10 players primed for comeback campaigns
You see them in virtually every camp, every spring: players hoping to recapture the magic. This is the living, breathing definition of Spring Training optimism. Sometimes, it's as simple as getting healthy.
No eyebrows were raised when the Royals signed Ryan Madson to a Minor League contract before the 2015 season. He had missed three full seasons with injuries, and he had just about given up on a comeback when Royals scout Jim Fregosi Jr. asked him to tutor a high school prospect.
One thing led to another before Madson was back on a mound and then back in the big leagues at 34. He has made 191 appearances with a 2.51 ERA in three seasons since, and he is expected to be one of the cornerstones of the Nationals' bullpen in 2018.
Moral of this story: Be careful about giving up on players with talent and drive. You never know.
But sometimes, it's more complicated than a player getting healthy. Sometimes, it's ironing out a mechanical issue or getting with the right organization.
With Spring Training set to open in a couple of weeks, here are 10 comeback stories worth rooting for:
1. Jonny Venters, LHP, Rays
Venters is 32 years old, and he hasn't thrown a pitch in the big leagues since 2012 after undergoing three Tommy John surgeries (and an additional procedure to reattach a ligament). But in 2010-11, he made 164 appearances for the Braves with a 1.89 ERA and 9.9 strikeouts per nine innings. Venters led the National League with 85 appearances in '11 and made the NL All-Star team. He's a non-roster invitee.
2. Michael Brantley, LF, Indians
Brantley has missed 101 games the past two seasons with neck and right ankle issues as the Indians have emerged as one of baseball's superpowers. He is only 30, and he has a chance to remind the game how good he was when he was healthy (.876 OPS, 90 doubles, 38 stolen bases in 2014-15).
3-5. Homer Bailey, Anthony DeSclafani and Brandon Finnegan, Reds SPs
How good could the Reds be if these three pitchers stay healthy? That's the question manager Bryan Price has been asking this offseason amid optimism that they could transform Cincinnati's rotation in 2018.
6. Colin Moran, 3B, Pirates
The Astros debated making Moran the first overall pick of the 2012 Draft. Instead, they took shortstop Carlos Correa, and Moran fell to the Marlins at No. 6. Houston acquired Moran via trade in 2014, but he found himself in a deep farm system. When he finally got a chance to play last summer, he homered in his first game, but in his second, fouled a ball into his face, breaking multiple bones. Only 25, Moran went to the Pirates in the Gerrit Cole trade and has a chance to win the everyday third-base job.
7. Kris Medlen, RHP, D-backs
Medlen is five years and two Tommy John surgeries removed from pitching 197 innings with a 3.11 ERA for Atlanta. After pitching 82 2/3 innings with the Royals in 2015-16, he worked his way back to Triple-A in the Braves' organization last summer, but he didn't return to the big leagues as he struggled with both stuff and command. Medlen will try again at 32 as a non-roster invitee with Arizona.
8. Andrew Heaney, LHP, Angels
Heaney has made just six starts the past two seasons, thanks to Tommy John surgery. At 26, he is healthy again, and the Angels are hopeful he can step into a rotation with Garrett Richards, Tyler Skaggs, Matthew Shoemaker and Shohei Ohtani to help lead the Halos on a postseason run. Heaney made 18 starts for the Angels in 2015 and showed off overpowering stuff at times.
9. Shawn Tolleson, RHP, Rangers
Tolleson seemed destined for stardom when he saved 35 games for the Rangers in 2015. Since then, he has bounced through two other organizations, undergone Tommy John surgery and had a back injury that took away the feel he had for his changeup. When Tolleson is not training for another comeback, he has been at his father's bedside as he battles cancer.
10. Doug Fister, RHP, Rangers
Finally worked his way back to the big leagues after going unsigned until May. He made 15 starts for the Red Sox, and during one stretch, he had a 2.79 ERA over seven starts.