9 comeback candidates to root for this season
Danny Farquhar would breeze into the White Sox clubhouse most mornings last spring and make a point of acknowledging members of the media.
"No interviews today," he'd announce. "Maybe tomorrow."
The thing is, Farquhar wasn't actually declining interviews. In his good-natured way, he was letting us know he understood it was unlikely anyone would be wanting to talk to him.
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He was not going to be in the middle of a spring storyline. Rather, during six seasons with four different teams, he'd almost always flown under the radar. He was that reliever who'd take the baseball early or late, that guy who had a reputation as a good teammate, that guy who was carving out a nice career for himself without achieving stardom.
That's going to change this spring as he tries to win a spot in the Yankees' bullpen, and he leads our list of nine comeback stories we're rooting for:
1. Danny Farquhar, RHP, Yankees
The right-hander suffered a life-threatening brain hemorrhage in the White Sox dugout last April and was rushed to a hospital to undergo surgery. He spent two and a half weeks in intensive care, but he returned to the White Sox in early June for a ceremonial first pitch. Now he's all the way back and in Yankees camp on a Minor League contract. He said the entire episode has reminded him how many blessings he has had in his life. To return to a Major League mound again would be one more.
2. Miguel Cabrera, 1B, Tigers
He's going to the Hall of Fame even if he never plays another game. And that's the point: How often do we get to watch one of the game's greatest players, especially one with a nearly childlike love of it? Cabrera's 2018 season ended with a ruptured biceps tendon after 38 games. He's back and healthy, and while he would like to go back out to first base, the Tigers have discussed the idea of having him get some at-bats at designated hitter. However he gets those at-bats, it's getting them that's important.
3. Chris Davis, 1B, Orioles
We may never know what happened to Davis last season, when his game simply fell apart amid a flood of strikeouts and frustration. This is the same guy -- or close to it -- who averaged 37 home runs and an .840 OPS the previous six seasons. Only Edwin Encarnacion hit more homers in those six seasons. Davis is hoping for a fresh start, and he could be helped by information supplied by the Orioles' new data-driven front office.
4. Troy Tulowitzki, SS, Yankees
Remember when he was great? During a six-season stretch with the Rockies, Tulowitzki made the National League All-Star Team five times and also won two Gold Gloves and two Silver Slugger Awards. He was an absolute joy to watch, and let's hope that at 34 he can be that again. Injuries have stalled his career the last few seasons, but when he held an offseason tryout for clubs, plenty of scouts saw flashes of the old Tulo. The Yankees are giving him every chance to be their everyday shortstop at least until Didi Gregorius returns.
5. Byron Buxton, CF, Twins
He's only 25 years old. After all the ups and downs, after the frustration and the way too early "bust" label, he still has plenty of time to be the dazzling Major League player he was once projected to be. After spending most of the 2018 season in the Minors, Buxton has added 21 pounds of muscle and said he channeled his frustration into relentless preparation for this Spring Training. He was once seen as the kind of singular talent that can be a building block for an entire franchise. The Twins haven't lost hope that he can still be that.
6. Dustin Pedroia, 2B, Red Sox
No player works or plays harder or cares more. In the long history of the Red Sox, few of them had a nine-year run as good as Pedroia's first nine in the Major Leagues, which included an MVP Award, four All-Star appearances, four Gold Gloves and two World Series titles. Now after left knee surgery and a 2018 season in which he played just three games, Pedroia, 35, has to prove himself all over again. He says he's healthy and prepared to do just that.
7. Shelby Miller, RHP, Rangers
When the Cardinals used the 19th overall pick of the 2009 Draft on Miller, the team with the 21st pick did not take it well. "Oh, I was fine," former Astros owner Drayton McLane said, "after I stopped crying." Miller was the kind of hard-throwing Texan McLane dreamed of building a marketing campaign around. For a while, that promise was fulfilled. He was in the big leagues at 21 and an All-Star at 24. Injuries cost him almost all the 2017-18 seasons, and now the 28-year-old is in camp with the Rangers hoping to jump-start his career.
8. Adam Wainwright, RHP, Cardinals
Wainwright seemed to be inching toward retirement when a string of September starts convinced him he could still pitch in the Major Leagues. So after 13 seasons and 352 Major League appearances, one of the game's great gentlemen, now 37, is trying to pitch his way back into the Cardinals' rotation. Pretty much everyone who has competed against him or played with him is rooting for one more ride.
9. Jimmy Nelson, RHP, Brewers
Nelson was Milwaukee's ace when he injured his shoulder sliding into first base toward the end of the 2017 season. He missed the entire 2018 season as the Brewers led the NL with 96 wins and got within one game of the World Series. He appears to be healthy again and prepared to go through a normal Spring Training in preparation for Opening Day.