Athletes You Should Know This Spring

Nick DimengoFeatured ColumnistFebruary 27, 2016

Athletes You Should Know This Spring

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    After surviving the cold winter, the short days and football-less month of February, sports fans have a few things that should really be exciting—spring!

    That's right, as March inches closer and the weather gets sunnier, the sports calendar begins to get a hell of a lot better, too, with March Madness and spring training in full swing in just a few weeks.

    And as we've seen every year since, well, forever, this is the time of year that some athletes begin to make a name for themselves, breaking out in a major way. These are the players fans need to keep an eye on in 2016.

Isaiah Thomas

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    It may be weird to add a guy who made the NBA All-Star Game to this list, but what Isaiah Thomas has been for the Boston Celtics is, surprisingly, still unnoticed by the majority of basketball fans outside that city.

    Sure, while Thomas was included with his peers as one of the league's best, it came only after an injury to another player, meaning he would've been sitting at home otherwise.

    But don't sleep on the pint-sized guard, because, while he may have a reputation for being a volume shooter and a journeyman from previous years, Thomas is the catalyst to the Celtics' quest for a deep playoff run.

    Trust me, for those fans who overlook this guy, he'll prove this spring why that's a poor choice.

Yoenis Cespedes

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    It's not that we don't know who Yoenis Cespedes is. After all, the guy has won a Home Run Derby and has been an All-Star once before.

    So why does the New York Mets slugger make this list now? It's because of what he showed after being traded to the Big Apple last season, when he absolutely tore up the National League and completely turned the Mets' season around, eventually being part of their World Series run.

    For all the hype that came with him when he signed years ago as a Cuban defector, it's now that Cespedes is on the cusp of superstardom. Therefore, I'm intrigued to see if he can duplicate that same dominance for an entire season and become one of the game's best.

    He has an infectious personality and skills to do it, so here's to hoping we see him at his best once again.

Jack Gibbs

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    Tell me if you've seen this before: A Davidson men's hoops player who just rips it and puts up video-game-like stats. Oh, yeah, Stephen Curry is who I'm thinking about, and Jack Gibbs is showing that he's trying to be the second-coming of "the Baby-faced Assassin."

    In no way am I trying to compare Gibbs to the reigning NBA MVP, but the similarities are there based off their college careers at the same school. So, who knows, maybe Gibbs can duplicate what Steph did years ago?

    On the outside looking in for the NCAA tourney, we've seen Cinderellas in March get hot for a number of reasons, with a superstar taking over being one of the most prominent—which is why it would be fun for Jack Gibbs and Davidson to, somehow, get into the field of 68.

Kyle Lowry

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    Another NBA All-Star selection, there aren't many people who don't know the name Kyle Lowry—given the fact he's now a bona fide star.

    That's just it, though, after earning individual praise in each of the past two seasons as an All-Star, it's on the point guard to take his game to the next level and elevate himself, his teammates and his Toronto Raptors, as the team has a legitimate chance at advancing out of the Eastern Conference.

    That may seem insane to some because, you know, LeBron James is still the bully everyone needs to take down, but if Lowry can turn it up and continue to lead the Raptors as he has all season long, fans may just realize what this kid's capable of doing.

Chris Archer

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    After reaching the All-Star Game last year, Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Chris Archer became a player who earned respect around the majors from fellow players and opposing coaches, but because of a poor second half of the season, many fans still don't know much about him.

    Don't be fooled, though, because the guy has nasty stuff that can overpower hitters.

    Archer proved that during his 9-5 first half in 2015, where he was being touted as one of the game's brightest young pitchers, with some even talking about him as a Cy Young and MVP candidate midway through last year.

    That may have been premature, but the skills are there, so fans should try to see Archer if he takes the bump in a town near you. He's electric.

Gordon Hayward

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    I know the Western Conference is stocked with great players, yet it's still surprising to me that Gordon Hayward has never made an All-Star Game in his career, as he has shown to be on the cusp of superstardom over the past few years.

    Following a rich new extension in the summer of 2014, Hayward went out and had his best season last year. He's followed that up with an encore that might be good enough to get his Utah Jazz into the postseason.

    Proving the team's rebuilding plan has, in fact, worked, Hayward and his young teammates might not be title contenders quite yet, but, like Kyle Lowry, it's Hayward who's steering the ship to see if they're ever going to get there.

Ben Simmons

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    Ah, yes, the case for Ben Simmons.

    All college hoops season—and before—fans heard about the LSU Tigers star, with some even comparing him to LeBron James, including Los Angeles Lakers great Magic Johnson.

    That's good and all, but with his team struggling, will we even see him play in the NCAA tourney? That's up for debate, but one thing's for sure, if the Tigers are on the bubble, some wonder if Simmons can't influence the committee all on his own because he's a player people want to see perform on the highest level.

    It's not that we don't know about Simmons, we do, but we haven't seen the best from the former No. 1 overall prospect in the country, according to ESPN.com, which is why we'll all be keeping an eye on him over the next month or so.

    Here's to hoping the Tigers can, somehow, play their way into the tournament.

Francisco Lindor

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    He may only be 22 years old with less than 100 games in his major league career, but Cleveland Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor proved he has all the potential in the world to be a superstar.

    The eighth overall pick in the 2011 MLB draft, Lindor was a hot prospect for a couple of years before the Tribe decided to bring the kid to Cleveland last season, where he provided a spark to an otherwise dormant offense and finished second in AL Rookie of the Year voting.

    Expectations are higher than ever as he enters his first full big league season, but should Francisco Lindor reach them, the Indians could become serious contenders, as Baseball Prospectus noted. Yep, that's how much of an impact this kid could have.

Kay Felder

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    Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports

    Not the most physically imposing person you can find—as he's listed at just 5'9" and 176 pounds—Oakland Golden Grizzlies guard Kay Felder isn't short on stats, as he's in the top five in both scoring and assists in the nation.

    Still, one would find some hard-pressed to even recognize Felder's name because of the small school he plays at, making him a potential breakout star should Oakland get into the NCAA tourney.

    That may be a tough proposition right now—as the Golden Grizz aren't in ESPN Joe Lunardi's current bracket—but that doesn't mean things can't turn around for them in the next month.

    With Felder on their side, Oakland could get hot and make a run toward the NCAA tourney, which is what everyone should hope for, because they're a team that could make some noise.

Marcus Stroman

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    While many projected the Toronto Blue Jays pitcher to have a breakout 2015 campaign, it wasn't until the playoffs that Marcus Stroman was even able to show the electric stuff that had those people excited.

    That's because Stroman injured his ACL in spring training, putting him on the shelf for the regular season until he miraculously returned for the playoffs to help the Jays reach the American League Championship Series.

    Fully healthy with big league experience now in his back pocket, the 24-year-old Stroman finds himself as the ace Toronto will turn to in order to duplicate last season's success. Opposing batters better be ready.

Buddy Hield

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    Is it insane to just go ahead and call Oklahoma Sooners guard Buddy Hield the Stephen Curry of this year's college basketball season?

    While he might not be the pure shooter Steph is, Hield is every bit as ruthless, breaking the hearts of opposing players and fans with buckets he can put up in a hurry, stroking it from deep with the best of them.

    Playing with a smile on his face and electricity that's unmatched in the college game, Hield has the potential to lead his Sooners to a national title. It will be fun to see if he can maneuver OU through the NCAA tourney for a deep run.

    The likely Player of the Year, this dude is straight fire!

Breanna Stewart

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    Don't think only boys have all the fun, because UConn Huskies women's hoops player Breanna Stewart might just be better on the hardwood than any of the aforementioned guys I've listed.

    Sure, we all know her name already—as she's the most dominating player in the women's game this season—but there are some who don't fully understand what we're witnessing each time Stewart takes the floor, as she's putting up unprecedented numbers.

    With three national title rings on her hand during her time in Storrs, Breanna has her sights set on a fourth, which would cap a remarkable career that includes head coach Geno Auriemma claiming the center is the most talented player to have ever come through the program.

    That's high praise, but with comparisons to Kevin Durant, per Sports Illustrated, and two-straight Player of the Year awards on her resume, every basketball fan should see how Breanna Stewart's illustrious college career ends up this spring.