The San Francisco Giants were one of the big surprises that nobody talked about last season.
After finishing the 2008 season with an abysmal 72-90 record, the Giants bounced back with a 16-game turnaround and just missed out on the postseason, finishing 88-74.
An insane first full season from Pablo "Kung Fu Panda" Sandoval, another Cy Young winning campaign from Tim Lincecum, and the best reliever in baseball, Jeremy Affeldt, led the way.
Add in an All-Star campaign from Matt Cain, a no-hitter from Jonathan Sanchez, and inspiring play from Juan Uribe, and there were plenty of contributions that jump off the page.
However, every year there are certain players who seemingly come out of nowhere to burst onto the scene.
Now, while each of the guys I'm about to mention have varying amounts of experience, each and every one of them has a chance to make a positive impact for the Orange and Black in 2010.
With the Giants losing Brad Penny to free agency and Madison Bumgarner likely to be thrust into the starting rotation, San Francisco doesn't have the rotation depth they had last season.
Considering that top pitching prospect Tim Alderson was traded last season for Freddy Sanchez, it is evident that Giants' pitching prospects have all been elevated in the rankings.
One pitcher who can take advantage of that is 24-year-old Henry Sosa. A native of the El Seybo, Dominican Republic, Sosa has been in the Giants' system since 2006 and had his best season yet with AA Connecticut in 2009.
While Sosa's K's/BB dropped down to just 1.76 in his first season with the Defenders, he posted career-bests in ERA and WHIP, with marks of 2.36 and 1.18, respectively.
In 71 and two-thirds innings last year, Sosa finished with a 6-0 record and allowed just 61 hits.
Giants' fans should look for his impressive numbers to continue next season, and, depending on injury or poor performance on the big club, Sosa might see his first big-league action.
With that mid-'90s fastball and developing off-speed pitches, Sosa should be at the very least a September call-up who provides extra bullpen help down the stretch.
Another Dominican native, Joaquin posted a 4.22 ERA in 10 and two-thirds innings in the second half of last season for the Giants, his first-ever big-league action.
Although the rookie reliever gave up 10 hits and seven walks in that span for a not-so-stellar 1.59 WHIP, the 12 strikeouts in that span are a major positive.
Averaging more than a strikeout per inning in his first stint at the big-league level shows that if Joaquin can improve his command, he has the ability to become quite the nasty reliever.
He was supposed to be the Giants' starting shortstop.
After an impressive stretch during the second half of 2008 where Emmanuel Burriss showed of an impressive arm in the field and hit .283 with an OBP of .357, Burriss was deemed the starting shortstop in 2009.
GM Brian Sabean said it himself soon after the 2008 season ended.
However, sub-par numbers from Burriss in the fall league, and Sabean rushed to conclusions about needing a free-agent shortstop.
San Francisco then overpaid for Edgar Renteria, and Burriss was left to fight for the second-base position.
Burriss won the second-base job and started out the year with the Giants, but he struggled mightily and hit just .238 before being sent down to Triple-A.
Soon after being demoted, Burriss broke his toe and was out for the year.
Although his numbers weren't impressive last season, the young middle infielder has the potential to steal 35-40 bags and be a high OBP type hitter.
Here's to hoping the washed-up Renteria sustains an injury, and the younger Burriss gets his second chance.
How 'bout striking out your first-ever big-league hitter, and then overpowering Prince Fielder the following game by inducing him to hit a measly pop-up?
That is how Dan Runzler jumped onto the scene in September 2009.
In fact, the pitcher who had spent time at every minor league level in the Giants' system last season allowed just one earned run in 8 2/3 innings after being called up to the big show.
If it wasn't for a mistake to location to San Diego's veteran catcher Henry Blanco, Runzler would have finished his first stint in the big leagues with a 0.00 ERA.
Blanco took the kid deep for a gigantic home run, but Runzler did bounce back with two strikeouts in that inning, which ran his total to 11 in those eight and two-thirds innings.
The 6' 4" 230-pound lefty is essentially Jeremy Affeldt 2.0.
Runzler has an impressive low-to-mid 90's fastball and an excellent curve ball that locks up even some of baseball's best hitters.
Allowing just the one earned run last year meant that the rookie reliever finished with a 1.04 ERA.
With Affeldt as a veteran lefty to help him along, Giants' fans should be looking for big things from the 24-year-old southpaw.
Andres Torres may be a 31-year-old journeyman outfielder with just 409 at-bats since his MLB debut back in 2002, but, last year, he became a fan favorite in just his first season with San Francisco.
Torres showed great range in the outfield, was impressive running the bases, and demonstrated tremendous pop for a guy who had just one career home run before 2009.
Now with seven career homers, Torres has proven to be extremely valuable off the bench, and, if his impressive play continues, he may just push Aaron Rowand for everyday playing time in center field.
With the raw speed and improved approach at the plate, Torres had 20 extra base-hits on the season.
To go along with six home runs and six doubles, Torres raked for eight, count them, eight triples in just 152 at-bats.
To put that in perspective, Torres was on pace to hit 32 triples if given 600 at-bats.
In total, Torres' 2009 offensive numbers are absolutely incredible for a spot-starter.
His .270 average, .343 on-base percentage, and a .533 slugging percentage made for a blistering .876 OPS.
Compare that to Rowand, who posted an OPS of .738 last season.
Rowand may have the big contract and the better history, but another poor performance by the 60 million dollar man, and the Giants may be forced to insert Torres in his place.
Hopefully, Torres keeps on trucking and gets a chance at everyday playing time in 2010, because watching him run the bases on those triples is much more entertaining than watching Rowand swing at balls in the dirt game after game.