American League Comeback Player: Prince Fielder

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The staff here at TBOH bringing you Philadelphia Phillies coverage year-round was polled for their choices on the biggest awards in Major League Baseball for the 2015 season, and our consensus selection as the American League Comeback Player of the Year was Texas Rangers 1st baseman Prince Fielder.

Fielder, named the winner of this same AL Comeback Player honors by both Major League Baseball and The Sporting News already, received the votes of four of our six staff members.

Until last May, Fielder had the longest consecutive games played streak going in MLB, having played in 547 straight to that point. The big slugger had been experiencing discomfort and pain, and finally needed to have season-ending fusion surgery.

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His final 2014 numbers over 178 plate appearances were a .247 average with 3 homers, 16 RBI, and 19 runs scored. Making the situation even worse from the Rangers’ perspective was that they had just acquired the 31-year old from Detroit for longtime 2nd baseman Ian Kinsler, who would become an AL All-Star with the Tigers.

Another major factor for the future of the Rangers was that Fielder was still owed over $130 million in salary for the six years, including most of last year, remaining on his contract.

This year, Fielder came back as strong as Texas could have possibly hoped. He was able to appear in 158 games, taking 693 plate appearances. In those appearances he hit for a .305/.378/.463 slash line with 23 home runs and 98 RBI.

His return to the middle of the Rangers’ lineup as a productive power source was a big factor in the team returning to contending status. Texas won the AL West after plummeting to the division basement a year ago. In the six previous seasons, the club had finished in either 1st or 2nd place and reached the postseason three times, including two trips to the World Series.

While this was a 6th All-Star season for Fielder, and it was a strong comeback completely worthy of this honor, there are some minor concerns. The 23 home runs was his lowest total in a full season in his 11-year career, and the 98 RBI his 2nd-lowest.

He will turn 32 years of age in May, and continues to carry a reported 275 pounds around on a 5’11” frame. Now he still has five years and $120 million on that contract. Phillies fans would be excused if they thought “Ryan Howard” in this situation.

The son of 13-year big leaguer and 3x-AL All-Star Cecil Fielder who had a very similar physique, his father’s career began to slide downhill in a big way following his age 32 season.

Fielder did not face the Phillies in the 2015 season, but he does have a lengthy history with them going back to his National League days with the Milwaukee Brewers. In 45 games against the Phils over his career, Fielder has crushed them to the tune of a .321/.421/.612 slash line with 11 homers and 36 RBI. In the 2008 NLDS, the Phils controlled him in a 1-14 performance, the lone hit being a home run in the final game Brewers’ loss.

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