2008 Baseball Breakouts: No Big Surprises

by : Wisconsin Sports Fan

Every year, numerous baseball players emerge as the game's elite. They provide early season sparks and fantasy owners everywhere are rewarded with first round production from the end of the draft, or better yet, free agency. This year, there is a theme for these gold nuggets that grace our favorite teams, and it's that they were all once highly touted prospects.

A drug addict, a mental hospital patient and a man with bionic arms all walk onto a baseball field...

What might sound like the start of a good joke, instead leaves the opposition depressed after these 3 have completed their work. Without further ado, here's the cast.

A whole book could be dedicated to Josh Hamilton, and I have a feeling one will be when his career is said and done. The left-handed slugger is not only the clear favorite for the AL MVP award, but also for the prestigious triple crown. In 54 games this year, Hamilton has hit .324 with 13 HR and 58 RBI. He ranks 4th, 2nd and 1st in those categories, respectively. While it's debateable that last year was his breakout year, I didn't feel it would be right to write an article like this without mentioning the biggest comeback story of my lifetime. Considering he was likely taken in the teen-rounds of most fantasy leagues, he is without a doubt one of the biggest overachievers in baseball to date.

Hamilton went from being on top of the world, to the bottom of the barrell, and back up again. J-Ham was the first overall pick in the 1999 draft by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. The following year, the 19-year old phenom was fighting for the opening day job in right field. But in 2001, everything changed. After a car accident, he only played 27 games, and then had his 2002 season shortened to 56 games after lingering back and shoulder injuries. Also in '02, Hamilton received his first of many drug suspensions. Josh sunk to his lowest level in 2003 when he disappeared from Tampa's spring training camp for 6 weeks. Upon return, Lou Piniella sent him home and told him to get his life together. That would be the last Tampa saw of Hamilton, as he remained away from the team for the rest of the year, before receiving yet another 30-day suspension, which was eventually extended indefinitely following a 2004 failed drug test. Before his return in 2006, Hamilton admitted that he had been in drug rehab 8 times since 2003, and had also attempted suicide 3 times.

After 4 years away from baseball, Hamilton came back with a clean slate and a ton of determination in 2006. His minor league stint was far from impressive, as he hit just .260 with 0 home runs in 15 games, but the Reds called him up anyways, and he didn't disappoint. His MLB career started with a bang, as he hit 5 HR in his first 30 AB's and also posted a .333 average during the mid-April run. At the end of the year, he had amassed 19 home runs in addition to a .292 average. In the off-season, he was dealt to Texas where he further improved his game.

Try to imagine being an MLB pitcher. The entire game stops until you decide to share the ball with the rest of the field. Thousands of fans hang on your every move. On top of that, imagine being referred to as the savior of one of MLB's worst franchises. Oh, and let's not forget that you suffer from social anxiety disorder.

Zack Greinke was the 6th overall pick in the 2002 draft. He quickly emerged as arguably the top prospect in baseball, despite entering the minors straight from high school. He devastated hitters with a 100 MPH fastball, then froze them with his slow, looping, 50 MPH curve. After dominating the minors, he reached the MLB level just 2 years later at the age of 20. He gave the Royals 24 starts, and appeared to be well on pace to being the ace everyone projected. Despite a losing 8-11 record, he posted a 3.97 ERA and 4:1 K:BB ratio. Then, it all went downhill fast. In his first full major league season, he went 5-17 with a 5.80 ERA in 33 2005 starts. In 2006, things got even worse when he was diagnosed with "social phobia" and told a psychologist he thought his baseball career was over.

"Social anxiety disorder, also called social phobia, is an anxiety disorder in which a person has an excessive and unreasonable fear of social situations. Anxiety (intense nervousness) and self-consciousness arise from a fear of being closely watched, judged and criticized by others." - WebMD

That sounds like something that might have an impact on a pitcher. Greinke didn't let that end his career though, returning to the mound in 2007 and giving the Royals a 3.69 ERA in a split number of bullpen appearances and starts. Despite that success, his 2008 start came as a surprise to everyone as he has completely dominated the AL, with a 2.88 ERA and 5-2 record.

Lastly, we have Carlos Quentin. While his story isn't as inspirational as the last 2, few have overcome his injuries and lasted in the MLB, yet alone produce like he has. Quentin was a first round pick in 2003, but his career quickly went south after he was one of the few hitters to undergoe Tommy John surgery which forced him to sit out the entire year. He immediatey re-emerged as one of the D-Backs top prospects, and one of baseball's elite future sluggers; hitting .332 with 21 HR in 125 games in 2004. In 2005, he jumped to AAA and hit .301 with 21 HR in a full season there.

Quentin's road the show was blocked by veteran Shawn Green, which kept him in AAA for most of the 2006 season as well. They eventually cleared the position by dealing Green to the Mets, but Quentin had a shaky rookie season, hitting just .253, but also added 9 HR in just under 60 games. Quentin's breakout was expected in 2007, but instead, he fell victim to another setback, having surgery on a torn labrum. He rushed back, and that proved to be a costly decision as he only hit .214 with 5 HR in 81 games.

With the D-Back outfield locked up by Byrnes, Chris Young and Justin Upton, they traded the once highly touted power hitter to Chicago, where it appeared he would have to fight for at bats with speedster Jerry Owens. Quentin quickly put any talks of a position battle to rest, as he currently leads the AL in home runs with 14, along with .296 average and superb .402 OBP. He has easily been the White Sox's most valuable player, as they're surprisingly in the division lead.

In the midst of the steroid controversy, hard workers like these are players we can look to lead us out of the questions and back to the game we've all come to cherish. From a fantasy perspective, I'm certainly going to be looking more closely for these types of players in the future, and I advise everyone else to do the same.