Every year, it seems like a few guys come out of nowhere to make an impact at the major league level.
In 2012, Bryan LaHair exploded for the Band-Aid Cubs with 16 homers and a .450 slugging percentage before abdicating his unpolished throne as the galumphing Dinger King of Wrigleyville.
In 2011, Ryan Roberts brushed up against a 20/20 season with the Diamondbacks. He was worth nearly four wins that season, but before that inky detonation -- and after -- he could be described by by repeating the first letter of the alphabet until the point was/is proven.
And in 2010, Jose Bautista suddenly became one of the most powerful hitters in baseball. Those aren't really the type of players this article is about, but their brisk rise to (varying levels of) notoriety could be echoed by a few players this season, and some of them might even have some staying power -- a la Bautista -- rather than dissolving into the fading into the bleary neon-black periphery of the average fan.
Some fans might have heard of these players, but they might not have had the pleasure of seeing them play yet. Whether it's in person, on MLB.tv, or some other, less Christian method of streaming game action, seeing these guys play might be worth making an effort.
Kole Calhoun, Angels
Calhoun, 26, is currently the Angels "leading candidate" to leadoff in front of Mike Trout, Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton. If he can post a batting line close to the .282/.347/.462 he put up in 58 games last year, he could score 100 runs. That would probably be enough to escort him into the spotlight. There's no question that he deserves a shot at the everyday job in Los Angeles' outfield. Last season, before being promoted to the majors, Calhoun hit .354/.431/.617 in Triple-A. That translates to a .454 wOBA and a wRC+ of 176. So even though the Pacific Coast League is hitter-friendly, those numbers are pretty impressive. Every major projection system has him posting an above average wRC+ in 2014. They predict him to be worth between two and almost three-and-a-half wins. That would make him a borderline top-50 player, and likely, a top-30 outfielder.
Khris Davis, Brewers
In 153 plate appearances last year, Davis slugged nearly .600. While he isn't likely to be able to sustain that level of pitch-pelting, he could be a valuable hitter near the middle of the Brewers lineup. Like Calhoun, Davis doesn't astonish talent evaluators with his glove, but a decent season in the outfield, paired with a few dozen Bernie-sliders could vault Davis into the upper echelon of K/Chris Davis celebrity. He'll probably never be the best K/Chris Davis in baseball, but he might be more memorable than that guy from Auburn that ruined Alabama's college football season. Khris is projected to start in left field for Milwaukee, with Ryan Braun moving over to right after the Norichika Aoki trade. He's been productive in the high minors, and his debut was captivating, so expecting the 26-year-old to post a decent on-base percentage and hit around 20 homers -- as most projection systems do -- seems about right.
Oswaldo Arcia, Twins
Arcia isn't a great fielder either, but his bat could be something special. Since the beginning of 2012, the 22-year-old has posted wRC+ totals of 149, 162, and 186 in the minors -- and those numbers are in order. As he got closer to the highest level, he got better. Several factors are likely to have played a factor in that production, but show some significant pop for the Twins with 14 homers and a .430 slugging percentage in 378 plate appearances last year. He could probably benefit from improving his plate discipline, but that's true for everyone to some extent. Even if he don't improve drastically, Arcia can provide Minnesota with some power in the five- or six-hole in the batting order. His glove is pretty atrocious, so he could end up being best suited for the designated hitter role on the next strong Twins team.
Christian Yelich, Marlins
Yelich, also 22, is the most notable prospect-type on this list, but he was so impressive in short work last year, it seemed silly not to include him. He logged 273 plate appearances in 2013, posting a .370 OBP and 10 stolen bases. .370! Another player that posted a .370-ish OBP in 250-ish PAs last year -- Ryan Braun. Yelich will never hit homers like Braun, but he might be able to steal some bases and get on base like him. Maybe if he dipped into Braun's laboratory he could hit 40 homers, but that hasn't exactly been the best thing that ever happened to Braun, so maybe he should just stick to his natural abilities -- which are pretty impressive. The 2013 sample sizes that those two players produces weren't significant enough to make any kind of real comparison. The point is: Yelich looked great last year. If he can get on base anywhere near as often as he did in his debut, he could be a fixture at the top of the Marlins lineup ... until they trade him.
Games start in a little more than two weeks. There will be a multitude of story lines luring in everyday for the next eight months. It's an exciting time of year, and it might be really exciting if you get a chance to watch a few of these guys hit. They may never be perennial All Stars or Dinger Kings, but they could be significant names in the next wave of talent to enter into the major league spotlight.