Mystery, myth, fiction or fable, the sophomore slump is intimidating, no matter the sport. It's downright spine-chilling to baseball players, a group of men who since time immemorial have bought in to superstitions like stepping over chalk lines, not speaking to a pitcher during a no-hitter, rally caps and the Curse of the Bambino. But there's no proof of the reality of a second-year swoon, and these nine nonbelievers are going to show why Year 2 can be just as good as their rookie season, if not better. Photo: Frank Victores / Kim Klement / David Richard / USA TODAY Sports
George Springer, OF, Houston Astros
>>ROOKIE STATS: .231, 20 HR, 51 RBI, 5 SB (in just 78 games). >> THE SKINNY: A left quad strain forced Springer to miss the majority of the second half of his season. Imagine what he could have accomplished with 200 more at-bats. He's still going to swing and miss — a lot, but another season in the bigs should help him lower that 33 percent strikeout rate. >> WHAT TO EXPECT: In 2013, Springer was three homers shy of a 40-40 season in the minors. In 2015, he'll hit more than 20 home runs and should steal close to 20 bases, too.
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY SportsTroy Taormina
Xander Bogaerts, SS, Boston Red Sox
>> ROOKIE STATS: .240, 12 HR, 46 RBI. >> THE SKINNY: Bogaerts was hit-and-miss in 2014, finishing the season with a 23-game span in which he hit .315 and blasted four homers after enduring two months when he didn't hit his weight. The 22-year-old shortstop changed his offseason routine, working with trainers and other major leaguers. This time around, he'll be better prepared for the rigors of a full season. >> WHAT TO EXPECT: Bogaerts should get on base more in 2015, and his power numbers should rise as well.
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY SportCharles LeClaire
Nick Castellanos, 3B, Detroit Tigers
>> ROOKIE STATS: .259, 11 HR, 66 RBI. >> THE SKINNY: Castellanos was a line-drive machine last season — only one major-league player (Atlanta's Freddie Freeman) topped his 28.5 percent line-drive rate last season. This is not a new skill — he excelled at line drives in the minors, which means future success can be expected. >> WHAT TO EXPECT: Castellanos' rookie campaign should be easily repeatable. If he can cut down on his strikeouts (140), this could be somewhat of a breakout season.
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY SportsRick Osentoski
Billy Hamilton, OF, Cincinnati Reds
>> ROOKIE STATS: .250, 48 RBI, 56 SB. >> THE SKINNY: Instead of a sophomore slump, Hamilton had his fall from grace during the second half of his rookie year. His batting average was 85 points lower after the All-Star break, and he stole fewer bases (dropping from one per 2.4 games in the first half to one per 3.4 games after the break). In 2015, expect Hamilton to cut down on his 37.3 percent flyball rate and to use his speed to get on base. >> WHAT TO EXPECT: There's no reason to expect anything less than what Hamilton did last season. If things go right, he could improve his stolen base numbers by 50 percent.
Jake Roth-USA TODAY SportsJake Roth
Kolten Wong, 2B, St. Louis Cardinals
>> ROOKIE STATS: .249, 12 HR, 42 RBI, 20 SB. >> THE SKINNY: Wong's first- and second-half splits were similar, but there were two glaring irregularities. The first was a terrible month of June in which he hit .103 as he tried to play through an injury. The second was a horribly inflated strikeout rate (11.3 percent prior to the break, 20.9 percent after) in the final months of the season. Take those two phenomena away and there's room to grow in 2015. >> WHAT TO EXPECT: What you saw is likely what you're going to get in regard to power numbers and stolen base totals. But Wong should see an increase in his slash stats.
Jeff Curry-USA TODAY SportsJeff Curry
Yordano Ventura, SP, Kansas City Royals
>> ROOKIE STATS: 14-10, 3.20 ERA, 159 K's. >> THE SKINNY: Ventura has an incredible arsenal of pitches and a cannon arm and is as aggressive as they come. The biggest obstacle for this 23-year-old will be continued growth after such a fast start. He started to show just that last season as he posted his best strikeout numbers (34) in the final month. >> WHAT TO EXPECT: Ventura should still reach double digits in wins, and his strikeout numbers should climb.
Pool Photo-USA TODAY SportsPool Photo
Trevor Bauer, SP, Cleveland Indians
>> ROOKIE STATS: 5-8, 4.18 ERA, 143 K's. >> THE SKINNY: Bauer was the epitome of inconsistency last season. He would enjoy a high strikeout rate one month, then it would plummet the next. Even when he was striking out batters like crazy, his ERA would bounce around. It's too early to predict that he'll begin to figure out the nuances of big-league pitching, but his huge strikeout totals lend toward at least a repeat of 2014 this season. >> WHAT TO EXPECT: Bauer should easily double his win total in 2015, but don't expect a breakout year.
Brad Rempel-USA TODAY SportsBrad Rempel
Chase Anderson, SP, Arizona Diamondbacks
>> ROOKIE STATS: 9-7, 4.01 ER, 105 K's. >> THE SKINNY: Though a 3-3 record didn't show it, Anderson's final nine starts of last season were troubled. He posted a 4.98 ERA and allowed hitters a .286 batting average. He's been spending time this spring changing the grip on his two-seam fastball in hopes that he'll be able to pitch the entire season in 2015 as he did his first 12 starts of 2014. >> WHAT TO EXPECT: Anderson's walk rate was a bit high last year compared to his minor-league numbers. So there's a shot he'll fix that in 2015. He also could break into the sub-4.00 ERA club as well.
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY SportCharles LeClaire
Kevin Gausman, SP, Baltimore Orioles
>> ROOKIE STATS: 7-7, 3.57 ERA, 88 K's >> THE SKINNY: As the 2014 season progressed, Gausman improved. His strikeout rate climbed from 16.6 percent to 19.4, and his walk rate was reduced to 7.8 percent from 8.3 before the All-Star Break. He also allowed just one run in eight innings during postseason play out of the bullpen. >> WHAT TO EXPECT: Gausman's fastball already seems to be ready for the regular season, and his breaking stuff is uncannily good right now. Expect his starts and strikeout rate to climb dramatically, and his ERA to spike, but not by much — even if he begins the season in the bullpen.