2015 is almost over. Seriously, there are only 14 days left until you celebrate New Years by: a) sitting at home watching college football while everyone else in your life is outside enjoying themselves, or b) grousing about how you are not sitting at home watching college football.
We are strong supporters of the reflection the end of the year brings -- it's always good to stop for a second and figure out where you are, where you've been and where you're going -- and thus find the traditional and requisite end-of-year listmaking not just irresistible but therapeutic. So for the next few weeks, we'll be putting together some top-10 lists for the year we just survived, barely. Last week, we looked at the top 10 teams of 2015. Now, the top 10 breakthrough newcomers.
This is a somewhat difficult category to put together because it's up in the air what a "newcomer" is. For example, a newcomer is not exactly a "rookie." Karl-Anthony Towns might be one of the best rookies in the NBA, but you all saw him tear it up for Kentucky last year; he's only new to you if you weren't paying attention. But Kristaps Porzingis? Unless you're a Latvian scout, this is the first time you've ever seen him. Thus, newcomer.
I tried to keep this in mind while ranking the 10 top breakthrough newcomers of 2015. These are people who emerged in 2015 as people we weren't talking about on Jan. 1, 2015 … but won't be able to shut up about after Jan. 1, 2016. (It's why you won't see Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariota on this list. For crying out loud, they were all we were talking about on Jan. 1, 2015.) These people are the future, and we found out they were the future this year.
10. Josh Rosen, UCLA Bruins. A brief note to start: I wanted to pick a player, any player, from the U.S. women's national soccer team, the recipient of the award for best team of 2015. But honestly, you should have known for Carli Lloyd, Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe and the gang were before the World Cup. So we'll start with Rosen, who had an up-and-down year, as any true freshman trying to start in the Pac-12 would have, but at times looked like the future superstar so many believe he will be. He's not there yet, but he'll get there, and sooner rather than later.
9. Artemi Panarin, Chicago Blackhawks. Sort of slim pickings in the NHL right now, but the Russian winger has been a happy surprise for the Blackhawks so far. He's an undrafted free agent who leads all rookie players in points and assists, and he even has no less than Pavel Bure saying he reminds him of himself when he was younger. In a year in which off-ice issues have been ugly for the Blackhawks, Panarin has been a happy story all around.
8. Kris Bryant, Chicago Cubs. Bryant had the most hype before the season began -- if just because of the Cubs' tinkering with the service time rules, a decision that now looks smarter than ever -- but he lived up to it once he made it to the Majors. We're still not sure about all those strikeouts (our editor considers him, ultimately, a Pat Burrell-type, but better, which is fine but not transcendent), but he's still the young charismatic face of a team that's the most exciting story in sports right now.
7. Holly Holm, UFC. Holm certainly didn't show up out of nowhere: She was a championship boxer, a two-time Ring magazine boxer of the year, in fact. But still: Until Nov. 15, she was known to the vast majority of humanity as "Ronda Rousey's next opponent." And then this happened.
It wasn't just one shot, either. Holm dominated the fight start to finish, shocking the MMA world. The Holm-Rousey rematch instantly becomes the biggest fight of 2016. No one will ever look past Holm again. No one should have in the first place.
6. Miguel Sano, Minnesota Twins. The Twins have developed a reputation in recent years of being a somewhat staid team, one whose players can be a little difficult to differentiate from each other. That's not a criticism, necessarily. Just an acknowledgment of a certain sameness.
And then this guy comes along, and he does stuff like this:
No one is confusing that guy with anybody else. I'm not sure we're making decks high enough.
5. Ronald Darby, Buffalo Bills. A second-round pick who just turned old enough to drink this year, Darby, a cornerback, immediately made a huge splash by winning the Defensive Rookie of the Month award in September. But he got even better after that, and now he's the leader in passes defensed. Coach Rex Ryan is already treating him like he's Darrelle Revis, and he has changed entire Bills defense. Buffalo might have a top-tier cornerback, one of the most valuable properties in football. Pretty good for a guy who almost fell to the third round.
4. Ben Simmons, LSU. The guy multiple NBA teams are trying to lose as many games as possible in order to select with the top overall pick, and, man, with good reason. It'd be fun to be able to do this, wouldn't it?
The only downside: We might not see him in the NCAA tournament. Hey, same thing happened to Stephen Curry his senior year.
3. Noah Syndergaard, New York Mets. It's not just anybody who gets a superhero nickname so apt that it makes more sense for him than it does for the Hollywood actor who actually plays that superhero … but who is more "Thor" than Noah Syndergaard?
Oh, yeah, he did it in the World Series, too.
The Mets have plenty of questions to answer and tons of uncertainty in the coming years, even in that rotation. But Syndergaard has already said he wants to be a Met for life. He ended up being the most fun of that ridiculously fun rotation. And he's only getting started.
2. Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks. He's a young player so exciting and so full of potential, you almost feel nervous for him playing for the Knicks. But even the Knicks couldn't screw this up:
I'm ready to vote him mayor.
1. Carlos Correa, Houston Astros. Every once in a while, a player shows up and makes you think: I'm watching a Hall of Famer. Even when Correa isn't doing anything amazing, he just looks the part. But don't worry about such soft factors: He's usually doing something amazing. Baseball is full of young superstars right now. But I'm not sure there's a safer bet this side of Mike Trout than Correa.