SAN DIEGO -- 2016 had the makings of a critical season in the progression of Cory Spangenberg.
The 25-year-old Padres second baseman earned his first career starting job coming out of Spring Training. He was also given the No. 2 spot in the batting order as the table-setter for Matt Kemp and Wil Myers. It seemed Spangenberg had been given every opportunity to build off his strong finish to the 2015 campaign.
Then in an April 19 game against the Pirates, that chance was ripped away. Spangenberg dragged a bunt toward first base and felt a pop in his left quadriceps while running down the line. He later discovered it was torn -- and then he tore the muscle again while attempting a return. Spangenberg didn't play another game.
"It was obviously the most frustrating year of my playing career," Spangenberg said. "It was the first year where I won the starting job. So getting hurt so early and not being able to come back -- it definitely became a long and frustrating year."
When San Diego's season ended, Spangenberg's work had just begun. He spent October and November working with head trainer Mark Rogow and his staff, restoring strength to his lower body. By Thanksgiving, he finally returned to full strength.
"It was a tough loss for us," Padres manager Andy Green said. "Opening Day second baseman, batting second in the order and you lose him for 95 percent of the season. He's a quick-twitch athlete, the body really moves. He flies. That type of an athlete has the propensity to get hurt from time to time. From an evaluation standpoint, we have done everything possible to look at his body, makeup, the way he moves. ... We've worked on some of his movement patterns to improve them."
After a mentally-draining year, Spangenberg has plenty to prove in 2017. But he will have to deal with the effects of the lost season, in which rookie Ryan Schimpf seemingly took the lead in the second-base competition.
"First and foremost, I have to prove that I'm healthy," Spangenberg said. "There's a lot of competition on this year's team. So I have to prove that I'm healthy -- and then prove that missing as much time as I did didn't hurt me and I'm back to where I was in Spring Training of 2016."
Physically, Spangenberg feels as though he's back to where he left off. He entered Spring Training 2016 coming off a '15 second half in which he batted .294/.373/.460. Those numbers would be welcome in just about any starting lineup in baseball.
But the circumstances surrounding second base are quite different this spring. Last offseason, San Diego dealt Jedd Gyorko to St. Louis, clearing the way for Spangenberg to take the starting job. This year, he'll be competing for that same role with Schimpf and Carlos Asuaje, the Padres' No. 20 prospect per MLBPipeline.com.
Not that Spangenberg has any qualms with fighting for his place.
"Competition is fun," Spangenberg said. "If you're just handed a job, some people might take that for granted. We have three guys going in there that are good ballplayers. I'm looking forward to it. I've had to compete for spots my whole life, so I don't think this really changes anything for me."
AJ Cassavell covers the Padres for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.