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Spring Surprises, Circa 2010

The original unexpected Cardinals.
The original unexpected Cardinals.

Yes, it's that time of year again, when the light at the end of the offseason tunnel begins to grow eversoslightly brighter. The wait from endseason to Pitchers and Catchers Report Day is now measured in mere days, rather than the weeks and months we've walked down already. It's February, and that means baseball is just around the corner.

It also means this is the time of year we all begin to look a bit closer at the roster and construct elabourate fantasies of MVP performances from previously unknown quarters. And each year there are seemingly dozens of players willing to add fuel to that fire with Hall of Fame Marches. (See also Schumaker, Skip) Of course, April proves the cruelest month for most of these split squad superstars as the games get serious and their joyrides come to an end.

But still, there is fun to be had in watching, and dreaming of what might be if this Bo Hart fellow really is as good as he looks.

So that's what we're going to do this week. I've done this each of the last two years, and unlike my colleague Dan, I enjoye diving surprises from the spring training roster. (I'm also aware that's not exactly what he meant when he penned that statement, but it works for me to twist his words to my own nefarious purposes.) Thus, I shall continue the annual tradition of asking all of you to predict for me the players who will make the biggest splashes in spring training.

This is what I want: one position player and one pitcher who will come into camp (they may or may not be in the Best Shape of Their Lives; that's up to you), and suddenly just jump onto the tips of everyone's tongues. It could be a major leaguer already, a minor league guy (the most likely scenario, of course), or it could be the one groundskeeper who's clearly been working on his lawn-care techniques all winter. (I'll let you decide for yourself if that's a eupemism or not.) This does not have to be a player who even makes the major league roster; Francisco Samuel was one of the camp darlings last year and never sniffed MLB playing time. No, I just want the players who everyone is going to be talking about come, say, the middle of March.

I promise to keep some sort of track of these, and to occasionally check back both during spring training and perhaps a bit later, say mid-season or so, and see how we all did. There will be a fabulous (read: imaginary), prize for the person or people who do the best in this endeavour.

 For reference, here are the previous iterations of the Spring Surprise Game:

The inaugural version, and

Part 2: The Surprisening 

I'll give you my own 2010 picks after the jump.

Pitcher - I'm going to play it safe on this one and go for the easiest demographic: hard-throwing reliever. I considered going Rich Hill just to fuck with everybody, but decided against it at the last. So, I'm going with Fernando Salas. The Cards have two Latin relievers with tremendous stuff right now who I really love, Salas and Eduardo Sanchez, and long-term I'm actually higher on Sanchez. However, in the shorter tem, I think Sanchez's enormous workload last year (and winter ball as well), will hurt him a bit and he won't impress this particular spring. His time will come, but his time is not March of 2010.

Salas, on the other hand, had a huge breakout season in 2008 (he struck out 100 hitters in 74 innings, vs only 16 walks), then struggled with injuries for most of '09.  He did pitch quite well in a very limited time in Springfield, then moved up to Memphis and saw his numbers take a turn downward in his first taste of Triple A. He's pitched quite well in winter ball, but it's tough to infer what, if anything, that means. (Other than the fact he is apparently healthy enough to be on the field, that is.)

When Salas is right, he features a mid-90s fastball that tops out about 96 and a hard curve that he locates only sporadically. Still, the quality of his stuff is undeniable, and I think a fully healthy Salas coming off a year in which he rested more than he threw is primed to make some serious noise when camp begins.

Position Player - This one was a whole lot tougher for me, largely because I don't see a ton of surprises among the positional ranks. I fully expect Allen Craig to come in and hit well enough to make the team as a backup outfielder. I expect David Freese to come in reeking of booze and proceed to play a perfectly acceptable third base to earn a starting spot. (I know, that's not funny. I'm sorry.) I expect Colby to take a huge leap forward - much more than the projections say - and move toward being the player we all expected him to be based on his early 2009 performance. I expect all those things, and I don't think any of them would be very surprising at all.

I considered Joey Bombs coming in like a house on fire, but I'm still not convinced his wrist is healthy. If it is, I think he makes the squad and we all stop worrying about who's going to play center field on days when Colby needs a day off, but I'm just not at all confident that's going to be the case.

So my spring surprise on the position side is probably going to be a bit surprising. I choose Brendan Ryan.

That's right, Brendan Ryan. The guy who shocked everybody last year with his Ozzie impression and passable offense. I'm going to predict his time in Dinger Camp with McGwire pays off in a big way, and Ryan comes in with a much, much better approach at the plate. I think his head moves less. I think his body flails around less. I think he takes a pitch more often than not. And wonder of wonders, I think he even shows a little bit of pop. I also think he shows up with 45 pounds of new muscle mysteriously bulging everywhere and shreds his uniform like the Incredible Hulk the first day of camp, but I think that probably falls under the Best Shape of His Life. Right?

So those are my guys. Salas on the pitching side wowing everyone with his arm and Boog on the hitting side wowing everyone with his newfound calm at the plate. Who you got?

The Baron's Playlist for the 3rd of February, 2010

"Queen Bitch" - David Bowie

"Knives Out" - Radiohead

"Pale Blue Eyes" - the Velvet Underground

"Psycho Killer" - Talking Heads

"Silent Shout" - The Knife

"Stab" - Built to Spill