Some Giant Leaps

Each year some seem to emerge. They are those who were low on the prospect charts; some had fallen off, some weren't on anybody's list to begin with. Yet, they persevered and emerged as a force. This season had a solid list of those who accomplished this, a no small feat.

Chief among them is Hong-Chih Kuo, the Taiwanese lefthander. He'd been on the short list a few years ago but that was before such an overwhelming number of setbacks to his injured left arm that even a physical therapist who worked with him predicted that he'd never throw with his former velocity again. After all, he'd worked in but 42.1 innings in five years as a pro, only 12 of those in the last three.

Yet, here he is in the big leagues today; his fast ball has movement and upper 90's zip and he's thrown in 54.1 innings this year alone. He moved from Vero Beach (1-1, 2.08) to Jacksonville (1-1, 1.91) to The Show in the space of three months. Quite a reincarnation.

There are some others who vaulted forward ward as well.

Matt Kemp-- He certainly was on the list after a solid season in 2004 but his emergence has nonetheless been noteworthy. Even though he started the season on the disabled list with a sprained wrist, he set a Vero Beach home run record with 27 (breaking Adrian Beltre's mark) drove in 9-0 runs and stole 20 bases. As a coming offensive force he ranks now right at or near the top of the pile.

Justin Ruggiano-- He hit only .270 his senior year at Texas A & M, was a 25th-round draft choice in 2004 and some wondered why even bother with him. His .329 mark his rookie season at Ogden was greeted with yawns. So, all he did this time was hit .310 at Vero, then move to Jacksonville where he hit .342. Along the way, he drove 15 out of the yard and stole 24 bases. Maybe, it's time we acknowledge that he's for real.

Tony Abreu-- A .302 season at Columbus in 2004 got some notice; now he's really taken off -- hit .327 at Vero, moved up to Jacksonville and showed that he's not only an offensive second baseman of note but adroit defensively as well.

Anthony Raglani- Spent most of 2004 rehabbing a broken wrist bone after signing in 2004 when he played in only six games. The first week or so it looked like high A ball would be too much in what was essentially his rookie season. Yet he wound up at .287-19-71, getting better and better as time went on.

Ryan Carter- Seemingly forgotten after sitting out 2004 when he had Tommy John surgery, he wasn't even placed on a team out of spring training, being relegated to the extended camp. Finally sent to Columbus in June, he ripped 17 home runs in 59 games showing he might well be a power hitter to be reckoned with.

Luis Gonzalez-- A lefthander he was just another roster-filler at Jacksonville last year with a 4.75 ERA. This time he was a very dependable set-up man, turning it around to 7-2, 2.21.

Carlos Alvarez-- Another lefty who engenders skepticism because of his 5-9, 160-pound frame. But when he held the opposition to a .175 batting average while posting an 0.93 ERA at Columbus he got some attention and was vaulted all the way to Jacksonville where he generally threw well.

Some came on, some came back and some didn't even seem around the starting line at the beginning. All performed exceptionally well.