Don’t call it a comeback…

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The best and worst thing about baseball is the obsession with traditions. Being obsessed with these things plays a big part in the reluctance of the baseball community to adapt or change with the times. Whenever a technological advance comes along, baseball is always slow to embrace it. Whether it’s the use of social media, instant replay or even 100 percent online voting for the All-Star game, things like “revolutionary” or “cutting edge” do not come quickly to mind. With that being said, one of my favorite things about baseball is the abundance of history and traditions. We are able to reasonably compare modern players with their predecessors (other than black players of course). We can marvel at Joe DiMaggio’s hitting streak, Walter Johnson’s 110 shutouts, Ted Williams’ .406 season and Brian Wilson’s beard. More importantly, we can enjoy the personal traditions that we have. Every year for as long as I can recall, my dad and I would pick the records for all the teams along with the major award winners. I can’t remember any time that I’ve ever gotten the majority of my picks right, but I can definitely remember all the times we talked about our picks and commiserated over our failures.
My other favorite tradition is a more recent one, but one that I enjoy nonetheless. I used to be obsessed with prospects in every sport. I wanted to see what the new, shiny toy was capable of, and because it was new, clearly it was better than what was already there. As I’ve gotten slightly older, I’ve learned to appreciate guys who are on their 2nd, 3rd or even 4th chances. This led me to pick a few of my favorite 2nd chancers coming into this season:

1. Mike Olt, 3B, Chicago Cubs: Kris Bryant is a future superstar. Service time notwithstanding, he should soon be entrenched as the Cubs third baseman of the present and future. You can debate the positives and negatives that go with the Cubs’ decision to send him to Triple-A, but regardless of that, we’re presented with a fun opportunity. Mike Olt was, at one point, a can’t miss prospect in the Texas Rangers stacked farm system. The number 4 Rangers prospect, and number 22 in all of baseball, his career floor was viewed as  being a solid starter for multiple seasons. After being included in the Matt Garza blockbuster, his career has never really gotten off the ground, and is, in all likelihood, about 12 days away from being permanently put on the back burner. With all that being said, I’m all in on the Mike Olt bandwagon (great seats still available!). His name sounds like a successful player’s should and he can be involved in fun Arrested Development references. I can think of few things in baseball that would make me happier than Olt exploding as a star to begin the season, Cubs fans falling in love with his scrappy game and then chanting “We want Olt” every time Kris Bryant boots an easy grounder or goes 0 for 5. Unlikely, but a guy can dream.
2. Brandon Morrow, SP, San Diego Padres: As a long time fantasy sports player, one of the phrases I’m most familiar with is “oh man, great pick, that guy’s a sleeper!”. For those who don’t play, a sleeper is a player who hasn’t really done much, but has a high variance potential. Low downside, tremendous upside. Brandon Morrow was labeled a fantasy sleeper every year between 2010 and 2014. As is the case with many sleepers, he never woke up. His advanced metrics and killer stuff made us overlook the fact that maybe he just wasn’t a very good pitcher. After a couple of unsuccessful seasons north of the border, Morrow has traded Poutine (French fries covered in gravy) for organic food and California Burritos. In doing so, he’s also traded the 9th worst pitchers park for the 2nd best and moved from being an up and coming star to a 5th starter with low expectations. I went down this road with Josh Johnson a year ago, but I think the 350 days of sun have scrambled my brain, so I’m doubling down with injury prone Padres starters.
3. Torii Hunter, OF, Minnesota Twins: Growing up as a White Sox fan, no team frustrated me more than the Minnesota Twins. They went from the brink of contraction to being a regular season juggernaut composed of homegrown, likeable non-stars who ground out at-bats, got dirty on every ground ball and played baseball the right way. Year after year I hated them as they dominated the Central division, all while sticking to their style of baseball and refusing to overpay “superstars” or bend to selfish mindsets.(Consequently, they went downhill right after they overpaid Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau) No player embodied this idea more than Torii Hunter, and consequently, no player drew more of my ire than Hunter. Between his gap to gap power, over the top personality complete with dazzling smile and the way he combined with Jaque Jones to turn the outfield into a place doubles went to die, no one player haunted me more than Hunter in Minnesota. True to form, when his usefulness started to decrease and his salary demands increased, the Twins cut bait and let him go to Anaheim for what viewed as a huge waste of money. After 7 solid seasons away from Minnesota, they’ve brought him back; presumably to provide a couple years of solid leadership and above-average defense. It’s a common cliché that Father Time is undefeated, but I’m always fascinated to watch a brave fighter refusing to go calmly into the night. For the first time ever, I’ll be rooting for Torii.
4. Earl Lester “Buddy” Carlyle, RP, New York Mets: Probably my favorite player on this list, and one that I admit I had not heard of prior to this season. A 2nd round draft pick with the Reds in 1996, Carlyle made his debut in 1999 and has since bounced between 4 MLB teams, a Korean League team and 2 Japanese League teams. As of this morning, his Wikipedia page still lists him as a member of the Las Vegas 51’s, but as of 5:00 Pacific Time, he is not only the Mets closer (for now), but the proud owner of his first career save. While there aren’t any crazy stories circulating about his off-field habits, weird mannerisms or anything like that, I’m captivated by a 37-year-old minor league lifer who decided that he wanted to keep at it. Also, I’ll root for him the same way I did for Broncos’ quarterback Bubby Brister. He sounds like he was raised with older sisters, and any man who has lived through that deserves my support.
5. Manny Machado, 3B, Baltimore Orioles: The last player on my list is a near superstar at the beginning of his career. Blessed with vacuum for a glove and a cannon for an arm, Machado evokes memories of Brooks Robinson for the Baltimore diehards. What puts him on this list are the concerns raised in the last couple of seasons. Maturity issues, cold streaks at the plate and more importantly repeated injuries have dimmed his star a bit. However, when healthy, nobody outside of Mike Trout looks and moves more like a superstar. Completely fluid moving either way in the infield with a beautiful swing and a clean-cut look to match, Machado deserves the chance to develop into a fan favorite for the next decade. Luckily for Orioles fans, and baseball fans everywhere, he’s only 22 years old and has the right manager to kick his butt a little bit and get things back on track. Nothing would be more fun than having another young star in the American League; albeit one with a bit of an edge to play opposite to Trout’s crystalline image. Maybe it’s the professional wrestling fan in me, but I always want to see a heel to counter a babyface.

Some other players that I’ll be watching this year, but don’t want to dive too deeply into:
Billy Hamilton,OF, Cincinnati Reds: The fastest player I’ve ever seen, and a legitimate threat to steal 100 bases.
Jimmy Rollins, SS, Los Angeles Dodgers: Grumpy, fading and carrying a huge chip on his shoulder, he could be just the spark and leader the Dodgers need.
Alex Rodriguez, DH, New York Yankees: I don’t think I need to say much: the ultimate Yankee soap opera.
Jose Altuve, 2B, Houston Astros: He’s gotten a lot of ink the last year and a half, but I’ll never get tired of watching a guy play baseball at 5 and a half feet tall (Or 1 Altuve, for those educated in modern measuring devices).

As the season goes on, I’ll check in periodically and update on the progress of my “All 2nd chance team”. My hope is that they all succeed or at the very least fail in an entertaining way. I’d love to see Olt hit 30 homers, Morrow strike out 200 batters, Carlyle become the next Lee Smith, Machado drag the O’s to the pennant or even Torii Hunter reinvigorate the Twins franchise.
Will any of that happen? Probably not, but one of the other traditions in baseball is starting the season with a dream, even if you know it probably won’t come true.

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One Response to “Don’t call it a comeback…”

  1. My fave 5 (plus a bonus) | Rivalry Renewed Says:

    […] a second chance, guys with funny names or just a guy I find myself drawn to for no rational reason. I did a similar exercise last year, and while I didn’t keep up with all my favorites as much as I’d like, I did enjoy […]

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