One of my favorite players in baseball is (used to be?) Chris Snelling because of his reckless style of play, the nifty accent and solid plate discipline skills. That fandom of Snelling came with a price, namely waiting around for the majority of the year while Snelling rehabbed his latest injury. It may be partly because of that experience that I am somewhat partial to talented players that just cannot stay healthy. One such player is Rocco Baldelli.
Baldelli was the 6th overall pick in the 2000 draft in between the Nationals pick of Justin Wayne and the Rockies Matt Harrington. After a poor first full year spend entirely at A ball, Baldelli sped through the minors and broke camp with the Rays for good in 2003 and posted a 99 OPS+. He improved the next year, cutting down on his strikeouts and posting a 100 OPS+.
Baldelli’s injury woes began during the offseason before 2005 when he tore his anterior cruciate ligament playing baseball over the winter. During his rehab, he went on to injure his elbow which eventually was deemed serious enough to warrant Tommy John surgery, making 2005 officially a wiped out season and putting the start of 2006 in jeopardy as well.
Sure enough, Baldelli wouldn’t be able to return until June of 2006 but made good with what time he had, matching his career high in homeruns (16) in 44 fewer games and hope returned that Baldelli could return to building himself a successful career. That hope wouldn’t last long as Baldelli strained his hamstring during the 2007 Spring Training and the injury would linger, sapping his offensive output before finally shutting down his year in May.
During that offseason, Baldelli began feeling extremely fatigued after even minor rehab workouts. After extensive medical tests, Rocco was diagnosed with an unknown metabolic or mitochondrial disorder which put his baseball career in doubt. After more rounds of tests, Baldelli was put on a combination of medications that for the time being allowed him to resume playing. After two months of rehab in the minor leagues, Baldelli made his 2008 debut on August 10th at Seattle.
Amazingly, granted the small sample size (20 games so far), Baldelli has picked up where he left out with a 116 wOBA+ and a 139 OPS+. It’s been a season of feel good stories including that of the entire Tampa Bay team, but among them, there’s hardly a better story than Rocco Baldelli.
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