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2012 Tony Awards: Comeback Player of the Year

2012 Tony Awards: Comeback Player of the Year
October 10, 2012
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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 2011 season – be it due to injury or performance – and any other obstacles to put up a very good 2012 season and reestablished and/or solidified himself as a prospect for the Indians.

Here are the 2012 Tony Awards so far:

Rookie of the Year: Dorssys Paulino (SS)
Defensive Player of the Year: Giovanny Urshela (3B)
Biggest Disappointment: Dillon Howard (RHP)
Biggest Breakthrough: Cody Allen (RHP)
Reliever of the Year: Shawn Armstrong (RHP) 

In the coming days the 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

(alphabetical order)

Delvi Cid (OF – Carolina)
.281 AVG, 95 G, 50 R, 18 2B, 4 3B, 5 HR, 29 RBI, 21 BB, 80 K, 32 SB, .774 OPS

Cid has always been an interesting prospect because of his speed and the good defense he plays, but in 2011 he suffered through a very tough season hitting just .197 with a .558 OPS at High-A Kinston. His poor showing last year put his Indians career in jeopardy and it was not known if the Indians would keep him around this season, but they have always liked him and they stuck with him this season and he responded with the best season of his six year minor league career.

Cole Cook (RHP – Lake County, Carolina, Akron, Columbus)
2-4, 2.64 ERA, 43 G, 78.1 IP, 71 H, 35 R (23 ER), 5 HR, 26 BB, 64 K, .236 BAA

Cook had a rough first full season in 2011 at Low-A Lake County as he went 5-11 with 4.54 ERA in 20 appearances. His fastball lacked velocity and life last year, and some of that may have had to do with a bothersome right elbow as he was eventually shut down in July with an elbow sprain. Anytime you are dealing with a ligament sprain in a pitching elbow, there is always a lot of concern, but he was able to come back this season completely healthy and he had a very good bounce back season hitting four levels along the way.

T.J. House (LHP – Carolina, Akron)
10-5, 3.56 ERA, 27 GS, 149.1 IP, 131 H, 68 R (59 ER), 8 HR, 50 BB, 116 K, .236 BAA

House is one of the few on this list that did not suffer a significant physical injury in 2011 as his problems were mostly mechanical and with his routines. He went just 6-12 with a 5.19 ERA in 25 starts for High-A Kinston in 2011 and his numbers had bottomed out, which pushed him off the prospect radar. But he worked hard this past offseason, lost close to 30 pounds, re-dedicated himself to his craft, and came into spring training in great shape and of great mind. All of that translated to a much more consistent year this season, a lot of success at the Double-A level, and he is back on the prospect map.

Matt Lawson (2B – Akron)
.327 AVG, 60 G, 20 R, 17 2B, 3 3B, 1 HR, 23 RBI, 23 BB, 30 K, 7 SB, .867 OPS

Lawson retired unexpectedly just 30 games into the 2011 season. The Indians had just acquired him from the Mariners for Aaron Laffey and he was playing at Double-A Akron, yet he retired and left the team for reasons I myself do not even know for sure yet (one rumor has it he is from Missouri and went home after the devastating tornado in Joplin). In any case, he “unretired” shortly into spring training this year and had to work his way back and spent the first two months of the season in extended spring training before being assigned to Akron in June….and had a very good season.

Thomas Neal (OF – Akron)
.314 AVG, 117 G, 77 R, 24 2B, 1 3B, 12 HR, 51 RBI, 46 BB, 71 K, 11 SB, .867 OPS
.217 AVG, 9 G, 2 R, 1 2B, 0 3B, 0 HR, 2 RBI, 0 BB, 6 K, 0 SB, .511 OPS

After coming over in a trade late last season Neal was limited to just ten games with Triple-A Columbus before a serious shoulder injury sidelined him the rest of the season and the offseason as well. He corrected the shoulder issue in the offseason, but some issues still remained and the Indians designated him for assignment at the end of spring training. He cleared waivers and was outrighted to Double-A Akron – a level lower than he probably should have been at – and struggled in April and May before exploding in June and through the rest of the season. His good showing the last three months of the season earned him a spot back on the 40-man roster and his first ever big league call up.

Danny Salazar (RHP – Carolina, Akron)
5-2, 2.36 ERA, 22 GS, 87.2 IP, 71 H, 25 R (23 ER), 4 HR, 27 BB, 76 K, .224 BAA

Salazar had Tommy John surgery in August of 2010 and essentially missed all of the 2011 season. He made a few appearances at the end of the minor league season last year with rookie level Arizona and Low-A Lake County (14.2 total innings pitched) and also made a few appearances in Instructional League. He showed great stuff and it got him protected on the 40-man roster in the offseason. He started slowly this season because the Indians really monitored his workload, but when they took the kid gloves off in August and let him go six or seven innings an outing he exploded on the scene and was impressive.

Giovanny Urshela (3B – Carolina)
.278 AVG, 114 G, 50 R, 30 2B, 1 3B, 14 HR, 16 BB, 60 K, 1 SB, .755 OPS

A lot more was expected of Urshela in 2011 at Low-A Lake County, but he ended up hitting just .238 with 9 HR, 46 RBI and .608 OPS. To his credit he was young and the Indians were really pushing him, and he also played good defense, but the growth offensively was not there and he took a step back as a hitter. This season all that changed as in a much tougher pitcher’s league he responded with his best season to date and really came on in the second half hitting .294 with 12 HR, 39 RBI, and .831 OPS.

And the Tony Award goes to…Thomas Neal

If you look at the list that was the Biggest Disappointment this year, there are certainly a lot of candidates that can rebound in 2013 and win this award next year. Of course, if you look at last year’s Biggest Disappointment listing then you can see that a lot of those players were released or did not bounce back the next season.  Two of the players that were on last year’s Biggest Disappointment listing that are on this year’s Comeback Player of the Year listing are House and Urshela. Both had very good bounce back seasons and their once eroding prospect roots have dug in strong once again.

Salazar and Cook bounced back well from injury and had good seasons. Salazar has built momentum to be a Major League option net year and is a top prospect. Cook is once again an interesting prospect and has should pitch in the upper levels of the Indians system next year in some sort of priority role.

But the best comeback was the one Neal made. Not just from injury and performance, but his recovery over the devastation of being removed from the 40-man roster in early April.

Neal never had a chance to show his true talents last year or early this year because of injuries. When the Indians acquired him from the Giants at the end of July last year for Orlando Cabrera he was on the disabled list with a hand injury and did not make his organizational debut with Triple-A Columbus until over a week after the trade. When he came back he was limited to just ten games as a shoulder injury cropped up that wiped out the rest of his season and the plans to send him to the Arizona Fall League.

Neal came into spring training ready to play, but the shoulder was still not all the way back and it showed with his play during spring training. The Indians needed his roster spot for another player so he was designated him for assignment at the conclusion of spring training and put his career with the Indians in doubt. He cleared waivers and was outrighted to Double-A Akron, another blow to his confidence since it was expected all along that if he went to the minors he would go to Triple-A Columbus.

The roster decision obviously had a hangover effect and rattled Neal as along with that and the shoulder issues he was still trying to overcome he struggled in April and hit just .278 with 0 HR, 2 RBI and .694 OPS in 15 games. He showed signs of life in May when he hit .301 with 0 HR, 11 RBI and .751 OPS, but in June through the rest of the season he broke out of his funk and arguably had the best three months of play of any player in the Indians organization. From June 1st until the end of his season in Akron he hit .325 with 12 HR, 38 RBI and .937 OPS in 78 games.

Neal showed everything over those last three months that attracted him to the Indians in the first place when they acquired him from the Giants. Not only was he performing, but he was healthy, confident, and the subjective comments were all very good. The Indians rewarded him not with a promotion to Triple-A Columbus, but with an addition back to the 40-man roster and his first call to the big leagues in September. I don’t think a comeback gets any better than that.

Up Next: Pitcher of the Year

Follow Tony and the Indians Baseball Insider on Twitter @TonyIBI. Also, his new book the 2014 Cleveland Indians Baseball Insider which profiles the Indians' Top 100 Prospects and more is available for sale.

User Comments

October 11, 2012 - 7:08 AM EDT
Had a lot of material to work with here
October 10, 2012 - 2:14 PM EDT
I'm on the fence here...

House would be my #1 here if he had sustained it all season...

I love Neal, and see his placement on the 40-man as a huge jump...

but Salazar would be my overall pick. He was an upper prospect prior...but nothing like where he'll be now. I have no doubt he literally came from the oblivion of injury, to a four-inning guy...back to injury...missed a a three-inning a four-inning a five-inning guy...

to literally the most promising starter in the next couple of years for the Tribe...

A lot of folks forget that he missed most of April...

All-in-all, you have to like all these stories....

funny...would have loved to see Nick Weglarz on this list...he just didn't come close to earning it...
October 10, 2012 - 12:33 PM EDT
I was going to but the extra stuff Neal went through this year to me put him over the top.
October 10, 2012 - 12:27 PM EDT
I might have gone with Salazar but hard to argue with your choice of Neal.

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