Who could be baseball's Lin?
Jeremy Lin's quick rise from obscurity reminds of Fernando Valenzuela's story
Yu Darvish could become a fast star if Rangers again compete for AL West crown
Despite many offseason additions, Mike Stanton may be Marlins' best player in '12
By now everyone's been exposed to Lin-sanity, a condition that overcomes its victims when they witness the mad skills that sports' latest and greatest sensation, Jeremy Lin, put on display last week. Not since FernandoMania swept through baseball in 1981 on the left arm of pudgy young left-hander, Fernando Valenzuela, has someone gone from being so obscure to the center of attention as quickly. (Before you write in, yes, there was Tim Tebow, but he was already a star when he exploded on the NFL scene).
On the floor and especially in the NBA record book, the Harvard product has been keeping some very heady company -- LeBron, Kobe, CP3, Magic, Sir Charles, Bird, and yes, even his royal Airness -- with his (still active) streak of five-straight 20-point, seven assist games.
Lin's underdog story is straight out of a bad Disney script, with myriad underlying arcs, both good and bad, ranging from sleeping on his brother's couch to Taiwanese nationalism and Ivy League pride to possible racism and anti-elitism, to mismanagement by the Warriors, Rockets and the other 28 teams who left him un-selected in the 2010 NBA draft. And while nobody in their right mind would expect someone who just three weeks ago was a member of the D-League's Erie Bay Hawks, to continue this pace for an entire season (or even another full week for that matter), Lin has shown that he is talented enough to be a much better than average starting NBA point guard, especially while doing his best Steve Nash impersonation while running Mike D'Antoni's penetrate-and-dish offense to five straight Ws. And he did all of that with New York's top two stars, Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire, missing from a lineup that produced just nine wins in 24 games. It's for that reason that he's become that elusive fantasy needle-in-a-haystack: a waiver-wire addition that comes from nowhere and immediately contributes All-Star-level numbers.
It's hard to say where Lin will fall in the all-time best rags-to-riches fantasy pickup pantheon, yet he joins an impressive recent list. In the NFL, was there a better wire claim this past season than Victor Cruz, who salsa-ed his way to 82 catches, 1,536 yards and nine touchdowns in what amounted to 14 games of real action? Then there was Jose Bautista, who went from being a utility player who never hit more than 16 home runs in his previous six big league seasons playing for five different teams, to someone who led the majors in home runs in each of the last two seasons with 97 since the start of 2010.
Who are your best fantasy waiver wire pickups of the last two years? Send them to me on Twitter (@SI_DavidSabino).
In the meantime here are my candidates to become baseball's next big thing. While they all have more name recognition than Jeremy Lin did, they also have to ability to become part of the national discussion. While there are some others who will certainly be good, these are the players who could become an instant phenomenon in doing so. Think of someone who transcends the sports world, someone who doesn't only show up on SportsCenter, but also gets a segment on the national nightly news. That's famous.
1. Bryce Harper, OF, Nationals: Universally considered the best prospect in baseball, Harper, 19, will get a chance to stick with the big club in spring training, despite possibly costing the Nats a lot more money in the long run due to accelerated major league service time. But who could blame manager Davey Johnson from wanting a five-tool weapon on his side in a division as deep as its been in years? If Harper hits it big, look for the nation's capital to explode, making him the biggest baseball star in D.C. since Walter Johnson.
2. Yu Darvish, P, Rangers: Baseball-savvy folks know all about Darvish and his microscopic ERA and WHIP in Japan, but the only thing real folks know about him is the fact that the Texas Rangers invested more than $111 million for someone who has never played in the minors. However, playing for the AL's best team the past two years and under the tutelage of Mike Maddux, he's poised to be for Japanese pitchers what Ichiro Suzuki and Hideki Matsui have been for Japanese hitters.
3. Mike Stanton, RF, Marlins: Here's a riddle: If you hit 34 home runs and nobody's there to watch them, do they make a sound? The now-Miami Marlins made a big splash in the offseason, signing Jose Reyes, Heath Bell and Mark Buehrle, but Stanton, in his third season, is still the team's best player. Few besides baseball purists and those in fantasy leagues have noticed. As the Marlins pry some of South Beach's attention from LeBron and D-Wade with a new look and new stadium, Stanton's Q-score will skyrocket.
4. Matt Moore, P, Rays: The Rays were so impressed with the top pitching prospect in baseball that they sewed him up by signing him to a five-year, $14 million contract that could escalate to eight years for $40 million. That's a lot of faith in someone with just one regular season major league start. But it was in the playoffs when he threw seven innings of two-hit ball in Arlington against the Rangers when he showed what he could do. Pitching in the AL East against the spotlight-grabbing Yankees and Red Sox, any strong streak will surely garner a lot of media attention.
5) Michael Piņeda, P, Yankees: With Yankee Stadium a national sporting fish bowl, Piņeda is in perfect position to become a household name on the strength of a powerful right arm that earned him a trip to the All Star Game as a rookie pitching for the Mariners. Like Cruz and Lin, if he goes on a tear and rattles off a bunch of strong games in a row, or does something like pitch a no-hitter, New York's press corps will rally around him, and there's no telling the star power that he could generate.
This Week's Twitter question comes from Steve Marsden, who asks:
Do you like David Price to bounce back and have a productive year? Is he ready to take next step into top 10?
Yes, I expect Price to bounce back from a season that saw his ERA rise from 2.72 to 3.49 and record fall from 19-6 to 12-13. However, the young southpaw raised his strikeout rate from 8.1 to 8.7 per nine innings while slashing his walks per nine almost a full free pass from 3.4 to 2.5. That, in turn, helped his WHIP, which dropped a meaningful 0.06 from his breakout 2010 season. My current overall top 10 is NL-heavy (and presented alphabetically for now) -- Zack Greinke Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, Dan Haren, Ian Kennedy, Clayton Kershaw, Cliff Lee, Tim Lincecum, Justin Verlander, Jered Weaver -- but Price surely makes my AL-only Top 10.
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