Winning the Comeback Player of the Year Award may sound like an honor, but the road to it is not always smooth. For one to win the Comeback Player of the Year, this individual must suffer a setback, something that no one wants to happen. Unless a serious injury were to occur, players like Mike Trout and Christian Yelich won’t be winning the award, solely because they are a couple of the best players in the game consistently. At the end of the day, it is still an incredible achievement to be awarded the title of Comeback Player of the Year.
The Comeback Player of the Year is one that has a big question mark next to their name at the beginning of the season but produces numbers exceeding expectations. This award means a lot to those who win it because it usually means there was pain suffered and a struggle to get back to where they are now. Here are the top candidates to win Comeback Player of the Year in both the National League and American League:
Atlanta Braves third baseman Josh Donaldson:
Donaldson’s past two years with the Toronto Blue Jays were filled with injuries. In 2017 and 2018, Donaldson only played a total of 165 games. In 2015, Donaldson won the AL MVP and had finished top eight in MVP voting in the 2013-2016 seasons.
Last season, Donaldson’s injuries were visibly a problem and hurt his production. He hit .246/.352/.449 with eight home runs. Granted, Donaldson was hit with the injury plague that year and only played in 52 games. Donaldson struggled early to begin the year but has finally found his feet. Donaldson is now hitting .265/.379/.538 with 32 home runs. He also sports a WAR of 3.9. Donaldson’s health has not been an issue thus far as he has played in 128 of the team’s 132 games. With 30 games left, it seems that Donaldson’s production has been a huge help in the Braves’ chances of a division title.
Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu:
Ryu has been lights out this year with an ERA of 2.00 good for the best in all of baseball — a pleasant surprise to say the least for the veteran who is amid his seventh season in the majors. Ryu’s career, like Donaldson’s, has been filled with injuries. Ryu had a slight setback this year landing him on the 10-day IL with a neck issue. Usually, when this happens, Ryu has to battle great pitchers like Clayton Kershaw, Yu Darvish, Ross Stripling, Alex Wood, Rich Hill, or Walker Buehler for a spot back in the rotation. This year is slightly different, however. Ryu is 12-4 with a 2.00 ERA and a 0.98 WHIP. As a Cy Young favorite, Ryu is putting together a career year.
Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Sonny Gray:
Gray has probably forgotten about his 2018 campaign with the Yankees. He posted a 4.90 ERA and an atrocious 6.98 ERA at Yankee Stadium. Gray’s stock was down and Yankees’ owner Brian Cashman was part of the reason. “We are going to move him if we get the right deal because I don’t think it is going to work out in the Bronx,” Cashman said in November 2018, per the New York Post.
The 2019 season has been a revival season for Gray. Gray’s ERA is currently at 2.92 which is his best since 2015 when he finished third in the AL Cy Young voting. Gray also has a 1.118 WHIP and a career-best 10.6 K/9. The fact that Gray is on the Reds, who are all but out of playoffs, could be the reason his great season is going under the radar right now.
New York Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez:
Sanchez broke out on the scene in his rookie campaign in 2016. A third of Sanchez’s hits that year were home runs as he hit 20 in 53 games. Sanchez finished second in Rookie of the Year voting and followed up with an even better 2017 campaign. Sanchez was voted to the All-Star team and won a Silver Slugger award. 2018 was completely different for the young Bronx Bomber. Sanchez hit a mere .186/.291/.406 with only 18 home runs in 89 games played.
Sanchez was forced to miss a lot of the 2018 season due to groin issues and defensive issues. During the offseason, Sanchez’s shoulder required surgery and it seemed his days as a Yankee were numbered. However, the Yankees decided to keep him and this has paid off immensely. Sanchez is now hitting .233/.306./.519 with an OPS of .825. Sanchez also has hit 29 home runs this year in only 91 games played. Not only has his production at the plate improved, but his production behind it has also improved as well. Sanchez has only six passed balls this year, a major improvement from last year’s league-leading 18. Sanchez is beginning to look like the star rookie we remember.
Los Angeles Angels infielder Tommy La Stella:
La Stella has had a long road to success, including a refusal to be demoted to Triple-A by the Cubs. He is not one for playing a lot of games in a season as he has only played over 100 in one of his six MLB seasons. However, La Stella is batting .300/.353/.495 with an OPS of .848 in 78 games played. As of right now, he has career highs in batting average, slugging percentage, hits, and runs, and has six more home runs this year than he did in his first five seasons combined (16 this year).
La Stella entered the season as a utility guy that gave the Angels depth but is now their All-Star third baseman. La Stella right now has the honor of being the second-best player on the Angels’ roster behind Mike Trout.
Texas Rangers starting pitcher Mike Minor:
Minor didn’t pitch in the 2015 or 2016 seasons. When the Royals offered him a chance to revive his career as a relief pitcher in 2017, Minor probably thought his pitching days were over in the majors.
However, the Rangers, desperate for pitching, offered Minor a three-year contract that has worked in their favor thus far. In 2018, Minor had a 4.18 ERA in 157 innings pitched over 28 starts as he went 12-8. This year, Minor is much better with a 3.17 ERA through 167.2 innings in 26 starts with five weeks left. The 31-year-old veteran has been dominating the American League and is in contention for the AL Cy Young Award. As of right now, Minor’s ERA is at a career-best. He also has a career-high in K/9 as a starter (9.2). Minor was voted to his first-ever All-Star game this season and is one of the better comeback stories in Major League Baseball.
Chicago White Sox starting pitcher Lucas Giolito:
Giolito was a big-time pitching prospect for the Washington Nationals but never received a shot to make an impact. Now on the Chicago White Sox, Giolito looks to be their franchise pitcher. Last season, Giolito was more than unimpressive. He posted worsts in the majors in earned runs (118) and the American League in walks (90). Giolito ended the season with a 6.13 ERA in 32 starts and 173.1 innings.
With about five weeks left in the season, Giolito is hanging with the best in the majors. He currently owns a 3.20 ERA and is 14-6 in 25 starts through 151.2 innings pitched. Giolito currently leads the majors in better stats this year: complete games (3) and shutouts (2). Giolito has 194 strikeouts currently, which is 69 more than he had all last season. He now has a K/9 rate of 11.5 and a BB/9 rate of 3.0. Giolito was voted to his first-ever All-Star game and is the poster boy for a post-hype sleeper. This was a long time coming for the highly-touted prospect and he is finally getting the stardom he deserves.