Hot Takes: Sophomore Stars

by Max Zhuang | 10/17/16 12:01am

Sophomore year, year two or just a second chance; I have a theory that things only get better when you’re still kind of new to it, but not too new. Whether it’s a rookie baseball player who at first failed to meet tremendous expectations forced to toil in the minors for a year, recalled back up again to help carry his team to the National League Championship Series or a Dartmouth student who needs his freshman year to figure out the wild game and phenomenon of “pong,” 2016 has been the year for just getting adjusted to shine.

2016’s Sophomore Stars:

Javier Báez — Javy Báez quickly became one of my favorite baseball players to watch this past year. His tendency to frequently makes spectacularly athletic plays at second base, ruthlessness on the basepaths and fearlessness to swing for the fences combine as a true spectacle to watch in baseball. However, he wasn’t always this way as his serious plate discipline issues at one point sent him down to the minors. Now, he’s stealing home base in the NLCS. Kudos, to you Javy.

David Johnson ­— Johnson’s story is not one about making mistakes, adjusting to challenges and furiously taking the league by sophomore storm. No, think of Johnson more as a young star who is only getting better. After taking over the starting running back job during his rookie season, Johnson quickly showed that he could be a true workhorse running back. Since then, Johnson has been so successful that it’s almost boring. Perhaps Johnson summarized it best after the San Francisco 49ers game last weekend, “I’m continually growing and getting more comfortable.” Johnson might be the most boring, yet consistently tremendous young star.

Heung-Min Son — Let me preface this and say that Son has played professional soccer for many years, but the reason that I’m counting him in on this sophomore action is because he’s just been in the English Premier League and on the Tottenham Hotspurs for his second season. Before this season began, Son wanted out of his situation with the Spurs as he struggled throughout last season to even earn enough playing time on the team. Instead, Son was given a chance to fight for his starting spot, and he’s completely run away with it as he was named Premier League Player of the Month for September.

Testing this theory out, let’s look at some players who might really take full advantage of the experience garnered from their first year. By combining new adjustments made with their youth and excitement these players could really explode on the scene to become the newest superstars in their sport.

2017 Sophomore Stars:

Devin Booker — Booker reminds me of some combination between C.J. McCollum and Klay Thompson; he’s that talented at shooting the 3-point shot. And after a year in the NBA already, I think Booker looks to become not only just an elite perimeter shooter but also a guard who can score in just about any way possible. If I were the Phoenix Suns, I would build my team around him in and Dragan Bender for the next decade. Did I mention that Booker is only 19 years old?

Corey Seager — As a rookie, Seager batted an over .300 average while blasting in 26 home runs, absolutely ridiculous. Next season, I predict Seager to be just a little bit wiser given the postseason experience and a little more refined on the field. It’s never been much of a question that Seager has the pop to hang in the Major Leagues but Seager isn’t perfect as he lead the National League in errors made by a shortstop. As some of his fielding woes will be remedied by more experience as a big-leaguer, I see Seager as a Cal Ripken Jr. or Troy Tulowitzki type — a big, bad shortstop.

Colin Kaepernick — To me, Colin Kaepernick falls a little bit in the Heung-Min Son category as someone who might not officially be a second year player, but is getting acclimated to a new situation and now, given playing time opportunity will exceed most expectations. Do I think Kaepernick will be a Pro Bowl caliber player? Can Kaepernick singlehandedly resurrect a franchise that really needs to be resurrected? Probably not, and no. However, this will be Kaepernick’s chance to show that he can still be a (hopefully starting) quarterback in the NFL and actually bring his social agenda some substance. He’s not that bad. I’m rooting for Kaepernick because growing up in the Bay Area, I still remember when he was a super talented young quarterback with the wheels and the arm strength to carry a team to the Super Bowl. Super Bowl ambitions may be too greedy for Chip Kelly’s mess of a team, but Kaepernick may be able to will them out of total humiliation.