The 2018 MLB regular season is just two weeks away. Here are five candidates from both the American and National League to win Comeback Player of the Year.
Last year, Cleveland Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis endured a discouraging season. Missing over 70 games due to injury and hitting just .232 in the games he played, the second baseman was unable to get into a groove at the plate. A career .268 hitter and one of the better fielding second basemen in the game, Kipnis is certainly capable of bouncing back in 2018. In fact, given their relatively quiet offseason, an increase in Kipnis’ production at the plate could be the boost the Indians lineup needs.
Minnesota Twins righty Phil Hughes has immensely struggled over the last three years; he has been plagued by injuries and recorded an ERA at or above 4.40 each season. Nevertheless, the righty appears healthy and ready to prove he can still pose a threat on the rubber every fifth game. Hughes is adept at not lallygagging through at-bats and could be another weapon in a Twins rotation that has quietly become a potent bunch (Ervin Santana, Jose Berrios, Lance Lynn, Jake Odorizzi, and potentially Hughes).
Imagine doubling your ERA and recording a 1.89 WHIP; you’d be Baltimore Orioles righty Chris Tillman. After surrendering nearly as many runs as innings pitched in 2017 (he gave up 86 runs in 93 innings last season), Tillman will be looking to bounce back from a treacherous season. Just a year removed from posting a 3.77 ERA and being a top of the rotation arm, the righty has a lot to prove considering that he’ll be hitting the open market at year’s end.
Righty Aaron Sanchez, much like the Toronto Blue Jays as a whole, underwent a disappointing, playoff-deprived season. After showcasing the ability to be a force at the top of manager John Gibbons‘ rotation alongside Marcus Stroman, Sanchez recorded a 4.25 ERA in 2017 while appearing in just eight games due to injury. With the Blue Jays looking to get back on track and in the playoff mix, they’ll need Sanchez to re-emerge as an ace. Just a year removed from being in the AL Cy Young conversation, the righty is certainly capable of pitching at a high level.
Anytime you mention Miguel Cabrera, you don’t think of him having to come back from a bad season, but in 2017, the All-Star first baseman did not play at a high level. While never a great fielder, Cabrera has always been a power-hitting threat but posted career-lows in average (.249) and runs batted in (60) and showed signs of regression in 2017. Based on the eight-year mega deal he’s currently in the midst of, the soon-to-be 35-year-old has a lot to prove to the rebuilding Tigers in 2018.
Injuries decimated New York Mets outfielder Yoenis Cespedes in 2017. He appeared in 81 games, drove in just 42 runs, and hasn’t played a full season since 2015. When healthy, the 32-year-old is one of the best all-around outfielders in the game. He has a great arm, hits for average, and poses a huge threat at the plate; when Cespedes stays healthy and plays well, the Mets win. If he can stay healthy over the course of a 162-game season, Cespedes will produce in a big way.
Another Met capable of having a bounce-back season is righty Matt Harvey. While Harvey has lost his velocity, been hit hard, and posted ERAs over 5.00 the last two years, he’s now healthy and seeing his fastball hit the mid-90s on the radar. The potential to be great has always been there for the righty and hitting free agency after this season, Harvey has a lot to pitch for.
Carlos Gonzalez is one of the best outfielders of this decade, but last season he showed signs of regression. Hitting .262 and driving in just 57 runs, he underwent arguably the worst year of his Rockies’ tenure. But, in hindsight, it was just one bad year and the outfielder’s skill set is well-known. He can be a force in the middle of the Rockies order, hit for a high average, and fields his position well. After re-signing with the Rockies on just a one-year deal, Gonzalez has a lot to play for in 2018 when it comes to his longterm future.
The San Francisco Giants added Evan Longoria and Andrew McCutchen, but they need more production from their lineup to contend. Right-fielder Hunter Pence is someone who could step up and be a difference-maker. After hitting a career-worst .260 in 2017, Pence will be looking to return to being a spark plug in manager Bruce Bochy‘s order. When you couple Pence’s contact bat with his ability to field his position, the right fielder is capable of returning to being one of MLB’s best corner outfielders.
Despite the Miami Marlins’ offseason fire sale, a handful of veterans remain in place, one being lefty Wei-Yin Chen. Over the last two seasons, Chen has struggled to stay healthy, been hit hard, and hasn’t lived up to his $80 million deal. Now healthy, the lefty’s under no pressure on a team where the playoffs don’t appear to be feasible. Chen can settle in, trust his breaking pitches, and pitch at a high level; it was just two years ago when he was considered the Orioles’ ace.