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The 10 best first-half surprises of the 2015 MLB season

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Looking back, after the first half, nobody could have projected the performances of these ten players.

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

The All Star Game is a celebration of the game's best performers, but it's also a breather in the midst of a long and grinding season. It provides an opportunity for us to reflect on what's happened and where we're going. So for the next couple days, I'll be looking at some of the biggest surprises of 2015 so far, both good and bad, and look at what the future holds for the players and clubs in question.

Today, the 10 players who have been the best surprises of 2015.

C Francisco Cervelli, Pittsburgh Pirates

Long a forgotten man in the Bronx, Cervelli was acquired by the Pirates for decent reliever Justin Wilson primarily because the Bucs believed in his defense. Little did they expect him to hit .294/.366/.400 through the first half, adequately replacing Russell Martin both at the plate and behind it while making less than a million dollars.

The future: Cervelli will come back to earth a little, but his underlying stats, including BB%, K%, and HR% are all on the good side of average, and a change in approach has him hitting more ground balls than ever before, meaning his BABIP may stay relatively high. The Pirates need him to continue to produce as they struggle to catch the Cardinals and not have to play in the Wild Card game for the third straight year.

1B Adam Lind, Milwaukee Brewers

Stuck amid the weeds of an awful Brewers season, Lind sticks out like a beautiful...well, not rose. Some ugly flower that inexplicably smells really good. Anyway, acquired for Marco Estrada this offseason, Lind has raked all season long, hitting .292/.375/.512. While that's not terribly out of line with his performance over the previous two seasons, the fact that he is both healthy and producing is.

The future: A free agent after 2016, Lind is a prime candidate to get moved at the trade deadline, and one of the relatively few Brewers likely to bring back a substantial return. As Milwaukee works to rebuild, finding the right fit will be crucial.

2B Danny Espinosa, Washington Nationals

Espinosa had been left for dead when the Nationals stumbled out of the gate and suffered early injuries to Anthony Rendon and Yunel Escobar. A key contributor in 2011 and 2012, injuries, strikeouts, and better players had conspired to keep him on the bench for much of the last two years, and had destroyed his productivity. Now healthy, Espinosa has cut down dramatically on his strikeouts, seen his walk rate rebound and is even flashing power again. He's hit .254/.331/.435. He's also been able to fill in around the infield, while staying mostly at second base, and has been worth about two wins above replacement so far.

The future: If he's healthy, there's nothing in Espinosa's performance that screams fluke. The Nats are exceptionally lucky to have him at this point, and were smart not to completely give up on him.

3B Maikel Franco, Philadelphia Phillies

Not terribly surprising, maybe, given that he was clearly the Phillies' top prospect coming into 2015, but the speed with which Franco has adjusted to the major league game this year definitely has caught a lot of people off guard. While it was clear from Spring Training that Kris Bryant was ready to contribute, Franco needed some more seasoning at Triple-A. In 236 plate appearances since coming up, however, Franco has hit .284/.339/.495. While he's not walking, he also is not striking out, allowing him to put a lot of balls in play. He's been a beacon of hope for an otherwise struggling franchise.

The future: Franco is unchallenged at third base at the moment, but his defense has been awful. At some point, if the Phillies are able to divest themselves of Ryan Howard, a move across the diamond might be a good idea.

SS Jose Iglesias, Detroit Tigers

Where would the Tigers be without Jose Iglesias? Not clinging to .500, that's for sure. Sidelined for all of 2014 with shin splints and compound fractures, Detroit was forced to turn to a lot of disappointing options. This year, Iglesias is back and providing stability in the Detroit infield. Iglesias has always been billed as a tremendous defender, but the development of his offensive game has been very impressive. In 2015, Iglesias's walk rate has spiked and strikeout rate has plummeted, which has helped mitigate the loss of power. He's hitting the ball on the ground and beating out hits and has posted a .364 OBP.

The future: If his strike zone control is real, it bodes very well for Iglesias continuing to be a positive offensive contributor from the shortstop spot and an important part of the core for the next good Tigers squad.

LF Chris Colabello, Toronto Blue Jays

Colabello was hot out of the gate for the Twins last year before a thumb injury (which he hid) destroyed his productivity. After smacking around Triple-A pitching for roughly the billionth time in his career, the Jays called him up when Michael Saunders got hurt (again). Boy, was that a good decision. In 55 games, Colabello has hit .325/.371/.500 with eight homers and has rekindled hope in 30 year old Triple-A veterans everywhere. He is impossible not to root for. His overall production is poor because, for a left fielder, he makes a very good DH.

The future: Speaking of which, that's probably where Colabello should play going forward. That or first base with Edwin Encarnacion taking a breather. With a BABIP of .421, Colabello is going to come down eventually, and that crash may be hard. But in the interim, the Jays would be smart to maximize his contributions and mitigate as many of his weaknesses as possible.

CF Gerardo Parra, Milwaukee Brewers

I tried not to do more than one player per team, but Parra is so damn interesting. He's also not really a center fielder, but I needed to talk about him, so here we are. After providing excellent corner outfield defense and marginal offense for years, Parra took a step back on both sides of the ball in 2014, which makes his 2015 rebound pretty remarkable. He's setting a new career high in batting average, slugging, and OPS+. He is one homer short of his career high, and just shy of his career best in OBP.

The future: The smart money is on Parra not being able to maintain this jump in performance going forward. He will be a free agent after this year, so it would make sense for the Brewers to maximize their return for him before the trade deadline and before he turns into a pumpkin.

RF Andre Ethier, Los Angeles Dodgers

I don't think any of us knew that Ethier still had this in him, but he's hit .281/.372/.481 in 266 plate appearances and been worth more than a win and a half, thanks to the Dodgers' extreme commitment to limiting his exposure to left-handed pitchers (only 28 plate appearances against them all year) and keeping him out of center field. Ethier has helped out in both outfield corners, actually, and has been a godsend as the Dodgers weathered injuries to Yasiel Puig, Carl Crawford, and Scott Van Slyke at various (and occasionally concurrent) points in the year.

The future: He's 33 and showing more power than he has in years, but like a lot of guys on this list, Ethier has also upped his walk rate and cut his strikeouts. His defense is only going to deteriorate. He's not likely to continue to contribute like this for much longer, but with at least two more years and $37 million coming his way, he should be in Dodger blue for a while regardless. How Los Angeles continues to deploy him will determine how valuable he is.

SP Hector Santiago, Los Angeles Angels

I was never a believer before this, but Santiago has hit another level in 2015. He has cut his walk rate dramatically while upping his strikeout rate. He remains about as heavy a fly ball pitcher as you'll find in baseball, but that fits in well in the spacious Anaheim outfield and with Mike Trout and Kole Calhoun playing behind him. With Jered Weaver bottoming out and getting hurt and Matt Shoemaker struggling, the Angels have needed Santiago to step up as their ace, and he has delivered with a 2.33 ERA. Without him, the Angels wouldn't be going into the All Star break leading the AL West.

The future: It's a little bit of smoke and mirrors, as Santiago is prone to give up a lot of homers, but if his newfound control is real, Santiago could be a very good candidate to maintain a lot of his gains in 2015 and a solid choice to head up a playoff rotation.

RP Ryan Madson, Kansas City Royals

Probably the biggest comeback story in the majors this year, and the least talked about, the resurrection of Ryan Madson is downright inspiring. Injured and out of the majors since 2011, Madson was an afterthought and had in fact only thrown one professional inning in that span. His velocity is back up to the low to mid 90s, he's struck out almost a batter per inning, and he has a 1.51 ERA in 35.2 innings. He didn't make the All Star team like Wade Davis or Kelvin Hererra, but Madson's success has been even more impressive when you consider where he's coming from.

The future: I mean, who knows, right? His arm could explode tomorrow, and it wouldn't shock anyone. It's great that he's thrown so well, but at this point you just ride him until the inevitable happens. At least the Royals are well-positioned to absorb the blow, with their world class bullpen.