Refreshed Napoli appreciates opportunity with Tribe

After overcoming health issues, first baseman says being with Cleveland 'seemed like the perfect fit'

Refreshed Napoli appreciates opportunity with Tribe

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Each time Mike Napoli wakes up, he immediately checks the clock. If he got three straight solid hours of sleep, it is a small victory. If he can remember details from a dream he just had, he knows that means good things for the day ahead.

For a long time, Napoli could not recall dreams. He fought an extreme case of sleep apnea, and his sleep was too sporadic. He would wake up before reaching a deep state of slumber, and then repeat the tiring process all night until it was time to force himself to get out of bed and head to the ballpark.

Things have improved dramatically for Napoli over the past year.

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"I have some dreams. Crazy, weird, off-the-wall dreams," Napoli said on Friday morning. "It's funny. When I wake up and I'm like, 'Man, I dreamed last night,' I know I'm going to have a good day where I'm feeling crisp. It's definitely a good feeling, for sure."

The further Napoli gets from the surgery he underwent in November 2014 to address his sleep apnea, the better he feels about the future of his quality of life. Sitting at his locker in the Indians' clubhouse in Goodyear, Ariz., Napoli is not only feeling refreshed physically, but he has a chance to revive his career with an everyday playing opportunity with Cleveland.

There were times within the past few years, when the sleeping issues began to wear Napoli down, that he contemplated giving up baseball. The long season, exhausting travel schedule and irregular sleeping patterns were creating a daunting level of fatigue. With the Indians, and with his operation more than a year behind him, Napoli is feeling renewed.

"It got to a point to where I was like, 'I don't even know if I can go through this anymore and still play baseball,'" Napoli said. "It was really getting at me. You could tell, in 2014 and '15, it was brutal. But I took the right actions so I could try to get better."

The surgery Napoli underwent is termed maxillomandibular advancement and was performed by Dr. Leonard Kaban, the chief of oral and maxilloficial surgery at Massachusetts General Hospital. The procedure includes cutting and realigning the chin, jaw and sinuses in a seven-hour operation.

Needless to say, Napoli's offseason prior to the 2015 campaign was mostly spent recovering from that surgery. It seems understandable, then, that the first baseman struggled early on last season, hitting .207 with a .693 OPS in 98 games for the Red Sox before being traded to the Rangers on Aug. 7 last summer.

Napoli does not like to use his unique circumstances as an excuse for his poor start ("I had a good Spring Training," he notes), but that might just be the competitor in him. Cleveland's new first baseman instead believes he just had a bad season.

"I just had a tough year. It happens in this game," said Napoli, who then paused. "But I'm coming in feeling different this year than I did last year. I'm in a better place."

Napoli also ended last season on a high note.

Over his final 35 games for Texas, Napoli turned in a .295/.396/.513 slash line and belted five of the 18 homers he had on the season. The first baseman believes part of his late surge was due to reducing the movement in his swing mechanics, including a less dramatic leg kick. It also helped that 72.5 percent of Napoli's plate appearances (66 of 91) with the Rangers came against left-handed pitching.

Napoli hit .278 with a .954 OPS against lefties last season, compared to .191 (.603 OPS) vs. righties, but Cleveland does not view him as a platoon player for now. The Indians signed Napoli to a one-year, $7 million contract to be their regular first baseman, and he is extremely appreciative of the faith that the Tribe has shown in him with the deal.

"You always wonder going into an offseason, coming off a down year, what will happen," Napoli said. "I'm just happy to be able to have a job. I love this game. I love the opportunity I have here. I think it's a good one. I think it's a team that can win. It just seemed like the perfect fit because I want to play every day."

The Indians are banking on the hope that Napoli, even further removed from his past health issues, can return to the kind of form he showed from 2010-13, when he averaged 26 home runs.

"Right from the get-go, he was a target for us," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "Like I've said a few times, I think it could've gone away multiple times, but [Chris Antonetti, the Indians' president of baseball operations] stayed at it, and I'm glad because he's a really good guy to have on our ballclub."

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.