Spring is in the air, both in the literal sense of warmer days and rain showers, and in the constant cycle of baseball updates from Florida coming our way. The hope and optimism is nearly off the charts; Chris Carpenter is going to make 35 Cy Young-quality starts, some latin kid reliever with a golden arm is topping out at 120 mph, and Ryan Ludwick is going to hit 50 homers. By the end of April.
With pitchers and catchers already in camp, it suddenly occured to me the other day that I had neglected to bring back one of my favourite ideas from last spring: the Spring Surprise contest.
I'm sure you all remember how this works, right? I want to know who you think will come out this spring in a big way. Not necessarily a sleeper, or a guy who makes the roster, or anything specific. I just want the 'buzz' guy (or guys), for spring training 2009. That guy who, at the end of camp, we're all going to be aware of, or excited about, in a way we weren't before.
I want one, count 'em, one pitcher, and one (1), position player. Major leaguers, minor leaguers, indy leaguers, beer leaguers, justice leaguers, all are fair game. However, I do insist that you have some sort of actual reasoning behind your choice. That's right, you have to think about these. I know, I know, it sucks. However, them's the rules, pardners.
The one and only other rule for this is that I want you to give me good surprises, not bad surprises. There will be plenty of time later on to lament the negatives, once they happen. For now, we're going to keep this firmly in the realm of optimism.
And so, without very much further ado, I present to you my choices.
For pitcher, I'm actually going to admit to hedging my bets a bit here. I had originally considered two pitchers in particular: Adam Reifer (of whom I have long been a fan), and the Velocitous Venezuelan, Francisco Samuel. In truth, I was leaning toward Reifer, as he may be my favourite relief prospect in the system now that Perez is no longer, strictly speaking, a prospect. Samuel, on the other hand, I like because his stuff is, if it's actually possible, even more electric than that of Reifer, with a high-90s fastball and a slider that tops out right around 90, while still showing remarkable movement. I wanted to throw in a starter's name as well, but in the end, I just don't think any of the starters are going to be that guy. Also, just as a basic philosophy, it seems like relievers are more likely to be the talk of camp; see also McClellan, Kyle, and Dove, Dennis.
As I said, I was leaning toward Reifer initially. However, two things changed my mind: one, the fact that Samuel pitched at High A ball last season, while Reifer pitched at short season Batavia. Reifer is probably just a little too far away from the big leagues to generate significant buzz. Samuel, slated to begin the year at Double A, is at a good level to make an impression. The second reason is a little less honest. See, Samuel is already garnering some attention, both from the coaching staff and certain members of the media covering the team. John Marecek has a great piece of video on Samuel, as well as a nice little blog in general. Samuel has basically no idea where the ball is going when he lets go of it, as evidenced by a ghastly walk rate of 19% last year at Palm Beach, but he's overpowering enough that even just a modicum of control could make him virtually unhittable. Maybe it's dishonest to choose a guy already getting a little ink, but I have to tell you, I'm okay with that.
As for my position player, I was initially going to go with a player I think is one of the most underrated in the entire system, Jon Edwards. Edwards is an outfielder, taken in the 14th round of the 2006 draft out of high school. Just now 21, Edwards put up excellent numbers at Batavia last season, then ended the year with a very solid, if unspectacular, performance at Quad Cities. I understand he's still a long ways off from the majors, but a guy with the kind of power and patience he's shown at the plate should get more attention, in my ever so humble opinion. Oh, did I also mention he's hit 97 mph off the mound?
But then I realised, I was about to fall into the same trap in this game that I succumbed to last year. I chose Travis Mitchell, a toolsy kid also out of the '06 draft last year, only to realise too late that he isn't anywhere near close enough to the majors to garner any real attention. Maybe as a minor league sleeper, or a breakout candidate, Edwards makes all the sense in the world. But to generate real spring training buzz? Not so much.
So, my pick for the position player surprise is (drumroll please), Khalil Greene! I've long been a fan of Greene, ever since his monster 2004 season, only to watch him become less and less disciplined as the years have gone by. Now, there isn't really much in his numbers to suggest that he's going to suddenly turn back into the player that he was, but I think that Petco Park got into Khalil's head in a big way. He has seemed to fall into the trap that so many hitters do in that graveyard, that of frustration over seeing home run after home run die in the expanse of the Petco outfield. I think that coming over to a park that isn't quite so extreme, and just plain getting out of what has to be an ugly culture out with that Padres' ballclub, could give Greene a nice little boost. At the very least, he won't be counted on quite so heavily to produce with the bat; maybe he'll be able to relax a bit and find some remnant of that early-career form that once made him so promising.
In the end, I still expect Greene to strike out much more often than most of us would like to see, but I also think that just that positive feeling, of a new start with a team moving in a good direction, coupled with a new coaching staff to maybe give him a different perspective, is going to give Greene a lot of momentum coming into spring training games. I think by the end of March, we're all going to be trumpeting Mo as some sort of genius for spinning our malcontent sidearmer to the Padres for the next coming of Cal Ripken. Of course, I also expect for Khalil to piss us all off at various times this year, to the point that, during some particularly bad stretch of whiffing, a fanpost will show up with a title along the lines of, "Why We Should Have Kept Cesar Izturis."
So those are my picks, chosen with logic, deductive reasoning, and plain old pulling things out of my ass. What do you guys think?
Oh, and also, there will be prizes for the person who wins this year, possibly of the real variety. (And by real, I mean imaginary.)