Cal Ripken Jr.‘s streak of 2,632 consecutive games played, without a single day off for rest or injury, is one of baseball’s various unbreakable records. For 16 years Ripken took his position for the Baltimore Orioles every game on his way to the Baseball Hall of Fame. While Ripken’s streak is a mark of his toughness and longevity, there is also an incredible amount of luck involved.
In 2019 injuries are far too common. Mike Trout, Jose Altuve, Clayton Kershaw, and Aaron Judge — who are four of the game’s preeminent players — have recently missed extended time due to injuries, succumbed to while sliding into the bases, being hit by pitches, or general body fatigue from the long haul of a 162-game major-league season.
These injuries are just impossible to avoid. In this article we will look at seven players (and a few honorable mentions) who have had their recent playing days taken from them by injury and how exciting it will be to see them at full health again. The rundown will feature some personal favorites with past prominence and youthful players with the chance to do historically significant stuff if their health abides.
We know what Pollock, Eaton, and Brantley can do at full health in their respective outfield positions, and that is put up splendid offensive numbers while playing stellar outfield defense. Pollock and Brantley will try to recapture their Most Valuable Player-caliber ceilings with their new teams after signing contracts in free agency while Eaton will attempt to give the Nationals the value they perceived prior to acquiring him from the White Sox.Many players will be returning from injury and hoping to provide value for their teams in 2019. Here are seven players to watch for as they come back to full health this season.Click To Tweet
Miller and Reyes have endured far different roads to their current-days selves, but can live up to expectations at full health in 2019 as parts of a revamped Cardinals squad. While Miller lost his spot at the top of the list of the game’s best relievers over the last couple of years, the left-hander is one of the scariest pitchers in MLB at 100 percent. Reyes will get another shot to come back and succeed as the Cardinals former top prospect before surgeries and injuries sidelined him.
Yu Darvish, Chicago Cubs
When Darvish inked a six-year, $126 million deal with the Cubs before the 2018 season, the last memory of the right-hander was as the losing pitcher in Games 3 and 7 of the 2017 World Series, when the Astros teed off on him. Clearly, the Japanese superstar was setting himself up for a future of redemption of potentially another shot at a title.
Darvish failed miserably in 2018, his first year in the Windy City. He went 1-3 with a 4.95 ERA in eight starts before hitting the disabled list with an elbow injury that would eventually cost him the rest of the season. The Cubs were still one of the best teams in the National League, winning 95 games and qualifying for the NL Wild Card Game, but maybe Darvish was the missing piece on a team set to challenge the Dodgers for the NL pennant.
Heading into 2019 Darvish says he feels more confident in himself and that he is, thankfully, pain-free in an elbow that has required Tommy John surgery once before. Yu will write his own redemption story for the Cubs if he stays healthy in 2019.
Corey Seager, Los Angeles Dodgers
In 2016 Seager won the NL Rookie of the Year Award, was named an All-Star, received the Silver Slugger award at shortstop, and was nominated for the league MVP award in what was his first full MLB season. He was nothing short of a phenom, exhibiting skills at the shortstop position seen out of close to nobody else in the game.
In 2017 he led the Dodgers to their first World Series appearance since 1988, hitting .295 and totaling 22 home runs while earning another Silver Slugger Award. Seager was limited to just 26 games in 2018 before an elbow injury and a subsequent Tommy John surgery ended his season.
Now that he has been gone for a while (and fans in L.A. were treated to the good and bad of Manny Machado), it seems everyone has forgotten just how talented the 25-year-old is. He posted a six-war season at 22 years old and can basically be counted on for a .290 average, 25 bombs, 90 RBIs, and top-tier defense every year. With a cautious return and adequate rest, Seager will return from being a forgotten star in recovery to an MVP contender in 2019.
Ronald Acuna Jr., Atlanta Braves
Acuna won the NL Rookie of the Year Award in 2018 despite only 111 games of action because he is just that good. He slashed .293/.366/.552 with 26 long balls, 16 steals, 4.1 bWAR, and solid outfield defense at just 20 years old, garnering MVP votes in an NL East-winning campaign for the burgeoning Braves.
Unfortunately, Acuna’s season hit a bump in the road when he suffered an ACL sprain and knee contusion in late-May. Although there was no long-term damage or effects, it will be exciting to see what Acuna can do if and when he plays a full season. Well, I’ll clarify: it will be exciting for us, but horrifying for NL pitchers.
Jose Altuve, Houston Astros
Altuve played most of 2018 on one healthy knee, when he could play at all. The 2017 American League MVP hit .316 with an .837 OPS in 2018, despite nursing an injured leg, if you need a reminder of how incredibly skilled this guy is.
For most of the 2018 AL postseason, where Altuve’s Astros fell to the World Series champion Boston Red Sox in five games in the ALCS, he was limited to playing as the designated hitter, as opposed to his customary second base position. And he could be seen limping out singles and being easily beaten to the bag on infield grounders (which never happens, let me tell you).
When Altuve starts 2019 healthy he’ll be well on his way to another 200-hit season, the fifth of his career. If the Astros are going to contend for the World Series again, it will be with Altuve as healthy as ever.
Shohei Ohtani, Los Angeles Angels
As a 23-year-old rookie sensation, Ohtani was simultaneously one of the best starting pitchers and premier designated hitters in the game, achieving historically insane stuff in his first MLB season. But elbow problems have forced Ohtani to give up pitching for the time being.
And Ohtani’s spot on this list comes with a short disclaimer: the Japanese superstar isn’t fully healthy, and he won’t throw a pitch, or play in the outfield in 2019. However, he was arguably the game’s best DH at 23, hitting .285/.361/.564 with 22 home runs, 61 RBIs, 10 steals, and a 152 OPS+ in just 367 plate appearances. If he gets a full season in as a hitter, he can be an All-Star and more, and that’s without accounting for his dominance on the hill.
(I mean, the 2018 AL Rookie of the Year absolutely embarrassed the Oakland Athletics, a 97-win team, for seven innings last season).
Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals
Strasburg is no stranger to the injury bug, having not started 30 or more games since 2014. But the Nationals right-hander is one of the game’s preeminent starters when healthy, and in 2019 he will be a part of perhaps the best rotation in baseball if he remains at 100 percent.
We have seen what a healthy Strasburg can do, and that’s dominate every five days for the Nats. The three-time All-Star owns a career 3.13 ERA, a 94-62 record, and 10.8 strikeouts per nine innings since his debut at 21 years old in 2010. Behind Max Scherzer, coveted free agent signee Patrick Corbin, and the resurgent Anibal Sanchez, a healthy Strasburg could help make up the sport’s most fearsome starting rotation.
Josh Donaldson, Atlanta Braves
When Donaldson hit .297 with 41 home runs and a league-best 123 RBIs in 2015, he won the AL MVP Award. In 2018 the former Toronto Blue Jays All-Star suffered through cases of dead arm, strained calf muscles, and a bad shoulder. He was also traded away to the Cleveland Indians — who got swept by Houston in the ALDS and let him go in free agency.
For a short time, Donaldson had a case for consideration as the best player in the game. But by the middle parts of 2018, he had become a forgotten star in search of a new quest. That quest comes with the Braves, who shown an inclination to go for it all when they inked Donaldson to a pricey one-year, $23 million deal.
And if he is healthy, the third baseman will give Atlanta extreme value, and perhaps be the final piece on a team ready to win the NL pennant. Donaldson is an intense and athletic fielder, as well as a powerful but patient hitter who — even if he plays only 110 games, or so — provides a unique bat in the Braves two-hole.