Today we continue the IPI’s year end awards with the announcement of the Comeback Player of the Year. This award goes to the player who came back from a rough 2010 season – be it due to injury or performance – and put up a very good 2011 season.
After a nice pro debut at short season Single-A Mahoning Valley in 2008 (.319 AVG, .789 OPS) and a good first full season at High-A Kinston in 2009 (.278 AVG, .764 OPS), Fedroff took a step back last year at Double-A Akron (.274 AVG, .715 OPS). He came back this season and just dominated at Akron where in 70 games he hit .338 with 2 HR, 35 RBI and .846 OPS before the Indians promoted him to Triple-A Columbus to finish the season. His .308 batting average was the 2nd best in the entire organization only to rookie level Arizona infielder Jose Ramirez (.325).
Mills had his best season since his MVP year at High-A Kinston in 2008 when he hit .293 with 21 HR, 90 RBI, and .880 OPS. What followed after that year were two substandard seasons at Double-A Akron in which he hit .267 with 14 HR, 83 RBI, and .724 OPS in 2009 and then .241 with 10 HR, 72 RBI and .689 OPS in 2010. His performance those two years bottomed out his prospect standing in the organization. He came back this season and finished 9th in the organization in batting average (.289) and 3rd in home runs (18).
Hagadone came back from a rocky 2010 season where he went 3-5 with a 3.57 ERA in 29 games (85.2 IP, 72 H, 7 HR, 63 BB, 89 K). The ERA and hit-rate were actually very good last season, but it was the 6.6 BB/9 rate that was most concerning and disappointing. Command is usually always the last thing that returns to a pitcher after they have Tommy John surgery, and that looks like it was the case here again as he came back this season and more than cut that walk rate in half to 2.8 BB/9. More impressively, he maintained that walk rate even with a first time promotion to Triple-A Columbus.
If this award were not given for performance reasons and instead were given based on guts, determination and perseverance, then Miller would win this award hands down. After not pitching all of 2009 and 2010 because of a chronic middle finger issue that resulted in several surgeries, many thought he would never pitch again. But he stuck with it and found his way back to a mound last fall in Instructional League and was able to go out and pitch in 31 games this season without one single setback. The overall numbers were not very good, but a lot of that is from a handful of blow ups, rust, and him trying to find himself again as a pitcher. His return this season was truly one of the best moments of the year.
Landis is another pitcher who made a miraculous return this season from a career threatening injury. He missed all of last season with a scary nerve issue in his bicep-shoulder area that caused numbness and weakness, but he was able to rehab and eventually returned to the mound in late April at Low-A Lake County. He struggled some at Double-A Akron (1-0, 4.38 ERA, 9 G) before settling in the rest of the season at High-A Kinston (9-2, 2.15 ERA, 32 G). He also finished 4th in the entire Indians organization in wins (10), which is amazing for a reliever.
And the Tony Award goes to….Beau Mills
Compared to previous years the Indians did not have as many players have big bounce back seasons. Whether or not this is a good or bad thing depends on your outlook of things, but I think most people are in agreement that Mills’ resurgence this season was great to see and no doubt was the best comeback in the system.
While a lot of people will say that Mills just benefitted this season because of a third year in Double-A, that is untrue as he moved up to Triple-A for the first time in his career and more than held his own hitting .269 with 7 HR, 18 RBI and .822 OPS in 35 games. He also hit .308 with 0 HR, 4 RBI and .842 OPS in 7 playoff games.
Mills missed the first two months of the season with an Achilles injury but the time away really seemed to help him get more focused. Not that he lacked focus before, but the past two years his entire approach at the plate lacked much consistency. When he returned this season he looked like the Beau Mills of old. In fact, he may be better than the Mills of old.
First off, the power returned this season. After mashing 58 extra base hits including 21 homers in 2008 at High-A Kinston, his extra bat hit production dipped significantly the last two seasons where he had just 48 extra base hits in 2009 at Akron and 37 extra base hits in 2010 at Akron. This year he had 41 extra base hits, though he did that in just 391 plate appearances covering 96 games because he missed the first two months of the season with the Achilles injury. He averaged 530 plate appearances from 2008-2010, so if he would have had that many plate appearances this season he would have projected out to 56 extra base hits this year. In fact, more easily stated, his .513 slugging percentage this year was a career best and much better than the .417 slugging percentage in 2009 and .377 slugging percentage in 2010.
Secondly, Mills showed his best plate discipline to date during his time with the Indians. Back in 2008 in his MVP season at Kinston he was striking out once every 4.6 at bats and walking once every 8.9 at bats, but since then he has worked to get better at striking out less and walking more. Since 2008 his strikeout rate has decreased each year as he had struck out once every 5.4 at bats in 2009, once every 6.0 at bats in 2010, and once every 6.6 at bats this season. The walk rate has also gotten better and after it nosedived in 2009 where he walked once every 16.6 at bats he has been around once every ten at bats the last two seasons.
The discipline changes showed last year but the numbers were not there, but this season it all seemed to come together for Mills. With everything coming together the power and performance also returned. With the nice bounce back season he is now back in the discussion as a potential big league option at first base for the Indians, potentially sometime next year. He may never be an every day player in the big leagues or reach the potential many thought he could when he was a first round pick in 2007, but it now looks that his dreams of making the big leagues look very real.
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