The MLB season has hit the dog days of August and this is about the time we can seriously start discussing the races for major individual awards in addition to keeping watch with the divisional and wild card races. In the case of the former, this week here on CBS Sports, we'll be running through each award for each league and discussing the top candidates. We continue with Comeback Player of the Year on the American League side. For a look at the National League race,.
The Comeback Player of the Year award can be a bit ambiguous. It can be tough to differentiate between a player having a comeback year or a player having a breakout year. How low does someone have to sink for it to be considered a comeback? With that in mind, here are the frontrunners for this year's Comeback Player of the Year award in the Junior Circuit.
An Achilles injury wiped out Rays third baseman Matt Duffy's entire 2017 season and most of his 2016 season. He has returned this year to hit .299/.352/.379 with 16.0 percent strikeout rate that ranks among the game's lowest. Duffy has never been a big-time power hitter -- he has 17 doubles and four home runs this year -- though he makes up for it with solid hot corner defense. Pushing the batting average back up over .300 -- Duffy's average topped .300 every day from May 11 to Aug. 11 -- would help his Comeback Player of the Year case given the lack of power at a corner spot.
Red Sox southpaw David Price ranked among the game's top workhorses for most of his career, but elbow trouble limited him to 74 2/3 innings last season, and it kept him in the bullpen down the stretch and into the postseason. This year Price has thrown 134 1/3 innings across 23 starts and he's been very effective, posting a 3.75 ERA with almost exactly a strikeout an inning. If he does win the award, Price would be the third Red Sox player to be named Comeback Player of the Year in the last eight seasons, joining Jacoby Ellsbury (2011) and Rick Porcello (2016).
Elbow trouble, including Tommy John surgery, limited Angels southpaw Tyler Skaggs to 44 starts and 247 2/3 total innings from 2014-17. This year he's stayed relatively healthy and fired a career high 116 2/3 innings with a 3.78 ERA. That big-breaking curveball has returned and allowed him to punch out 123 batters in those 116 2/3 innings. In case you're wondering, no Angels have player has ever been named the Comeback Player of the Year. Skaggs' chance is as good as anyone's.
Others to watch
Michael Brantley was an All-Star last season! Can he be the Comeback Player of the Year after making the All-Star Game? Keep in mind an ankle injury sabotaged his second half last year -- Brantley played only two games after Aug. 8 and only 90 games total -- whereas this year he has remained healthy and very productive, hitting .300/.353/.469 as a full-time outfielder and making the All-Star team again. The injuries haven't slowed him down or prevented him from playing the field this year.
Can a player win the Comeback Player of the Year award while playing only two-thirds of a season? Nathan Eovaldi returned from his second career Tommy John surgery in late May with the Rays, then was traded to the Red Sox at the deadline. He owns a 3.74 ERA with a strong 5.64 K/BB ratio in 13 starts and 74 2/3 innings between the two teams. Eovaldi is going to finish the season with 20 starts or so, so he'll probably need to knock that ERA down a bit to have a serious shot at the award.
Tommy John surgery limited Angels southpaw Andrew Heaney to one start in 2016 and five starts in 2017, during which he was not effective at all (6.83 ERA). This season Heaney has stayed healthy and pitched to a 3.88 ERA in 22 starts and 134 2/3 innings, which isn't too far off from his breakout 2015 performance (3.49 ERA and 105 2/3 innings). A very strong season for a player only two full years removed from elbow reconstruction.
Once the game's top prospect, Rangers utility man Jurickson Profar missed the entire 2014 and 2015 seasons following shoulder surgery, and he was unable to reestablish himself in 2016 and 2017. Profar spent most of last year in Triple-A and, so far this season, he's hitting .246/.331/.422 in a career high 435 plate appearances. Is this a comeback? Or is this a young player (Profar is still only 25) having success in what is truly his first full big-league season?
Jordan Zimmermann's first two years with the Tigers were disastrous. He made 47 starts (and one relief appearance), threw 265 1/3 innings, and allowed 174 runs (165 earned). A 5.60 ERA is no way to go through life. This season Zimmermann has rebounded to post a 3.98 ERA with 74 strikeouts in 16 starts and 83 2/3 innings around some injuries. Among the four players in this "others to watch" section, I think Zimmermann has the most to gain in the Comeback Player of the Year race the final few weeks of the regular season. A strong finish could get him the award. Right now, the relatively light workload keeps him out of the top tier.