CC Sabathia

The Indians’ hottest prospect in 2001, Sabathia once had been heavily courted to play football for the UCLA Bruins. And not just wide receiver, either — tight end. The 6′ 7″, 265-pound pitcher had the body size to block for running backs, but chose instead to throw fastballs. With a mid-to high-90s heater, good control and a changeup that dropped into the low 80s, the 20-year-old Californian impressed everyone with his control and capacity to strike out big league hitters, cracking Cleveland’s starting rotation in just his fourth professional year.

Sabathia was popular among his Indian teammates for his quirky ways. In 2000, he had his name tattooed, uniform-style, across his back in large letters. He talked to his mother every day for at least an hour, and she came to see him play every time he advanced a level in the minors. In 1999 the ebullient Ms. Sabathia, who worked as a telephone operator for the Air Force, had to make four trips to see him play in new uniforms.

The organization didn’t question his work habits, though. In a determined effort to make the 2001 team, Sabathia spent the winter working with Indians training coach Fernando Montes, and he lost 10-15 pounds and increased his strength and muscle mass. He credited the improved conditioning for his success that season.