Red Sox could have a steal if Sizemore stays on field
FORT MYERS, Fla. — Mike Trout is the talk of baseball. He’s the best all-around player in the game, after trumping an historic rookie season with an even better sophomore year.
With a $1 million salary in 2014, he might be the smartest dollar-for-dollar investment in North American professional sports. He’s being touted as the next face of baseball, with a nine-figure contract looming in the near future.
Trout also is poised to become only the 10th man in major-league history to hit 100 home runs by his age-25 season while playing at least 75 percent of his games as a center fielder. According to Baseball-Reference.com, the existing list of nine includes Mickey Mantle, Ken Griffey Jr., Joe DiMaggio, Willie Mays, Duke Snider and only one player currently on a big league roster.
Sizemore last played a regular-season game in the majors on Sept. 22, 2011. But at 31, he’s in camp with the Red Sox and has a credible chance to be the Opening Day center fielder for the defending World Series champions.
To be fair, both of Trout’s past two seasons were statistically superior to every year of Sizemore’s zenith with the Cleveland Indians, from 2005 through 2008. Trout is ahead of Sizemore’s age curve, as well; he is only 22, at which point Sizemore was starting his first full season in the majors.
But in the realm of industry opinion, the praise was similar. Sizemore was viewed as a cornerstone player — for the sport, not only the Indians — because of his supreme athleticism, unyielding approach in the batter’s box, and full-throttle effort in the outfield and on the bases. Trout is admired for the same traits today.
All of that suggests two things: The attrition on base-stealing, wall-crashing center fielders is such that Trout might be wise to sign that life-changing contract sooner rather than later. And in Sizemore, the Red Sox employ one of the most intriguing players in any of the 30 big league camps – even if it has been 2½ years since his last meaningful game.
Will Sizemore ever reach the potential he once had? The seven surgeries he has undergone (including microfracture on both knees) suggest the answer is no. After all, it has been six years since he remained healthy for a full season. Yet, Sizemore’s impact on games was so immense that even 80 percent of his peak performance would be considered above average. And if that comes to pass, Sizemore’s Trout-esque $750,000 base salary will be one of the best investments of the past offseason.
The Red Sox have been cautious with Sizemore early in the Grapefruit League schedule. So far, he’s playing every third day.
"The one thing that continues to impress, given the amount of time off, is his timing in the box looks not like a guy that’s missed two years," Boston manager John Farrell said.
The numbers — 1 for 5 with a walk in two games – don’t sizzle on the stat sheet. By his own admission, Sizemore’s body isn’t moving as quickly as his mind would like.
But spring training is a time to observe, not tabulate numbers. Many of Sizemore’s new teammates faced him during his best years. And they believe what their eyes are telling them.
"I see retro-Grady," testified Jonny Gomes, the veteran outfielder. "I was with Stephen Drew in 2012 with the A’s and then again last year. He was coming off that huge ankle injury. I saw him get better every day. It’s a gradual process.
"With Grady, put it this way: If you didn’t know Grady got hurt, you would think he’s never gotten hurt. He hasn’t lost a step, or (stopped being) aggressive, or (become) tentative. He’s shown zero signs. Even in small-range drills, his fast-twitch and first step stand out.
"You see it in BP, too. He’s a pro, going the other way, finding the sweet spot, finding the barrel. Then you see bat speed. Now his BP is launch mode from Pitch 1."
When I mentioned Gomes’ remark about Sizemore looking as if he’d never been injured, Sizemore replied, "It definitely doesn’t feel that way. It’s weird. I don’t feel bad. But at times, I feel like my body’s not really catching up with my brain. I want to go faster, but it’s not quite there. Or I want to move this direction, but your legs won’t let you. It probably doesn’t look it from the outside, but I can tell things are still a little off."
Sizemore said he’s spending time in the training room "every day" just to get on the field.
"Getting the body back into shape — putting it back together, really," he said. "Multiple things, every day. Different stuff. Pretty much head to toe. There’s not one thing they’re not working on."
So, we should wait a little longer before installing Sizemore as a favorite to beat out Jackie Bradley Jr. in what appears to be a head-to-head competition for the starting job in center field. Tuesday afternoon, Sizemore didn’t talk about wanting to win a roster spot. He has a much simpler goal: "I wanted to start spring training healthy and finish healthy, No. 1. … I didn’t have a lot of expectations, as far as playing or how it’s going to look, result-wise. I wanted to get out there and get back into shape, just test myself, see how it looked."
For now, it looks good. Maybe not great , but definitely good enough to dream about Sizemore’s return to Cleveland’s Progressive Field, in a road Boston uniform, for a three-game series beginning June 2.
Sizemore was asked if Indians fans ought to buy tickets for the occasion. He grinned and replied, "We’ll see."