentum carries over and makes Tommy the talk of camp.

I considered going with Pete Kozma for sheer perversity, but decided against it. I did, however, debate long and hard with myself about Matt Carpenter. As quite possibly the inaugural member of his bandwagon I felt I might actually owe it to him to predict a big spring, and I sort of am. He's my alternate choice, and depending on what happens to David Freese's glass ankles he may end up being the talk of camp anyway. However, I just have a feeling Pham (maybe I should say I have a pheeling?), is going to come in and do something big to get noticed. I reserve the right to claim victory if Carpenter is the guy, though. I feel that's my prerogative as the current longest-tenured member of the editorial staff here at VEB.

As always, I will make every effort to come back to these during spring training itself and determine who did well and who did not in our guessing game. A prize -- of the hypothetical internet variety, no less! -- will be offered. So there's that to look forward to.

Now give me your picks. Quickly!

The Baron's Playlist for the 19th of January, 2010

"Vocal Chords" - Dale Earnhardt jr jr

"Alter Ego" - Tame Impala

"The Glam Goddess" - Smith Westerns

"The Evening Descends" - Evangelicals

"TFO" - Harlem Shakes

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