One of the more interesting stories of any sports year is the ascension of players from the rank-and-file to stardom. Whether they are top prospects who finally tap into their vast potential or a fringe player making a major leap, these developments are always enjoyable to follow. Arizona sports saw a number of such players, but there was one clear-cut winner in this category.
The Winner: Ian Kennedy, Arizona Diamondbacks
Kennedy was the prized piece that the Diamondbacks acquired in the December 2009 three-team trade involving the New York Yankees and Detroit Tigers. He was perennially listed as one of the Yankees' top prospects, but only managed one win over three seasons of scant major league service time from 2007 through 2009.
His debut season in Arizona was promising, as he made 32 starts and posted a solid 3.80 ERA and WHIP of 1.20. At age 26 and with four generally underwhleming seasons under his belt, Kennedy seemed destined for a nice career as a No. 2 or 3 starter.
Then came the magical 2011 season.
Kennedy got the nod as the team's Opening Day starter, but after three starts he had a 1-1 record and a bloated 6.88 ERA after getting shelled by St. Louis on April 13th.
However, his season--and career--turned around two starts later, when he pitched a masterful complete game shutout win over the Phillies in which he struck out 10. By the Fourth of July, Kennedy was in the midst of a great season, as his 8-3 record and 3.38 ERA was helping to lead the surprising Diamondbacks, who refused to relent in the NL West division race.
Over the season's final three months, Kennedy's status as a legitimate ace was secured. From July 8th through the end of the season, Kennedy was dominate, posting a 13-1 record during that span and lowering his ERA to 2.88 thanks to 11 starts of two earned runs or less.
His impressive finish resulted in a fourth place finish in the National League Cy Young Award voting, and his .840 winning percentage was a team record.
For the first time since the Randy Johnson and Curt Shilling days, the Diamondbacks have an ace in the fold.