Several hope fresh start means return to prominence
Players on comeback trail aim to bounce back with new team, opportunities
The grass of Spring Training is greener than in a lot of the winter-frozen climes of this country as we roll into February. Soon enough, pitchers and catchers will report to their camps and get to work, and in some cases, the sunshine will have healing powers.
Not so long ago, a handful of players were highly regarded prospects and then young Major Leaguers viewed as big pieces of their franchise's future. Years later, after injuries, disappointments and combinations of the many little things that can add up to big-time career derailments, they're getting fresh starts elsewhere and a chance to see if the grass can be greener in 2014.
One such player is Logan Morrison, the first baseman/outfielder who was traded from the Miami Marlins to the Seattle Mariners this winter. Morrison hit 23 homers and drove in 72 runs while putting up an on-base-plus-slugging percentage of .797 in 462 at-bats in 2011 as a 23-year-old, but since then, knee injuries have slowed down his ascent. He had a pair of surgeries on his right patellar tendon over a year ago, then was traded to Seattle this offseason for hard-throwing reliever Carter Capps.
"I'm so excited to be here now and getting a fresh lease on my baseball life," Morrison said upon arrival in Seattle. "I'm beyond ready. I wish the season started now. I've had too much of a break.
"I came back last year, I still had aches and pains, but now I don't really feel that. It's been 15 months now and I feel great. Putting the surgeries behind me and moving to a new team, it's like a figurative flipping of the page and starting a new chapter."
It could be a similar situation in Chicago for Chris Coghlan, one of Morrison's former Miami teammates. Coghlan was a supplmental first-round pick in the 2006 First-Year Player Draft, and he hit .321 with a .390 on-base percentage to win the National League Rookie of the Year Award in 2009. But Coghlan has suffered multiple injuries since then and joined the Cubs on a Minor League deal after being non-tendered by the Marlins in December.
In Colorado, the Rockies need to improve their pitching, and they might have done so dramatically with the addition of left-hander Brett Anderson. Anderson was viewed as a fixture in a young Oakland A's rotation as recently as two years ago, but Tommy John surgery in 2011 and a stress fracture in his right foot last year stalled his development. The A's swapped him for lefty Drew Pomeranz and Minor Leaguer Chris Jensen this offseason, and now Anderson, who just turned 26 and is 26-29 with a 3.81 ERA in 84 games (73 starts) over five seasons, has a chance to become a star somewhere else.
"Anderson puts us in position to perform better out of the rotation right now," said Bill Geivett, the Rockies' senior vice president of Major League operations. "And that was the biggest thing. As far as his health, he's been through the last couple years with injuries, the last one being the foot. But we're comfortable with that and the progress he's made. We feel like we're getting an impact starter in this deal."
In other Oakland trade news, the Orioles might have landed an interesting comeback candidate at second base in the form of Jemile Weeks, who came to Baltimore in a winter trade for closer Jim Johnson.
Weeks, the 12th overall pick in the 2008 Draft, hit .303 and stole 22 bases in 406 at-bats in 2011, but Major League pitching caught up to him in 2012 (he hit .221) and he ended up spending most of 2013 at Triple-A Sacramento. He's only 27, and Weeks figures to have a shot at starting with the Orioles if he puts together a good spring.
Also in Chicago, outfielder Ryan Kalish will try to get his once-promising career back on track with the Cubs. Kalish, who will turn 26 in March, hit four home runs and stole 10 bases in 164 at-bats as a Red Sox rookie in 2010, but one injury after another has robbed him of the majority of the last few seasons. He'll be trying to come back from shoulder and neck surgeries this spring.
Reliever Daniel Bard, Kalish's former Red Sox teammate, was non-tendered by the Cubs and just agreed to a Minor League deal with the Rangers, although he had right shoulder surgery on Jan. 2 and could miss Spring Training. But Bard was a dominant setup man in 2010-11, and he might be able to get back to that level if he gets healthy and irons out the command problems that have plagued him over the last two seasons.
Meanwhile, Joba Chamberlain enters a new reality with a new team, the Detroit Tigers. No longer is Chamberlain the rising star of the Yankees' farm system and a man caught between starting and relieving. No longer does he possess a fastball that approaches 100 mph, but he's healthy and throwing in the low- to mid-90s, and now he's on a contending team with a chance to shine.
"We've liked Joba for years," Tigers president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said. "We feel he's a great addition with his experience. He can fill the role of pitching in the eighth inning if [manager] Brad [Ausmus] wants to use him there. He's been in a lot of big games in the Yankees organization."
When asked to assess his situation, Chamberlain offered sentiments that are shared by all of these players looking for fresh starts in 2014.
"We're starting a new chapter here," Chamberlain said. "Everything's in the past. …The past is the past, and I've learned from it."