Every year in Major League Baseball we get surprises. These surprises are what make the game so fresh and rewarding to follow year after year. There are surprise players and surprise teams. Last year, we had Adrian Beltre, Yovanni Gallardo, the San Diego Padres, C. J. Lewis, Jose Bautista and Aubrey Huff among the many surprises that thrilled us all season long. And yes, sure, projection systems are designed to predict the norm for players and teams and often come close. But there are always those that defy projections and expectations. Who will they be this year? Well, if the Fan knew that, he would play the stock market. But it's fun to speculate. The Fan is going to cover all 30 teams and six divisions and whether any teams will surprise us or one or two of its players. We'll start in the National League West. Later today will jump to the NL Central and continue with two more divisions tomorrow.
San Francisco Giants: This team does not seem poised to repeat as World Champions. But if they did, that could be considered a surprise. Players who could have surprise seasons would include Pablo Sandoval, who could get back to his 2009 form after his off-season conditioning program, and Cody Ross, who will need to come up big in a pondering and older outfield.
San Diego Padres: It would be a surprise if this team was again competitive after losing their best player to the Red Sox. But the NL West doesn't have a clear cut powerhouse, so anything could happen and that indeed would be a surprise. As for their players, Kyle Blanks could bust out this year. Reports are that he lost some weight and worked on his conditioning. Among the other players, perhaps Will Venable will become a productive player and live up to his once highly-regarded promise.
Los Angeles Dodgers: This could be the surprise team of the NL West with a new manager and a new start. Several players were below their norms last year and they have good pitching. Rafael Furcal has not played a full season in a while due to injuries. He's in the walk year of his contract. Expect a big year as your Dodger surprise. It would be a surprise if both Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier did not bounce back and have very good seasons.
Colorado Rockies: The home/road splits for this team are always a problem. Perhaps this year they will put it together in both instances. That would qualify for a surprise. The Rockies have a couple of players that could surprise us. Dexter Fowler has good patience at the plate and at 25, just seems like a better player than he's shown so far. If he finally busts out, that would be a surprise. Ian Stewart is another one who at 26 just seems like a better player than what we have seen. He could have a surprising season. And of course, if Tulowitzki stayed healthy the entire season, that would be a surprise.
Arizona Diamondbacks: As bad as they were last year, if they were competitive at all this year, that would be a huge surprise. But Kevin Towers has been busy, so it's possible, eh? For that to happen, their pitching staff as a whole would have to qualify as a surprise. As for position players, 2011 could be the season when Stephen Drew finally becomes a superstar. He is only approaching his 28th year and perhaps the shake up on the team will shake him up as well.
This was a fun division to start with because it is so wide open. Any of these teams could win the division and any team that does will be a surprise.