The Major League Baseball Players Association on Monday named the six finalists for the Comeback Player honors in the 2019 Players Choice Awards. White Sox pitcher Lucas Giolito, Rangers designated hitter Hunter Pence and Royals right fielder Jorge Soler are finalists in the American League. Braves third baseman Josh Donaldson, Reds pitcher Sonny Gray and Dodgers pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu are finalists in the National League.
Lucas Giolito, White Sox
Giolito had a season to forget in 2018 as he struggled to find his place in his first full season with the White Sox. The centerpiece of the 2016 trade that sent outfielder Adam Eaton to the Nationals, Giolito was 10-13 with a 6.13 ERA, a Major League-high 118 earned runs allowed and an AL-high 90 walks.
The 2019 season was a different story. Giolito established himself as one of the AL's best starting pitchers and the ace of the young White Sox rotation. Giolito went 14-9 with a 3.41 ERA and struck out a career-high 228 batters. The right-hander, named to his first All-Star Game, tied for the Major League lead with three complete games and two shutouts.
Hunter Pence, Rangers
Following the 2018 season, it looked as though Pence's long and successful career might be coming to an end. His tenure with the Giants ended, but Pence signed a Minor League deal with Texas with an invitation to Spring Training.
Pence not only made the team, but he looked like his former self as he helped anchor the Rangers’ lineup at designated hitter and provided stability to a young ballclub. The 13-year veteran hit .297 with 18 home runs, 59 RBIs and a .910 OPS, earning his first All-Star selection since 2014.
Jorge Soler, Royals
Soler had trouble staying healthy and staying in the big leagues after being traded by the Cubs to the Royals in 2016. While his immense potential was always apparent, his production left a lot to be desired. Soler came into 2019 having played more than 100 games once in his career.
In 2019, the Cuban slugger opened eyes across baseball and became one of the game’s most-feared power hitters. He hit an AL-leading 48 home runs and drove in 117 runs. Not only did he produce, but he showed durability and was able to stay on the field, playing in all 162 games. Soler's 48 long balls shattered Mike Moustakas' franchise record of 38 home runs, set in 2017.
Josh Donaldson, Braves
Donaldson's 2017 and ’18 seasons didn’t turn out how he or his respective clubs would have liked. A trade from the Blue Jays to the Indians last season provided Donaldson an opportunity to play in the postseason, but it was apparent that the 2015 AL MVP's health could be his undoing.
Donaldson signed a one-year, $23 million deal with the Braves before the 2019 season and reminded people why he finished in the top 10 in the AL MVP voting four consecutive seasons, 2013-16. The third baseman slashed .259/.379/.521 and finished the season with 37 home runs in 155 games played, his highest totals in both since 2016. Donaldson fit right in with the Braves and set himself up for another nice payday this offseason.
Sonny Gray, Reds
Gray's last few seasons had left many in baseball scratching their heads, wondering whether one of the sport’s most exciting young starters had lost it. A slew of injuries and a disappointing tenure with the Yankees left Gray looking for answers.
Following a trade to the Reds, Gray's fortune and success changed for the better. The right-hander returned to the level of success from his time in Oakland. Gray finished 2019 with an 11-8 record and a 2.87 ERA in 31 starts. He struck out 205 batters for his first 200-strikeout season and earned his first All-Star appearance since 2015.
Hyun-Jin Ryu, Dodgers
Ryu came into 2019 with higher expectations than other finalists after pitching well in 2018 -- an impressive 1.97 ERA in 15 starts. But he failed to reach 150 innings pitched for the third consecutive season after missing the 2015 campaign because of shoulder surgery.
In 2019, however, the southpaw shut down any thought that he couldn't duplicate his success of 2018. Ryu's impressive season earned him the start for the NL in this year's All-Star Game. He finished 14-5 and led the Majors with a 2.32 ERA. His 182 2/3 innings were the most he has thrown since he tossed 192 innings during his rookie season in 2013.
Winners of the AL and NL Comeback Player Awards receive grants of $20,000 each from the Major League Baseball Players Trust to direct to a charity of their choice. Winners will be announced beginning the week of Oct. 21.