From Giancarlo Stanton’s resurgence to Garrett Richards’ return to form, here is a closer look at five MLB players who are ready to bounce back in 2020.
Baseball loves a good comeback story. Whether it is a player returning from a major injury or a resurgence in performance after a horrid season, comeback stories always seem to garner the interest of MLB fans and media.
This upcoming season will be no different. Coming into the 2020 MLB campaign there are a number of players trying to take care of unfinished business or right the wrongs of recent seasons and prove their worth.
Giancarlo Stanton — New York Yankees
Giancarlo Stanton arrived in the Bronx in 2017 with massive expectations considering both his contract and prowess as one of the best power hitters in the game.
But through two seasons, Stanton has not been able to meet the high standards that have been placed on him by Yankee fans. His debut year with the Yankees was full of ups and downs. He was able to record his third career season with at least 30 home runs and 100 RBI. However, he also struck out 211 times, plenty of which were followed by a chorus of boos from Yankee fans.
Last season was not much better for the slugger. He played in only 18 regular season games due to a couple of nagging injuries, including a biceps injury and a sprained PCL in his right knee. Stanton was able to return just in time for the playoffs but did factor much into Aaron Boone’s plans as he had just one home run and two RBI in five postseason games.
As any Yankees fans would tell you, there is much expected of Stanton after two underwhelming seasons in the Bronx. And as Boone recently stated, the key for a successful 2020 campaign from Stanton is health.
“So the big thing is going to be just just keeping him healthy, keeping him built up properly, using spring training smartly, and I do feel like he’s got a special season,” Boone said.
If Stanton is able to return to the dominant form MLB fans were so accustomed to, the sky’s the limit for the Yankees’ offense. This is a lineup that, even without Stanton for the majority of 2019, was able to finish first in all of baseball in total runs (943) and second in home runs (306). Add a returning Stanton to this lineup — including a healthy season from Aaron Judge — and the Yankees may very well produce yet another historic offensive season.
If he can both stay healthy and cut down on the strikeouts, Stanton may not hear another boo or jeer at Yankee Stadium.
Yoenis Cespedes — New York Mets
If there is one player in dire need of a comeback season, it is Mets outfielder Yoenis Cespedes.
The Mets have simply not been able to rely on Cespedes at all.
Over the 2017 and 2018 seasons, the Cuban talent missed a total of 205 games due to a multitude of injuries. Last season was even more of a nightmare for Cespedes; he missed the first couple of months due to rehabbing from an offseason heel surgery and subsequently missed the rest of 2019 after an accident at his ranch back in May. As a result of the ranch injury, Cespedes agreed to a restructure of his 2020 contract from a $29M projected salary to a $6M base salary coupled with incentives and bonuses embedded in the reworked deal.
The Mets are expected to have Cespedes back and ready for the 2020 season, which will be a contract year for him.
Although he is healthy and ready to go for 2020, playing time will not be a guarantee on a game-by-game basis for Cespedes. Jeff McNeil and J.D. Davis have come into the fold for the Mets’ plans at left field, while Brandon Nimmo and newly-acquired Jake Marisnick will likely share the duties out in center field. Cespedes could also be a wild card contender to play the right field position, but also highly unlikely considering he has not played a single game in his career there.
Cespedes will essentially have to start all over and come into spring training with the mentality of a non-roster invitee. He is not guaranteed any playing time at the moment and must also regain the trust of the front office to showcase his offensive capabilities. More importantly, he has several critics to silence after he was made a mockery by the New York sports media because of his ranch accident.
If he can stay healthy, Cespedes is more than capable of producing a 25 home run and 80 RBI type season, of which the Mets are in desperate need.
Johnny Cueto — San Francisco Giants
The Giants have not had much success with recent significant acquisitions.
Jeff Samardzija was signed on a five-year, $90M deal back in 2015 and he has gone on to amount for a 4.10 ERA over his first four seasons with the Giants. A year later, Mark Melancon was added via free agency and wound up totaling for a mere 115.1 innings pitched before being shipped off to Atlanta in this past season’s trade deadline. The Giants also traded for Evan Longoria in hopes of bolstering their lineup with a potent bat, but he has failed to produce a 3.0 bWAR season in his two-year stint with the team.
And then there is Johnny Cueto.
The Giants signed Cueto back in 2015 and it simply has not panned out for both sides. Cueto began his career in the Bay Area with a strong 2016 campaign that featured an All-Star appearance and a 2.79 ERA over 219.2 innings pitched. But since then, injuries have taken a toll on the former World Series champion as he has combined for a mere 216.1 innings pitched over the past three seasons.
It is clear Cueto has not lived up to the expectations, but with three years and $65M remaining on his contract, he can still make up for the previous disappointing seasons.
Not only will the Giants need him to stay healthy, but the hope is for Cueto to find that spark with his sinker. In 2017 and 2018, opponents hit well over .350 against his sinker. Compare that to his 2014-2016 dominant run when opponents hit below .230 against his sinker coupled with a wRC+ below 80 in each of the three seasons. Cueto desperately needs to revamp his sinker and make it his go-to pitch once again.
If the Giants are going to make any run at a wild card spot in 2020, it begins with Cueto’s status and whether he can return to the All-Star caliber pitcher he once was.
Garrett Richards — San Diego Padres
Even at age 31, Garrett Richards is still being talked about as a pitcher with potential.
Richards rose up the ranks through the Angels’ farm system and quickly emerged as one of the top under-the-radar pitching prospects in all of baseball. He enjoyed early success in both 2014 and 2015 with 2.61 and 3.65 ERA seasons respectively. Unfortunately, injuries derailed his momentum as he suffered a partial UCL tear in 2016 and underwent Tommy John surgery in 2018.
Now with the Padres in what will be the second season of his two-year deal, Richards is hoping to finally live up to the expectations from five years ago. Obviously his health is what everyone within the Padres front office will be watching for; he has not pitched a full season since 2015. But the hope is for 2020 to finally be the year where Richards orchestrates a full campaign with 30+ starts and over 200 innings pitched.
Success for Richards will revolve around his fastball. The velocity on the pitch has dipped from an average of 97.1 in 2014 to 95.0 in 2019. His production also has taken a turn for the worse. In his stellar 2014 campaign, Richards held opponents to a .216 average against his fastball. But in each of the last three seasons, the opponent’s batting average has steadily progressed up, including a .400 BA in a small sample size of 15 plate appearances in 2019. Richards may not have one of the best fastballs in baseball, but any success with the pitch is a positive trend in the right direction.
The Padres starting rotation is already full of potential with the likes of Chris Paddack and MLB top-30 prospects Mackenzie Gore and Luis Patino. With a rejuvenated Richards, the Padres may end up emerging as a favorite in the NL wild-card race.
A.J. Pollock — Los Angeles Dodgers
A.J. Pollock’s debut season with the Dodgers in 2019 defined disaster. In the regular season, Pollock missed nearly half of the season with an elbow injury and wound up recording a 0.2 bWAR year — a rate lowest among Dodgers outfielders in 2019. It only got worse come playoff time as he failed to record a hit and struck out 11 times in 14 plate appearances against the Washington Nationals in the NLDS.
Now in year two of his five-year deal with the Dodgers Pollock certainly has much to prove to teammates and fans. Pollock is far from a 0.2 bWAR player and last season was not a reflection of his true prowess as a hitter. As he did back in 2015, Pollock is more than capable of putting together something more near 40 doubles and 7.5 bWAR campaign.
Like last season, playing time at left or center field will not come as a guarantee. Kike Hernandez, Joc Pederson, Chris Taylor and Matt Beaty will all be vying for a starting role there as well. And with the newly-acquired Mookie Betts, Bellinger might shift out to the center-field role, which will ramp up the competition even more.
But if Pollock can return to form, it will; further boost the Dodgers’ lineup which should rank as the clear best in the NL.
Pollock’s signing with the Dodgers garnered slight criticism and confusion. Now it is his turn to sway the doubters and erase any feelings of regret from his free agency deal.