2007 was a year to remember for many athletes.
But instead of giving even more love to the best, why not look ahead to next year and show some appreciation for the breakout athletes?
Here is the final installment of a three-part series on the best breakout players of the year:
Candidates: Fausto Carmona, Jose Valverde, Brandon Phillips, Kaz Matsui, Dan Haren
The Pick: Fausto Carmona
It would be an injustice to many if I didn’t take the time out to be a homer in this series.
That, and I can’t think of anyone else on that list that deserves it more.
Brandon Phillips always had the potential, but just needed a change of scenery. Some could say the same for Kaz Matsui.
Dan Haren had his best year and established himself as the ace of the A’s rotation, but the only thing that did was get him traded.
Jose Valverde proved a lot of his critics wrong, and went on to lead the majors in saves.
But Fausto Carmona’s heavily documented journey tops them all.
From spot starter to middle reliever to closer, from closer back to spot starter all the way to Cy Young candidate—Fausto’s past two years have been quite the ride.
He debuted last year against the Tigers in place of an injured C.C. Sabathia. Carmona pitched well, got some help from a leaping grab by Todd Hollandsworth, and earned the win. His future looked bright from there.
The Indians began to get enamored with his stuff. They also believed they had a log jam in the rotation, with stud prospect Adam Miller soaring through the system.
So, after trading Bob Wickman, they decided they were going to try and groom a closer.
Carmona got hit hard, and the rest was history—a ruined player with shattered confidence. Many thought the guy was trade bait.
But that didn’t stop the Indians from calling on him when needed. Cliff Lee went down with an injury in training camp, and Fausto got the nod.
He was successful in his fill-in role, but the rotation was still jammed, so he was sent down to Buffalo.
His stay in AAA wouldn’t be long though, as Jake Westbrook went down with an injury. That is when Fausto kicked it in gear. His pitching was so lights out, he presented the Tribe with a serious problem to address when Westbrook was ready to come back.
The problem wasn’t Fausto Carmona. It was deciding who was going to get bumped out in favor of the kid.
The Dominican sinker-baller got so good, so fast, people started forgetting he was only 23 years old.
Jeremy Sowers made it easy on the Indians—he became so bad in a short amount of time that they didn’t even wait till Jake Westbrook returned to make the move.
Fausto was a few decimal points from leading the league in ERA. He consistently went seven innings all year, and rarely turned in a horrific start. It’s not a stretch to say he was better than the Cy Young winner Sabathia.
Carmona turned 24 earlier this month, and has yet to hit his prime. That sinker will keep getting nastier, and the fastball will keep getting faster. It’s far from the end for the man not fazed by a few bugs.
Candidates: Kevin Smith, Chase Daniel, Jordy Nelson
The Pick: Jordy Nelson
Excuse me for the lack of candidates, there are so many that I didn’t want to leave some out.
Included are the three that probably deserve it the most. Chase Daniel catapulted himself into Heisman discussion two years after taking over for Brad Smith.
Kevin Smith led the entire nation in rushing yards, and should be returning for his senior year at Central Florida.
Jordy Nelson, though, probably made himself the most money, when he went from mediocre receiver to one of the best in the country.
While he did struggle through injuries last year, he more than tripled his receiving yards in 2007. He went from having one 100-yard game last year, to having eigh this year—including two 200-yard outings.
Not to mention, he scored 10 more touchdowns than in 2006, more than doubling his two previous years combined.
Nelson’s 122 receptions were second to only Michael Crabtree with 125. While Crabtree did gain more yards, Nelson was a reliable target for Kansas State QB Josh Freeman.
Pretty impressive for a guy who never played receiver, wouldn’t you say?
Jordy was both a quarterback and defensive back in high school. He was recruited to Kansas State as a defensive back (maybe that’s why he wears 27?), but was converted to receiver his sophomore year.
Nelson will go on to the NFL now, something that seemed rather unlikely before this season.
The Pick: Kelly Pavlik
I’m not a boxing fan, and probably never will be.
But for one night, I was glued to the television, as Youngstown’s own Kelly Pavlik put himself on the map.
Pavlik can be seen on a very large billboard as you leave the Mahoning County via the freeway. Having driven by it a few times, I understand what “The Ghost” means to our city.
Pavlik, the newest pride of Youngstown, Ohio, defeated Jermain Taylor on September 29th.
The two undefeated middleweights entertained a world-wide audience, fighting a virtually even bout. Pavlik almost got knocked out in the second round when Taylor delivered a crushing blow.
However, Pavlik took a knee, regained his composure, and continued. He fought through the entire bout, going back and forth with Taylor until he broke through in the seventh round.
Kelly unleashed a flurry of shots on Jermain, sending him into his own corner—right in front of Pavlik’s trainer, Jack Loew.
Pavlik won the bout by TKO with a finishing uppercut, proving a lot of people wrong about the skinny white kid from a bad city in Northeast Ohio.
“The Ghost” was doubted before the match even began. Taylor’s trainer Emmanuel Steward said Pavlik was overrated and his fighter was going to knock him out.
The odds were against Pavlik, and he came through.
The new middleweight champion and Taylor will fight again next year. This time all the money will be all on Kelly Pavlik, the pride of Youngstown, Ohio.
MLB: James Loney
I passed up the temptation of Franklin Gutierrez for a kid who is just waiting to bust out into the big time. On a flashy team, at a power position, Loney is poised to put up big numbers in 2008.
College Football: Noel Devine
The troubled super recruit from Florida has found himself a spot in West Virginia. Even if Steve Slaton decides to come back for his senior year, Noel Devine will be a big part of the Mountaineer offense.