— Hey, remember me?
One of the unique aspects of spring training is the art of the comeback. Here are 10 players bouncing back who will have big impacts on their teams.
Wonder Twin powers
Twins fans have two comebacks to watch:
Joe Mauer, catcher: The Twin Cities native and face of the franchise posted career lows in 2011 in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage. In fact, Mauer hit just three home runs and played in only 82 games.
Justin Morneau, 1B/DH: The Canadian has been a walking infirmary clinic the past two seasons, suffering from multiple ailments, but most notably, post-concussion syndrome. Morneau is one of the all-around good guys in the game and here’s hoping his health returns.
If this Twins duo needs inspiration, look no further than Twins spring training invitee Sean Burroughs. The former can’t-miss prospect returned to MLB in 2011 after having not played a big league contest since 2006 as a result of substance abuse that included a stint on skid row in Las Vegas.
Let’s get rocked, times 2
In the National League, the Rockies have two comeback stories:
Juan Nicasio, RHP: Last August, the Dominican fractured his C1 vertebra when he was hit in the head by a line drive. It was an ugly scene. Nicasio’s head hit the pitching rubber. But miraculously, he has his eye on regaining a spot in the Rockies’ starting rotation. Yet if he suffers a setback, there’s also …
Jamie Moyer, LHP: The southpaw hasn’t pitched since the 2010 season and hasn’t pitched in a real game since undergoing Tommy John surgery. Yet, at 49, if Moyer wins a game in 2012 he’ll become the oldest pitcher in MLB history to do so — quite a potential feat.
The Cy Young Award winner comeback
Johan Santana, LHP, Mets: The Venezuelan hasn’t pitched since early September 2010. The Mets have zero chance of contending, yet if Santana returns to form — and if a contender will eat some of his fat contract — he could be major trade bait come July.
Shin-Soo Choo, plus the fourth installment of a Sizemore-esque comeback
After three impressive campaigns, Choo had a 2011 to forget, filled with injuries and an embarrassing DUI arrest. If the Tribe is going to contend with the Tigers in the American League Central race, the South Korean must remain healthy and return to his 2008-2010 form. The fourth installment of the Grady Sizemore comeback also continues in Indians land. It has been one injury after another for the outfielder the past three seasons. Sizemore’s coming off right knee surgery in October which followed surgery on his left knee last season. Naturally, he is already likely to miss Opening Day with a back injury.
Stephen Drew, SS, Diamondbacks
Drew snapped his right ankle last July and probably won’t be ready for Opening Day as he continues his recovery. Imagine if Drew were in the lineup last October how further the mighty Diamondbacks might have gone?
Kendrys Morales, DH/OF, Angels
The Cuban hasn’t played a game since May 2010, when he broke his lower left leg during a celebration at home plate following hitting a game-winning grand slam. With the Angels signing Albert Pujols in the offseason, Morales’ days as the Halos’ full-time first baseman are over. But as a left-handed power threat, if he can return to form, manager Mike Scioscia will find a place for him, even if that means in one of the corner outfield spots when he’s not in the lineup as the designated hitter.
Fishing for two
Hanley Ramirez, 3B: The talented infielder battled back problems a year ago, playing in just 92 games and hitting an uncharacteristic .245 with 10 HRs and 45 RBIs. Another question: Will he be a Han-Full of High Maintenance for Ozzie Guillen or a team player? Stay tuned.
Josh Johnson, RHP: Johnson made only nine starts last season, shut down in mid-May after injuring his shoulder. So goes Johnson, so goes the Marlins because when he’s healthy, he can be lights out. He has won 36 of his past 49 starts and has a career ERA under three.
Stephen Strasburg, RHP, Nationals
The lanky right-hander went down in August 2010 with a torn ulnar collateral ligament, which required Tommy John surgery. Although Strasburg did make five starts last September, it was basically a rehabilitation assignment, so 2012 is his real re-launch.
Buster Posey, C, Giants
Posey got absolutely creamed in a violent collision at home plate in early May last season, which resulted in not just a broken bone in his left ankle, but also three torn ligaments. Posey was a key figure for the Giants down the stretch in 2010 as they captured the World Series, and his healthy return and productivity figure to be crucial.
Adam Wainwright, RHP, Cardinals
After going 20-11 with a 2.42 ERA in 2010, Wainwright was shelved early in spring training last year due to discomfort in his right elbow. He underwent Tommy John surgery and missed all of last season. If the Redbirds are to defend their 2011 World Series crown in the wake of Pujols’ departure, Wainwright will need to return to form.
1. Jonathan Broxton, RHP, Royals
If the Royals are to make any hay in the American League Central, it’s not just their kids that must step up, but also their free-agent acquisitions and none bigger than Jonathan Broxton. The right-hander missed most of 2011 after suffering an injury to his pitching elbow. At just 27, Broxton could be a great sign for Kansas City if finds his mojo again.
2. Two birds of a comeback
Brian Roberts, 2B: Young kids, don’t ever emulate Roberts, who caused his own initial concussion when he clobbered himself on the helmet with his bat in September 2010 after striking out. Roberts played in only 39 games in 2011, and it’s not certain he’ll be ready for Opening Day.
Alfredo Simon, RHP, Orioles: One year ago, Simon, a stalwart in Baltimore’s bullpen, was facing involuntary manslaughter charges in his native Dominican Republic. And although Simon pitched parts of 2011, his spring and season a year ago were hardly relaxed. He was acquitted of the charges in November and is now relieved from the possibility of a prison cell.
3. Six – yes, six – chowdahead comebacks
Depth is only valuable to any team if the players are healthy and available to play. One of the reasons the Red Sox so utterly collapsed last season was many of their biggest contributors were injured.
Kevin Youkilis, 3B: The Red Sox go as the Youk goes, and the Youk has been out of commission for large chunks of the past two seasons due to injury, missing 42 games in 2011 after being shelved for 60 games in 2010. A healthy and happy Youkilis will be key for the Sox, especially down the stretch.
Carl Crawford, OF: He was abnormally average in 2011, and coming off wrist surgery, may not be ready until May.
Clay Buchholz, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Bobby Jenks and Vicente Padilla (all right-handed pitchers): Buchholz was shut down last June with a stress fracture in his lumbar spine; Dice-K pitched in just eight games in 2011 before undergoing Tommy John surgery. He won’t be back until the second half of the season at the earliest; the once overly portly and now slimmed down Jenks pitched in just 19 games in 2011, making three trips to the disabled list. Then after suffering a pulmonary embolism in September, he underwent back surgery four months later and then a second surgical procedure on his back; Padilla, the long-time face of Nicaraguan baseball in the post Dennis Martinez era, hit the disabled list last May after pitching in only nine games due to a bulging disk in his neck that required surgery. Padilla’s best shot is to land a spot as Boston’s fifth starter or a long man in the bullpen.
Let’s escape the Mendoza line
No position players had worse seasons in 2011 than Adam Dunn and Chone Figgins, who batted .159 and .188, respectively. This will be Figgins' third (and possibly last) chance to show Mariners fans he was worthy of being signed as a free agent three years ago. Ditto for Dunn, whom the White Sox have signed through 2014 (no, that’s not a misprint).
The Do-Rag Dandy known as Manny
After being busted a second time for using performance enhancing drugs, Ramirez opted to retire in April 2011 rather than serve a 100-game suspension. His suspension now reduced to 50 games, Manny’s best hope is A) make the team (no certainty) and then B) have a solid June and July that a contender will express interest by the trading deadline. At least we know Manny Rivers to Cross won’t be articulating “Operation Shutdown” this spring.
Finally, five more players it would be great to see an MLB comeback from someday soon pretty much because absolutely no one’s counting on it except for the player themselves, which would make for an awesome story if they actually did the improbable, wouldn’t it? I’m talking about one former Cy Young winner (Brandon Webb, last pitched in 2009) and two former Cy Young candidates, Mark Prior (last pitched in 2006) and Ben Sheets (last pitched in 2010), plus the formerly plumb Dmitri Young (last played in 2008) and ridiculously gifted infielder Khalil Greene (last played in 2009).