Every year, we see a number of Major League Baseball players who perform much better than expectations. Whether it's a guy recovering from an injury, coming off a bad year, or just simply coming out of nowhere, it's hard not to root for those who achieve surprising success. Let's take a look at some of the overachievers from the 2015 season.
Getty ImagesJoe Robbins
After playing just 42 games in 2014, Prince Fielder ended his season early, undergoing neck surgery and that put an end to his 547 consecutive-game streak. Nobody knew how he would bounce back from the surgery and if he would be the player the Texas Rangers envisioned after trading for him in 2013. Fielder responded with a huge 2015, hitting .309 with 23 home runs and 96 RBI. Even more, he provided stability to the middle of the Rangers lineup and a team that's had somewhat of a bounce-back season themselves as they are poised to return to the postseason for the first time since 2012.
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY SportsRick Osentoski
Few players manage to stick around in the league after making their MLB debut in their late twenties. Even fewer then stick around as a key contributor for at least two more years, let alone make an All-Star team. Stephen Vogt did just that in 2015, a season after emerging as an under-the-radar performer for the Oakland Athletics. A great first half in '15 (.287/.374/.498 with 14 home runs and 56 RBI) put the unassuming Vogt on the national radar, though injuries have subsequently zapped his second-half results. A fan favorite and all-around likeable clubhouse personality, All-Star Stephen Vogt was one of the standout players on an underachieving A's club in 2015.
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY SportsJerome Miron
Lefty Hector Santiago has always been a bit of an enigma. Incredibly efficient when he's on his game, Santiago can also be a bit erratic when his command deserts him. Despite the ups and downs, Santiago made the 2015 All-Star team on the strength of a 6-4 record and an impressive 2.33 ERA. Fellow enigmatic southpaw C.J. Wilson proved to have a lost season for the Halos, as his own inefficiency and eventual elbow surgery made Santiago's emergence that much more important. Though Santiago has fallen back to a 3-5 record and 5.40 ERA in the second half, his first-half success was definitely one of the more interesting developments for the Angels.
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY SporJayne Kamin-Oncea
With last year's closer Jenrry Mejia out for the season with a PED suspension and the prior year's closer Bobby Parnell returning from Tommy John surgery, the Mets needed a reliable closer and were rewarded for entrusting Familia with that duty even though he had no prior experience as a full-timer. While his success has been overshadowed by the resurgence of the Mets offense, Familia has played a big role in why the Mets are postseason-bound. Upon claiming the closer role, the 25-year-old right-hander has notched 42 saves (2nd all-time in Mets history) with 84 strikeouts in 76 2/3 innings, and a 1.88 ERA that slots him only behind Reds flame-thrower Aroldis Chapman for the lowest ERA amongst closers with more than 30 saves. In one season, Familia has skyrocketed from unknown to a candidate for NL Reliever of the Year.
APCharles Rex Arbogast
After a very poor year in 2014, nobody expected Morales to put together his best campaign since 2009 in his age-32 season. In his first season in Kansas City after being picked up as a free agent, Morales has thrived as the Royals' designated hitter. In addition to hitting 22 home runs with 106 RBI, he has held a .291/.359/.487 slash line, all of which are his best since his 2009 season with the Angels except for home runs (2013: 23 with Mariners), which he could very well change by the season's end. His prolific 2015 season comes on the heels of a disappointing 2014 season in which he hit .218/.274/.338 with eight home runs and 42 RBI in 98 games with the Mariners and Twins, which makes him a strong candidate for AL Comeback Player of the Year.
In light of what he's done this season, Brandon Crawford may have laid to rest his tag as a defensive specialist. After hitting 26 home runs in his first four seasons in MLB, the Giants shortstop has clubbed 20 long flies this season and driven in a career-high 81 runs. Crawford is also on pace to achieve a career-best line of .255/.321/.456, which may not look eye-popping, but it's a big improvement for the 28-year-old. His hitting surge hasn't detracted from his defensive production, either, as he has made himself an appealing candidate for his first Gold Glove with some flat-out ridiculous plays this season.
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Arenado was a Gold Glove third baseman with a decent stick -- we knew that much approaching 2015. What we didn't know is what his ceiling was at the plate. It's sky high. In 244 games over his first two seasons, Arenado hit 28 home runs with 113 RBI. In 2015 alone, the 24-year-old third baseman has hit a whopping 41 home runs, and has driven in 127 runs for the Rockies, surpassing accomplishments of two seasons in less than a full season. Now that Colorado has parted ways with longtime shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, Arenado has established himself as the face of the Rockies franchise with a spectacular season at the plate and in the field.
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY SporJayne Kamin-Oncea
The Seattle Mariners (and ex-GM Jack Zduriencik) went 'all in' on a lofty free agent contract for Nelson Cruz before the 2015 season, and it's worked remarkably well. While the Mariners underachieved and left many disappointed as a team, Cruz hasn't left much to be desired. Entering play Thursday, Cruz has swatted 44 home runs, 17 of them at Safeco Field. He's also hitting for average to the tune of .301/.370/.570. Though Seattle's offense has been woefully inconsistent in 2015 (as Robinson Cano's struggles have caused some to suspect him of regressing), Cruz has proven to be worth the money he was handed by the club. Whether he can continue mashing like this for the next few seasons, however, remains to be seen.
Getty ImagesOtto Greule Jr
Remember Rich Hill? He began his career back in 2005 as a starter, but went to full-time relieving in 2010 and became a sparsely used bullpen piece for the Boston Red Sox before bouncing around three different teams in two years. Not much was expected out of him when the Red Sox signed him this August out of the Atlantic League. Even less was expected from him when he made his first start since July 27, 2009 on September 13. All he has done since then is make history. In three starts this season, Hill is 2-0, pitching to a 1.17 ERA and striking out 10 in each start and walking just two hitters total. The only other Red Sox pitcher to strike out 10+ and walk one-or-fewer in three straight starts? Just some guy named Pedro Martinez, who accomplished the feat in 1999 and was also pretty good.
Jeff Griffith-USA TODAY SportsJeff Griffith
After signing an enormous seven-year contract, reported at $130 million with the Texas Rangers prior to the 2014 season, Shin-Soo Choo had a rough year. He hit just .242, his lowest average as a full-time big leaguer, and hit just 13 home runs. To add more salt into the wound, he struggled on defense, forcing the Rangers to use him at DH for 45 games throughout the year. The expectations weren't high coming into this season, but after a rough month of April, Choo has lived up to his contract. Since May 1, Choo has hit .295 with 20 home runs and 74 RBI in 129 games. In September, he's hitting an incredible .404 with five homers and 20 RBI, pushing the Rangers atop the AL West.
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY SportsTim Heitman
While he started the season with the Tigers, Yoenis Cespedes has been brilliant for the Mets ever since they acquired him literally minutes before the trade deadline. When the Mets pulled the trigger on the Cespedes deal, they were obviously hoping he would provide a spark to the offense that was the worst in baseball during the first half. But no one could have predicted the type of production that he brought to New York. In 54 games with the Mets, Cespedes has a slash line of .287/.336/.610. He has hit 17 home runs with the Mets, one away from the 18 he hit with the Tigers in nearly twice as many games (102). Cespedes had a pretty disappointing 2014, especially after the A's traded him to the Red Sox at the deadline. He never lived up to the expectations in Boston, yet he's seriously exceeded them in New York.