8/26/2014 12:00 A.M. ET
Surprise hits make for inspiring stories
By Richard Justice / MLB.com
One of the best parts of any baseball season is the surprise stories. Sometimes, it's the kids who burst onto the scene and do great things. Other times, it's the guys who've fought through all kinds of adversity, refused to give up and finally come out on the other side as big-time contributors on good teams.
Another thing that's part of any baseball season: Virtually every team that makes a nice postseason run gets at least a few contributions from places it never expected to get them.
Sometimes, it's the kids. Sometimes, it the comeback stories. But while good teams count on their stars performing at a high level, there's a reason general managers spend so much time sorting through reports and asking scouts the same question over and over.
"Can this guy help us?"
That's been true again this season, and as baseball sprints toward the September stretch run, there are surprising -- some inspiring -- stories here, there and everywhere.
Here's my fave five:
Chris Young, Mariners starter: There are sweet stories, and then there are stories that are almost too good to be true. That's what Young represents. His resume includes seven organizations, three surgical procedures and a relentless will to keep going when there seemed almost no reason to. Young had a 7.88 ERA in seven Triple-A starts for the Nationals last season. He got his release after being told he wouldn't make the club in Spring Training. Seattle needed a starter and believed Young was healthy. He has been an absolute godsend, with 12 victories, 150 1/3 innings and a 3.17 ERA. Young hasn't thrown a 90-mph fastball in years, but he's smart, aggressive, has pinpoint control and has an ability to change speeds and keep hitters off balance. "If he's not the Comeback Player of the Year, I don't know who could possibly be," Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon said. Score one for the good guys.
Josh Harrison, Pirates utilityman: In three big league seasons before this one, Harrison had 532 at-bats and a .250 batting average. The Bucs valued him because he can play every position. What they couldn't have known is that Harrison would become one of their most valuable players this season. When manager Clint Hurdle began giving him chances to play, he took advantage of them, starting games at five positions. Harrison was named to the National League All-Star team and is hitting .303.
Dellin Betances, Yankees reliever: Once upon a time, Betances was the undisputed star of the Bombers' farm system and tabbed a future anchor of the rotation. And then everything went wrong. Injuries. Poor performances. The Yanks placed him in the bullpen this season as something of a last resort. Now 26, Betances has become a star. The imposing 6-foot-8, 260-pound right-hander has been one of baseball's best relievers, compiling a 1.42 ERA in 57 appearances. In 76 innings, he has 20 walks and 113 strikeouts. Betances is pure power, with a 97-mph fastball and an 87-mph slider.
J.D. Martinez, Tigers outfielder: Martinez's season began with the Astros releasing him near the end of Spring Training. Detroit signed him to a Minor League deal and summoned him to the big leagues in late April. Martinez found a comfortable level in a lineup with Miguel Cabrera and Torii Hunter that he never had with Houston. His batting average has been above .300 virtually the entire season, and at 27, he's becoming almost exactly the player the Astros once thought he'd be.
Kole Calhoun, Angels outfielder: Calhoun began this season with 247 career at-bats in the big leagues, and this season, it figured to be another year in which he would fight for playing time and be shuttled back and forth between Los Angeles and Triple-A Salt Lake. He injured his right ankle in mid-April and returned five weeks later, and on May 25, he was hitting .205. But then Calhoun began to take advantage of every opportunity. He hit .346 in June and .287 in July. Calhoun began Monday hitting .318 this month. In a lineup with Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, etc., Calhoun has made his presence felt with 25 doubles, 13 home runs and a very nice .827 OPS.
Honorable mention: Jake Arrieta, Alfredo Simon, Collin Cowgill and Tanner Roark.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.