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Sports figures to watch in 2010

Stephen Strasburg

The No. 1 pick in last year's baseball draft will someday be the No. 1 pitcher for the Washington Nationals. It will happen next season, the question is when. Perhaps it will be on opening day, but the Nats could opt to start the 21-year-old in the minors and call him up later in the summer. Either way, he holds the future of the organization in his right arm, which consistently throws fastballs that break the 100-mph barrier. The 6-foot-4 right-hander once struck out 23 batters in a college game while pitching for San Diego State, where he went 13-1 with a 1.32 ERA last season. He struck out 195 batters in 109 innings.

Wade Davis

One of the pleasant surprises of the Rays' somewhat-disappointing 2009 season was the late-season callup and performance of big (6-5, 220-pound) right-handed pitcher Wade Davis. The Lake Wales native started six games and went 2-2 with a 3.72 ERA and 36 strikeouts in 361/3 innings — good enough that he should be in the rotation to start 2010. Davis, 24, should have the most impact among the young Rays players, but also keep at an eye on outfielder Desmond Jennings and pitcher Jeremy Hellickson, both of whom could be in the majors at some point in 2010.

Anthony Kim

This 24-year-old is not exactly unknown. He joined the PGA Tour in 2006 and has won two tournaments, had a top-10 finish at the 2008 British Open and is ranked 24th in the latest world ranking. But, the golf world is waiting for him to have a truly breakout year that includes a major championship. This could be the year. With impressive performances in such high-pressured settings as the Ryder Cup in 2008 and the President's Cup in 2009, Kim appears to have the makings of a majors champion. Now he just has to do it.

Taylor Hall

Hall is a left wing for the Windsor Spitfires of the Ontario Hockey League. This time next year, he will be a left wing for an NHL team, and maybe even a star at that. If the NHL draft was held right now, Hall, 18, almost certainly would be the No. 1 pick. He had 84 points in 63 OHL games two years ago as a 16-year-old and 90 points in 63 games last season. This season, he is putting up monster numbers — 26 goals and 33 assists in 34 games.

Yu-Na Kim

You know these names: Sonja Henie, Peggy Fleming, Dorothy Hamill, Katarina Witt, Kristi Yamaguchi, Tara Lipinski and Sarah Hughes. They are all darlings of the Winter Olympics after gold medals in women's figure skating. The next name to be added to the list could be Yu-Na Kim. The 19-year-old is from South Korea but will be a crowd favorite in Vancouver because she lives and trains in Toronto. The reigning world champion is the gold medal favorite, but she could get competition from Japan's Mao Asada and U.S. champ Alissa Czisny, 22, a graduate of Bowling Green.

Evan Lysacek

While Yu-Na Kim is the Olympic favorite in figure skating on the women's side, the men's favorite is Evan Lysacek, a 24-year-old who was born in Chicago but now lives and trains in Southern California. He is the defending world champion, a two-time U.S. champion and the man to beat at the Vancouver Olympics. What makes him even more impressive is his height — 6 feet 2, which is tall for figure skating. A gold medal along with his height and good looks (he has a contract with DNA Models in New York) could make Lysacek the breakout celebrity from the 2010 Winter Olympics.

John Brantley

This Ocala native has the unenviable job of replacing a legend. Brantley, 20, is expected to step in for the graduating Tim Tebow as quarterback of the Gators next season, and perhaps it's appropriate that the nephew of former Bucs star Scot Brantley is the one. After all, Brantley, who went to Trinity Catholic, broke Tebow's state high school record for touchdown passes and was the 2006 Gatorade High School Player of the Year. Even though he was Florida's No. 2 quarterback this season, CBS analyst Gary Danielson said he was among the top five quarterbacks in the SEC. While one can't expect him to do the things Tebow did, it wouldn't be a shock either.

Ndamukong Suh

Suh, 93 at right, probably is the best known name on this list. After all, the Nebraska defensive tackle finished fourth in the Heisman Trophy voting, one spot ahead of Florida's Tim Tebow. We put Suh, who turns 23 next week, on this list because there's a pretty good chance he will be the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft unless some team trades up specifically to take a quarterback. And he will be the rookie most likely to make an immediate impact next season. The 6-foot-4, 300-pounder had a phenomenal senior season, registering 82 tackles, 12 sacks, 26 quarterback hurries, 23 tackles for loss, 10 pass breakups, three blocked kicks and even an interception.

Seantrel Henderson

The biggest guy on this list. Check it out: 6 feet 8, 301 pounds. And he's still in high school. Henderson is an offensive tackle at Cretin-Derham High in St. Paul, Minn., the same school that produced baseball star Joe Mauer, and is considered the top recruit in the nation who could end up in Gainesville. How good is he? Consider this: He's an offensive lineman, and he was named the USA Today offensive high school player of the year. Just about every school in the country has offered Henderson a scholarship, but he has made official visits to Florida, Notre Dame, Ohio State and Southern Cal.

This has become an annual event here on Page 2C. At the start of each new year, we give you 10 athletes to watch for the upcoming year. We're not talking about athletes who are already household names, such as Kobe Bryant or Peyton Manning. We're talking about young athletes you don't know much about or maybe never even heard of before now. They are athletes who are about to make an impact on the sports landscape and become stars before the end of the year. In past years, we've introduced you to Tim Tebow, Jimmy Clausen, Steven Stamkos, O.J. Mayo and gymnast Shawn Johnson well before they were known by the general sports fan. So here's the list of 10 athletes to watch in 2010:

Lindsey Vonn

You've probably already seen Vonn in television commercials for Alka-Seltzer and the U.S. Olympic team, but you will see her in action skiing down the slopes at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. Vonn, a native of St. Paul, Minn., began skiing when she was 2 and now, at age 24, is the best female alpine skier in the world. She is the two-time defending World Cup champion and the first American female to win back-to-back World Cup titles, making her, perhaps, the greatest American female skier ever. She is coming off a bad crash earlier this week in Austria but should be ready to compete for gold medals in Vancouver.

Sports figures to watch in 2010 01/01/10 [Last modified: Friday, January 1, 2010 8:09pm]
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