BD Spring Training Report: Play Ball | Baseball Digest
Sunshine, palm trees or cacti, the smell of freshly cut grass, beer and hot dog vendors peddling their wares. Yes, baseball is back. Catchers and pitchers, as well as some positional players getting an early start, have reported to Florida and Arizona to begin spring training. Arguably, THIS, is the most wonderful time of the year. Especially if you’re like me, living in a colder, northern climate, it means there is some light at the end of the tunnel.
So many questions during this spring training…Will Albert Pujols sign a new deal before his self imposed deadline/scheduled day to report? Will Jesus Montero make the Yankees 25 man squad? Is Josh Beckett healthy? Can Don Mattingly manage a Major League club? Can anyone stop the Phillies starting rotation?
And of course spring training means that while teams may look much better than others on paper, everyone has a clean slate. Everyone can dream of the post-season, of hitting .300, and throwing a perfect game. Of popping champagne corks and hoisting the World Series trophy. There are some that will place too much emphasis on the games themselves- George Steinbrenner was infamous for that- but the most important thing in spring training is to come out of it healthy. The miles per hour on the fastball will come as will the bat speed. But keeping the hamstrings and shoulders and elbows healthy is much better than having the best record in the Grapefruit or Cactus League. That’s why the focus of today’s spring training report is those players we shall dub…
The Comeback Kids
Soon we’ll be getting a chance to see if players that were injured last year or in prior years have what it takes to get back to playing Major League Baseball. Here are some of the stories to follow this spring.
Brandon Webb is being counted on to help replace Cliff Lee in the Texas Rangers starting rotation. Webb averaged 17.5 wins per season from 2005-2008 and 231.2 innings. Apparently the latter took it’s toll. Webb went on the DL in April, 2009 with what was originally diagnosed as bursitis. After rehabbing it for several months, Webb had to undergo surgery and missed all of the 2010 season.
According to the Dallas Morning News, Webb recently told the Ben and Skin radio show in Dallas that he’s excited about the upcoming season. “I’ve made some dramatic strides. If anybody had been around me for the past month or so since I’ve been throwing, it’s been awesome. I don’t think they have to be too patient. I think I should be totally ready to go in spring training, jumping right in with the guys and just carrying on like a normal spring training for myself.”
In case Webb doesn’t recapture his 2007 NL CY Young form, he does have something to fall back on; he’s begun selling used cars with his brother in-law.
Carlos Santana can play a mean guitar, but baseball’s Carlos Santana can swing a mean bat and call a pretty good game. The Cleveland Indians catcher is hoping to be at full strength for the start of the season as he continues his way back from a torn LCL and surgery. Santana was knocked out for the remainder of the 2010 season when his knee lost a collision with the Red Sox’ Ryan Kalish in early August.
Santana, who hit .300 over his first 20 big league games, recently got word from his doctor that he can resume full baseball activities. That’s good news for the Indians who are in a rebuilding stage and need all the help they can get.
Indians fans are also hoping for a big comeback from Santana’s teammate Grady Sizemore. The one time five tool prospect has suddenly become injury prone and is trying to make his way back from the microfracture knee surgery he had last June. Sizemore was a budding superstar, who from 2005-2008 averaged 27 HR, 29 SB, and 116 runs while playing Gold Glove defense. He once played in 382 consecutive games. But Sizemore played in groin and elbow pain for all of the 2009 season and it showed in his lackluster offensive production. Finally the Indians shut him down in September and he underwent surgery on both areas.
Last season Sizemore injured his left knee during spring training and then aggravated it in a game against Baltimore in mid-May. When doctors went in they found extensive cartilage damage and opted for the more complex microfracture surgery based on Sizemore’s desires to “…play another 10 years” and “…only have one knee surgery”. Indians GM Chris Antonetti told MLB.com Jordan Bastian that he’s hoping that Sizemore will be ready at the start of the season or “shortly thereafter”.
Chien-Ming Wang was a two time 19-game winner and unlikely ace for the New York Yankees in 2006-2007. But a Lisfranc injury prematurely ended his 2008 season and then shoulder trouble limited him to just 12 games in 2009. Surgery followed, causing Wang to miss all of the 2010 season after signing as a free agent with the Washington Nationals. GM Mike Rizzo told MLB.com’s Bill Ladson back in January that he was confident that the Taiwanese native would be ready to go when camp broke.
With the retirement of Andy Pettitte and the inability to land Cliff Lee via free agency, the Yankees have brought in a number of pitchers to compete for the fourth and fifth spots in the rotation. One of them is former AL CY Young winner Bartolo Colon, who did not pitch in the Major Leagues in 2010. Colon found some success and some life on his fastball (91 mph) in winter ball recently, so he decided to give “The Show” another shot. Colon has reportedly lost a substantial amount of weight and hopes that his arm and shoulder issues are behind him. He has not been able to reach 100 innings since his 21-win, CY Young season in 2005.
Colon won’t have to look far to see another reclamation case. Suiting up near him will be former top Cubs prospect Mark Prior. The right-hander hasn’t pitched in the Majors since 2006 due to an assortment of arm issues. After selecting Prior with the 2nd overall pick in the 2001 draft, the Cubs were salivating at the thought of a 1-2 punch of Kerry Wood and Prior for many years to come. Sometimes life just doesn’t work out the way you planned, in particular for Mark Prior and his pitching career.
It didn’t start out that way though. Prior finished third in the 2003 NL CY Young voting after finishing with an 18-6, 2.43 mark in 30 starts. Then things started to turn- a line drive off his pitching elbow created a fracture in 2005. An MRI during spring training the following season showed a moderate shoulder strain. Something was clearly still wrong when he returned- teams rocked him to the tune of better than seven earned runs a game. When shoulder tendinitis put him on the DL in August, little did Prior know it would be the last time he would pitch on a major league mound.
After initially ruling it out, Prior had to go under the knife in April, 2007 to have the shoulder cleaned up. Renowned surgeon Dr. James Andrew was confident Prior would pitch in ’08 following the procedure. But a year later a tear in Prior’s shoulder led to another surgery and another missed season. Prior tried to come back with the Padres in ’09. but was released in August. Part of 2010 was spent in an independent league and for a short time in the Rangers organization. Which leads us to where Prior is today, having signed a minor league deal with the Yankees in December. One more shot, one more time hoping to recapture something, to come back as a reliever.
Yes, spring training is a time for new hopes, redemption, and a lot of daydreaming.