When long-time Red Sox center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury was lost the Yankees through free agency this offseason, Boston pegged rookie Jackie Bradley Jr. as his replacement. The move made sense at the time. He’s one of the organization’s most talented prospects; the ceiling on his potential is very high.
From 2005-08, Sizemore was one of the top-five talents in the game; a perennial MVP candidate.
But he hasn’t played in a big league game since September 22, 2011 – two-and-a-half years ago. He hasn’t played on a regular basis since 2009. We haven’t seen an upper-echelon talent return to stardom after such a long hiatus since probably Joe DiMaggio – and he had taken time away from baseball to serve in World War II, not because of injury.
Sizemore’s comeback trail has been a long, and most definitely painful road for Sizemore. The once-MVP caliber center fielder underwent microfracture surgery in his left knee in 2010. He underwent another microfracture surgery in 2012, this time in his right knee. He’s also had a procedure on his elbow and a sports hernia operation sprinkled in there. That’s a whole lot of knife work for one body.
With that long of a layoff and that medical history, what Sizemore has been able to do this Spring is nothing short of remarkeable.
In a total of 11 games played, Sizemore is hitting .306 with 11 hits in 36 at-bats. But his bat is not the only facet of his game that has seemed to return.
The club has clocked him at 4.2 seconds from home to first – just under the 4.14 time he was able to make when he was beginning his career as a Cleveland Indian. He’s also flashed the leather, most notably with a wall-crashing catch during a nationally televised game on St. Patrick’s Day.
It’s true that Spring numbers aren’t necessarily an indication of how a player will perform once the regular season starts. But still, Boston has to be pleasantly surprised with the way Sizemore has reacquainted himself with the game he’s been sidelined from for so long.
They’ve also got to be disappointed with what they’ve seen from Bradley, who is batting just .167 in 54 at-bats over the course of 18 games played.
The big question surrounding Sizemore will undoubtedly be his durability. It’s only naturally considering his past. The Red Sox are starting him in three consecutive games this week (tomorrow will be the third) to see how that 31-year-old, mended body holds up.
But Sizemore has played his comeback bid smartly, with the long-term picture in mind. He actually could have signed with a team last September (it likely would have been a minor league deal), but instead decided to wait until this January, when he signed a one-year Major League deal with the Red Sox. Why not take an extra year – one away from the wear and tear that the grind of a baseball season puts on a person – to make get right?
His patience appears to be paying dividends. Where once Red Sox manager John Farrell was absolute in his assertion that Bradley would be his starting centerfielder, he’s now hinting that there may be a chance the Opening Day nod goes to Sizemore.
“We have good reason to believe at this point that he is a likely candidate to become an everyday player with durability on his side at some point,” Farrell said of Sizemore. “The most encouraging this is that he has not hit the proverbial wall. The medical information is guiding us. Every piece of feedback from the medical staff is positive with the end thought that he’ll become an everyday player.”
Sure, the quote is pretty non-committal. Farrell is wise enough to quantify his quotes about Sizemore’s potential as an everyday player with the phrase “at some point”. But if the decision ultimately comes down to numbers, to production and to the eye test, it’s hard to conceive the Red Sox going with Bradley at this point. Sizemore’s play gives the club the option of sending the youthful Bradley back to AAA for more seasoning, which might be in their long-term best interest anyway.
Tomorrow will be a big day, the third of three-consecutive games for Sizemore. How he’s able to perform in the finale of that back-to-back-to-back will play a large role in the Red Sox’s decision. If he shows no ill effects or noticeable fatigue, he very likely could be Boston’s starting center fielder come Opening Day.
Had you told me that back in January, I would have called you crazy.