30 players hoping to have comeback seasons

Craig Kimbrel
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

On Sunday, I mentioned that Braves pitcher Félix Hernández was having a great spring showing before Coronavirus (COVID-19) caused sports — and most of our regular lives — to come to a grinding halt. The veteran, in four Grapefruit League appearances, limited the opposition to three runs on 13 hits and five walks with 14 strikeouts across 13 2/3 innings.

Hernández is certainly not the only player who was bidding for a turnaround 2020 season. I went through each team’s roster and highlighted one player hoping to do the same.

Angels – SP Dylan Bundy

For Bundy, he’s looking to finally live up to the hype he generated seven years ago as one of baseball’s premier prospects in the Orioles’ system. Prior to the 2013 season, both Baseball America and MLB.com ranked him as the No. 2 prospect across baseball. Baseball Prospectus put him at No. 4. Unfortunately, Bundy has only mustered a 4.67 ERA across 103 starts and 24 relief appearances in the majors. Now with the Angels following a December trade that sent four minor leaguers to Baltimore, Bundy is looking for a career turnaround.

Astros – OF Josh Reddick

Reddick in 2019 had his worst offensive output since becoming an everyday player, batting .275/.319/.409 with 14 home runs and 56 RBI over 550 plate appearances. He was bothered down the stretch and in the postseason with a shoulder injury. He underwent arthroscopic surgery on November to address it. The Astros had very few holes in their lineup last year, but Reddick’s relative lack of production as apparent near the bottom of the order.

Athletics – SP Sean Manaea

Manaea impressed in 2018, posting a 3.59 ERA while also authoring a no-hitter. Unfortunately, his season ended abruptly in August as he required shoulder surgery. He did not return until September last season, making five terrific starts down the stretch and one in the AL Wild Card game, which the A’s ultimately lost to the Rays. Manaea is now a fixture in the Athletics’ rotation and will be looking to both stay healthy and take the next step as a pitcher with the talent to become one of the game’s truly elite pitchers.

Blue Jays – UT Brandon Drury

Drury’s story is a bit of a sad one. He was ticketed to be the Yankees’ regular third baseman in 2018, but he battled severe migraines and was sidelined. The Yankees promoted Miguel Andúar and never looked back. They sent Drury to Toronto as part of a three-team deal that also involved the Diamondbacks. Drury mustered a .472 OPS in eight games in the bigs with the Blue Jays. Last season, he wasn’t much better, posting a .642 OPS in 447 plate appearances. Drury’s struggles continued in spring, batting just .125 in 24 at-bats. His contract is not guaranteed and he runs the risk of being booted off the roster. When baseball resumes in May or June, almost certainly with an abbreviated second spring training, Drury will need to make the most of that opportunity.

Braves – SP Félix Hernández

See Sunday’s article!

Brewers – SS Orlando Arcia

Arcia’s days as a regular appeared to be numbered after putting up another disappointing offensive season. Through four seasons in the big leagues, spanning 1,676 plate appearances, he has an adjusted OPS of 70 (100 is league-average). The Brewers acquired Luis Urías from the Padres in the offseason, but he suffered a fractured left hamate bone in late January. He almost certainly would not have made the Opening Day roster, but now with the start of the season delayed, it is now a possibility. Arcia will be auditioning not just for the Brewers, but for any of the potentially 29 other teams that could be interested in swinging a trade and giving him some regular playing time.

Cardinals – C Yadier Molina

2019 was a down year for Molina in many ways. Beyond missing some time due to injury, Molina was significantly less effective both with the bat and behind the plate. He hit a subpar .270/.312/.399 in 452 plate appearances while throwing out only 27 percent of base-stealers. That’s well below his career average of 40 percent. It was 36 percent as recently as 2017. The Cardinals and Molina have reportedly been discussing a contract extension, as he can potentially become a free agent after the season. He has value in other ways, such as helping to mentor catching prospect Andrew Knizner, but Molina will be eager to prove he still has something left in the tank.

Cubs – RP Craig Kimbrel

The Cubs signed Kimbrel late, coming to terms on a three-year deal in June. The extra time off didn’t seem to help Kimbrel, who finished with a 6.53 ERA, easily the worst mark of his 10-year career. Kimbrel’s strikeout rate fell to a career-low 31.3 percent while his walk rate remained high at 12.5 percent. Kimbrel had a lot of doubters who suggested his performance early in the 2018 postseason was indicative of a performance drop-off. Now in year two of his deal with the Cubs, he wants to show he is still among the game’s most fearsome relievers.

Diamondbacks – OF David Peralta

Peralta earned himself a Silver Slugger in 2018, mashing 30 homers along with an .868 OPS for the D-Backs. Sadly, he couldn’t replicate his success last season, enduring wrist and shoulder injuries that limited him to 99 games. He finished with an .804 OPS, though he still won some hardware, taking home a Gold Glove Award. Peralta was originally a pitcher in his late teens in the Cardinals organization. The Diamondbacks converted him into an outfielder and he was looking like one of the league’s better hitters. 2020 will be an opportunity for him to jump back on the horse.

Dodgers – OF A.J. Pollock

Pollock was one of the bigger free agents signed ahead of the 2019 season, inking a four-year, $55 million pact with the Dodgers. Due to a staph infection in his elbow, Pollock appeared in only 86 games. In terms of adjusted OPS, he matched 2018’s mark of 108, but the Dodgers were expecting more. The talented outfielder peaked with 39 steals and 39 stolen bases in 2015, but accrued 20 and 33, respectively, as recently as 2017. Pollock can still be a dynamic offensive threat but at 32 years old, the clock is ticking.

Giants – C Buster Posey

For years, Posey was a lock for an OPS approaching or exceeding .800, but as he entered his 30’s, his body began to betray him. He suffered a hip injury in 2018 and a hamstring injury last year. His 2019 OPS of .688 was a career low among any of his full seasons was was his 0.9 WAR, per Baseball Reference. Posey, a former Rookie of the Year and MVP Award winner, is also thinking about his legacy. He is currently a fringe Hall of Fame candidate, according to Jay Jaffe’s JAWS metric, which considers both career longevity and peak performance. If Posey can have two or three more solid seasons, he can nudge himself into a serious argument for enshrinement.

Indians – 3B José Ramírez

Ramírez had back-to-back third-place finishes in AL MVP voting in 2017-18. He did everything well, hitting for both power and average, drawing walks, stealing bases, playing great defense. His 2019 performance was still solid, but a far cry from the previous two seasons. In 2017, he posted 7.0 WAR per Baseball Reference. His 2018 mark was 7.6 but ’19 came in at only 3.4. Ramírez slumped hard in the first half, going into the All-Star break with a .652 OPS. He picked it back up with a 1.068 OPS in 41 games out of the break before suffering a broken hamate bone in his right hand. Needless to say, if the Indians are to contend in the AL Central in 2020, they will need a healthy and resurgent Ramírez.

Mariners – SP Yusei Kikuchi

The Mariners signed Kikuchi to a four-year, $56 million deal after he was posted by Japan’s Seibu Lions in December 2018. The lefty had outstanding numbers in the Japan Pacific League but it did not translate in his first year in Major League Baseball. He finished with a 5.46 ERA across 32 starts, striking out 116 and walking 50 in 161 2/3 innings. The Mariners had very little to write home about last year, but they had hoped Kikuchi would have been at least one positive. Not much has changed going into 2020.

Marlins – OF Lewis Brinson

For years, Brinson was one of the Rangers’ top prospects, peaking as high as No. 12 overall in baseball according to Baseball Prospectus before the 2017 season. The Rangers traded him to the Brewers in August 2016 and the Brewers sent him to the Marlins in January 2018. Last year, Brinson split his season between Triple-A New Orleans and the majors. In the majors, he authored an anemic .457 OPS over 75 games. It wasn’t much of a departure from the .570 OPS he had posted in his previous 130 games in the majors in 2017-18. Brinson still has youth on his side, but this may be his last big opportunity to prove he can hang.

Mets – RP Edwin Díaz

The Mets made one of the bigger splashes ahead of the 2019 season, acquiring Díaz along with Robinson Canó. Neither lived up to the billing, though Díaz was the bigger disappointment. In 2018 with the Mariners, Díaz recorded an MLB-best 57 saves with a microscopic 1.96 ERA, backed by an absurd 124/17 K/BB ratio in 73 1/3 innings. It didn’t appear to be a fluke as he had shown similar dominance since debuting in 2016. Last year with the Mets, however, Díaz stunk it up, earning 26 saves with a sky-high 5.59 ERA. It goes without saying that the Mets don’t have a chance in the NL East if Díaz doesn’t right the ship.

Nationals – The entire bullpen

I cheated here, choosing an entire bullpen as opposed to one player. Looking back, it is kind of amazing that the Nationals won it all despite having a bullpen that was routinely among the game’s worst all season long. It was so bad that manager Dave Martinez had to manage around it in the postseason. Many familiar faces will be back in the ‘pen for 2020, including closer Sean Doolittle. The lefty was aces in 2018, closing out 25 games with a 1.60 ERA. Despite pitching 15 more innings in 2019, he only registered four more saves with a 4.05 ERA. The arms behind him in the bullpen were, for the most part, worse. The addition of Will Harris plus a full season from Daniel Hudson should help.

Orioles – 1B Chris Davis

Things couldn’t have gone much worse for Davis over the last two years. Signed to one of baseball’s bigger contracts at $161 million, Davis — who has twice led the majors in home runs — compiled a measly .539 OPS in 2018. He followed that up with a .601 OPS last season. The frustration boiled over in August when he was caught on camera getting into an altercation with manager Brandon Hyde. Davis also said he briefly considered retiring. If there is any silver lining, it was that he was having a good spring, albeit in a very small sample. Davis slugged three home runs and knocked in nine runs while drawing nine walks in 26 Grapefruit League plate appearances.

Padres – 1B Eric Hosmer

Like Davis, Hosmer is a first baseman signed to a hefty deal — $144 million — and hasn’t lived up to it. Last year was among his worst offensively, producing an adjusted OPS of 93, “beaten” only by his 81 in 2012 as a sophomore with the Royals. Hosmer saw his walk rate plummet to six percent, a career-low while his strikeout rate rose to 24.4 percent, a career-high. Despite the juiced ball, his .160 isolated power (slugging percentage minus batting average) was just a tick higher than his career average of .155. The Padres, who finished in last place in the NL West last year, have no hope of contending with the behemoth Dodgers if Hosmer is done being a productive player.

Phillies – SP Aaron Nola

Nola, selected by the Phillies in the first round of the 2014 draft, appeared to come into his own in 2018. He finished third in NL Cy Young balloting behind Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer, going 17-6 with a 2.73 ERA and a 224/58 K/BB ratio over 212 1/3 innings. Nola was markedly worse last year, finishing with a 3.87 ERA in 202 1/3 innings. While his strikeout rate remained high, his typically pinpoint control waned en route to a career-high 9.4 percent walk rate. Nola also allowed a career-high 27 home runs, but in the year of the juiced ball, that might not mean much. At any rate, the Phillies’ rotation is still a giant question mark despite the addition of Zack Wheeler. A team with mounting expectations to be competitive, a return to form from Nola is a requirement.

Pirates – SP Chris Archer

Archer’s horrific 2019 came out of seemingly nowhere. Though it had been years since he was a dominant presence on the mound, his ERA’s in the low 4.00’s from 2016-18 were passable and his ability to hit the 200-inning plateau were quite useful. Last year, in his first full season with the Pirates, Archer suffered a thumb injury early in the season and battled a shoulder issue late in the season. Over 23 starts, he posted a 5.19 ERA with 143 strikeouts and 55 walks across 119 2/3 innings. SIERA, an ERA retrodictor similar to FIP and xFIP, put Archer at a 4.38 ERA which suggests he was a bit unlucky. However, that mark is still miles worse than his previous career-high of 3.88 set in 2013. He ranged from 3.08 to 3.80 in the years since.

Rangers – OF Joey Gallo

Gallo stepped to the plate only 297 times in 2019 due to oblique and hamate bone injuries, but boy were they good. The slugger was on an MVP-caliber tear before his season ended in late July, finishing with a .253/.389/.598 slash line along with 22 home runs and 49 RBI. While the power was no surprise coming from Gallo, he was even more productive at the plate than usual because he got his batting average up over .250 as opposed to the low .200’s where it had been in prior seasons. He eclipsed the 118 and 109 adjusted OPS marks he put up in 2017-18 with his 145 last season.

Rays – 2B Brandon Lowe

Lowe was lighting it up as a rookie for the Rays last season, carrying an .862 OPS through July 2. Sadly, a shin contusion followed by a strained quad cost him two and a half months on the injured list. He returned for the final week of the season as well as the postseason, but was mostly unproductive. Still, Lowe finished third in AL Rookie of the Year balloting. One wonders just how close the Rays (96-66) might’ve been to the Yankees (103-59) if Lowe had managed to stay healthy. The Rays were also narrowly edged out of the ALDS by the Astros in five games.

Red Sox – OF Jackie Bradley Jr.

The Red Sox roster is in kind of a “who’s left?” situation right now after the club traded away Mookie Betts and David Price, placing Chris Sale on the injured list, and waving goodbye to Rick Porcello. Bradley represents one of the few Red Sox who’s still recognizable but even he may be on his way out as he can become a free agent after the season. As a result, Bradley may be playing 2020 as an audition of sorts to end up on a contender. His 1.9 WAR last year was his lowest mark since 2014 thanks in part to a subpar adjusted OPS of 90.

Reds – SP Trevor Bauer

It seems like Bauer has been in the news for all the wrong reasons in recent years, including an abysmal two months with the Reds following a deadline trade from the Indians. In 10 starts, Bauer allowed 40 earned runs on 57 hits and 19 walks with 68 strikeouts in 56 1/3 innings. This was on the heels of an absolutely dominant 2018 campaign in Cleveland in which he finished with a 2.21 ERA. Bauer has always had an affinity for tinkering, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see him return to dominance in 2020.

Rockies – OF Raimel Tapia

Tapia was a consensus top-100 prospect going into 2017 but he has not been able to hold his own in 686 career big league plate appearances thus far. He owns a .722 OPS, buoyed by an .874 home OPS compared to a .583 road OPS. Tapia is only 26 years old, so there’s still plenty of time for him to come into his own, but the clock his ticking for him to make it happen in Colorado.

Royals – 3B Maikel Franco

Franco showed flashes of greatness in Phillies, occasionally going on a tear where he carried the team with his bat. Consistency was his issue. Over six years in Philadelphia, Franco batted .249/.302/.431 and peaked at 25 home runs in 2016. Despite the juiced ball, Franco posted a .705 OPS with 17 home runs last year. The Royals are hoping a change of scenery helps him turn things around.

Tigers – DH Miguel Cabrera

Cabrera is under contract through 2023, but he is very clearly near the end of his career. He was barely able to play in 2018 due to hamstring and biceps injuries. He was able to play in 136 games last year, but as a shadow of the hitter he used to be. Over 549 plate appearances, Cabrera hit 12 home runs, finishing with a sub-.400 slugging percentage for the second time in his 17-year career (the other was in ’17). The future Hall of Famer has the potential to hit some milestones in 2020 but it will take a dramatic reversal of fortune. He is 23 home runs shy of 500, but he hasn’t hit 23 in a season since 2016 (38). We may have to wait until 2021 to see Cabrera, a first ballot Hall of Famer, make history again.

Twins – UT Marwin González

González has always been a valuable player due to his versatility, but saw his reputation skyrocket in 2017 when he had an abnormally great season while his Astros won the championship. We later found out, of course, that the Astros did so illegitimately. González parlayed that season into a two-year deal with the Twins 13 months ago. His 2019 was disappointing and not just because of what we learned about the Astros. González was less effective at the plate and ended up needing to undergo a patellar debridement in the offseason. The veteran hopes to use 2020 to prove both that he can stay healthy and that he can be effective without his team stealing signs.

White Sox – OF Nomar Mazara

Mazara is one of the surfeit of outfield prospects to have come out of the Rangers’ system in recent years. He peaked at No. 5 in the Baseball Prospectus rankings ahead of the 2016 season. Since debuting that year, however, Mazara has only been a league average hitter while losing value due to subpar defense. Similar to Franco in Kansas City, the White Sox hope a change of scenery is just what the doctor ordered for Mazara.

Yankees – OF Aaron Judge and OF Giancarlo Stanton

I cheated again here by including multiple players. Both outfielders lost significant time last year to injury and that is once again the case heading into the 2020 season. Stanton suffered a calf strain while Judge is dealing with a pectoral injury. The Yankees were somehow able to manage 103 wins in large part without them last year, but expecting them to do it again this year is a big ask. When both are healthy, the two are capable of combining for 100-plus homers.