2013 Tony Awards: Comeback Player of the Year
October 28, 2013
Today we continue the IBI’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 2012 season – be it due to injury or performance – and any other obstacles to put up a very good 2013 season and reestablished and/or solidified himself as a prospect for the Indians.
Here are the 2013 Tony Awards so far:
In the coming days the Reliever of the Year, Pitcher of the Year, Offensive Player of the Year and All-Tony Team will be announced. Again, these awards are simply for fun to hand out at the end of the year. Also, the Cleveland Indians in no way whatsoever had any input in these awards.
Onto the nominees…
Comeback Player of the Year Nominees
Austin Adams (RHP)
2012: Did not pitch (injured)
2013: 45 G, 3-2, 2.65 ERA, 55.0 IP, 44 H, 19 R (16 ER), 3 HR, 29 BB, 76 K, .215 BAA
Adams had a forgettable 2012 campaign. It started off great with an invite to major league camp in spring training, but a shoulder issue sidelined him during spring training and ended up needing surgery later in the year and resulted in him missing all of the 2012 season. He came back and pitched very well in a new bullpen role, a role that the Indians view him sticking in for the long term because of his power fastball-curveball combination. He really pitched well at Double-A Akron and could be in line for a spot in the Triple-A Columbus bullpen next season.
D.J. Brown (RHP)
2012: Did not pitch (injured)
2013: 27 G, 3-4, 2.71 ERA, 66.1 IP, 59 H, 26 R (20 ER), 5 HR, 20 BB, 71 K, .238 BAA
Brown was a very late selection in the 2012 Draft because he was coming off shoulder surgery, but he and the Indians were able to work out a fair signing bonus and the Indians snagged what they think is an interesting upside right-handed arm. At least in the early going, Brown is proving their gamble to be a good one as he had an impressive showing in spring training and then later went to Low-A Lake County where he was consistent and effective coming out of the bullpen for two to three inning stints. He is being strongly considered for a rotation spot next season at High-A Carolina.
Owen Dew (RHP)
2012: Did not pitch (injured)
2013: 34 G, 3-7, 3.86 ERA, 70.0 IP, 74 H, 34 R (30 ER), 8 HR, 20 BB, 41 K, .286 BAA
Dew missed all of the 2012 season because of Tommy John surgery. It was a long road back for him as he missed a big chunk of the 2011 season because of the arm injury as well. Finally healthy this season, he came back and hauled a lot of innings in middle relief for High-A Carolina and had a solid season. He won’t wow with swing and miss stuff, but he does a nice job of pitching to contact and getting a high percentage of groundballs. He will probably be in the mix for a return trip to Carolina next season and is another guy who might get starter consideration, possibly in a piggyback role.
Erik Gonzalez (INF)
2012: 60 G, .220 AVG, 30 R, 9 2B, 1 3B, 2 HR, 18 RBI, 11 BB, 50 K, 9 SB, .563 OPS
2013: 132 G, .254 AVG, 75 R, 32 2B, 12 3B, 9 HR, 76 RBI, 29 BB, 109 K, 11 SB, .710 OPS
Gonzalez may not have been a high profile prospect coming into the season, but he was my #3 Indians Latin American prospect (right behind Ronny Rodriguez) entering the 2011 season so there was some high regard coming out of the Dominican Summer League a few years ago. After two years of struggles, he put it all together this season and has firmly established himself as yet another shortstop prospect for the Indians and he is expected to get strong consideration for the regular shortstop duties at High-A Carolina next year. His versatility, athleticism and productive bat are intriguing.
C.C. Lee (RHP)
2012: 5 G, 2-0, 2.57 ERA, 7.0 IP, 5 H, 2 R/ER, 1 HR, 1 BB, 8 K, .208 BAA
2013: 29 G, 1-0, 2.48 ERA, 29.0 IP, 18 H, 8 R/ER, 1 HR, 10 BB, 37 K, .182 BAA
Lee came into the 2012 season as the IBI’s #5 ranked prospect and was not only the best reliever in the Indians system, but one of the best in all the minors as well. He was on the fast track to the big leagues, but then an elbow injury in early April of 2012 sidelined him and it required Tommy John surgery. He came back this season and pitched well and made his major league debut appearing in eight games (4.1 IP, 4.15 ERA) over the course of the season. His return to form could help ease some of the pain with the expected departure of free agents Matt Albersand Joe Smith from the Indians this offseason.
Jake Lowery (C)
2012: 98 G, .232 AVG, 45 R, 25 2B, 2 3B, 9 HR, 53 RBI, 52 BB, 110 K, 1 SB, .730 OPS
2013: 82 G, .264 AVG, 26 R, 23 2B, 2 3B, 7 HR, 33 RBI, 42 BB, 78 K, 0 SB, .796 OPS
Lowery really struggled at High-A Carolina last season before he was reassigned to Low-A Lake County. That step down to Lake County appeared to kickstart him as he finished strongly there and then he went into the offseason and worked as hard as anyone on his strength and conditioning and came into the 2013 season in great shape. As a result, even though he played in fewer games he was much more consistent at the plate and he showed improvement in all facets of his game. He should be in line for a return stop at Double-A Akron next season although an assignment to Triple-A Columbus is possible.
Matt Packer (LHP)
2012: 14 GS, 4-5, 3.70 ERA, 65.2 IP, 73 H, 32 R (27 ER), 8 HR, 16 BB, 47 K, .284 BAA
2013: 28 GS, 12-9, 3.27 ERA, 154.0 IP, 172 H, 71 R (56 ER), 8 HR, 44 BB, 119 K, .286 BAA
Packer is another pitcher who was shut down early in the season last year because of a shoulder issue that cropped up during spring training. The injury did not require surgery, but the shut down and subsequent throwing program to get him built back up resulted in him missing most of the first half of the season. The numbers are quite similar from last year, but his ability to haul innings this season and some improved and more consistent velocity were the difference for him. He’s a solid back end starting pitching option who has some versatility as a swing guy a la former Indians pitcher Aaron Laffey.
Bryan Price (RHP)
2012: 40 G, 2-4, 4.00 ERA, 69.2 IP, 71 H, 34 R (31 ER), 8 HR, 24 BB, 63 K, .265 BAA
2013: 47 G, 2-3, 2.04 ERA, 75.0 IP, 57 H, 21 R (17 ER), 5 HR, 16 BB, 92 K, .206 BAA
Price is a former 1st round pick, came in a high profile trade, and has been a higher ranked prospect in the past. However, he came into this season as a lower ranked guy because he had slipped on the priority totem pole after two inconsistent seasons in 2011 and 2012 because of some minor injuries and inconsistent performance. He came back this season and blew the doors open in the bullpen and was sensational on the mound seeing a significant improvement in all of his peripheral stats and most importantly performed at the highest level at Triple-A Columbus. He is on the big league radar in 2014.
And the winner of the 2013 Tony Award is……C.C. Lee
Before anyone asks, yes, I did consider outfielder LeVon Washington for this award as he came back and had a nice year; however, he unfortunately was unable to play in at least half of his team’s games this season with more injuries as he played just 61 of a possible 140 games this year. If he is much healthier next year and continues to perform, he will be up for the award next year.
In any case, this was a tough one this year as there was no true standout comeback performance. Unlike in years past when guys like Thomas Neal, Matt Whitney, Jared Goedert, Jordan Brown and others had big seasons after a disappointing season the year before, there was not that big gaudy showing this year. But there were several nice bounce back seasons and in the end it came down to the trio of pen arms C.C. Lee, Austin Adams and Bryan Price for me.
Adams showed he was 100% healthy in his return, which is really the number one goal for any pitcher coming off of a season ending injury. He dominated with his fastball and the velocity was all the way back, he just now needs to show better command of it and his secondary offerings. Price has now managed to pitch through an entire season two years in a row without any minor injury setbacks, something which really hampered him in the two seasons before that and stalled his progress. The life of his fastball was there this season and it was the improved command of it to go along with a jump in the quality of his secondary offerings which was impressive.
But in the end I choose Lee because of how good he was even though he was coming off Tommy John surgery. For a pitcher coming off of major arm surgery his peripherals were right in line with the outstanding career he had put together prior to the injury. Most importantly, his command was there even though for most pitchers recovering from Tommy John surgery the command can take an additional year to return.
Lee was very good even in light of the fact he was still not quite 100% back to the pitcher he was before surgery, which is scary to think of what he can do once he is all the way back. In addition, he parlayed his comeback and good showing in the minors into a major league opportunity this season. The first experience in the big leagues to go along with his high standing as a relief prospect for the Indians should go a long way at positioning him for one of the Indians bullpen spots to open next season.
Up Next: Reliever of the Year
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As for Lee, he made 29 appearances and another 8 appearances in Cleveland, so 37 appearances in total. He missed just the first month of the season and pitched the rest of the way. There is no bias here....I really wanted to include Washington but in the end he played in just 61 games our of a possible 140 games (44%). It is hard to say he truly was a comeback player with such little time on the field. That said, it was a nice season when he was out there and healthy. I know it has been a tough go of it with the health and it was great to see him have a nice year. If he manages to play 110-120 games next year and play very well again, he'll be a prime candidate for this award.
I find it funny that I supposedly have nothing nice to say about Washington yet went out on a limb and ranked him the #2 prospect going into 2012. A ranking no one came anywhere close to ranking him. Everyone had lost faith in him after a tough 2011 campaign.....and pretty much everyone jumped ship on him after 2012 yet I still had high hopes (ranked #35) and said as much in his report before the season. He's unfortunately continued to slip because of the injuries and other new players coming in and taking priority. That is not a knock on him as I know he works hard. But it is also a reality that injuries unfortunately can ruin chances and stall guys. I hope for the best for him this season.