Young leads pack of NL comebacks

Young leads pack of NL comebacks

For these players, 2006 was a year they'd just as soon forget.

This season, on the other hand, has been unforgettable.

Several National Leaguers who missed at least half of last year because of injury or other reason have bounced back big in 2007, as their roller-coaster careers are once again heading in the right direction.

With so many impressive comebacks, picking the 2007 National League Comeback Player of the Year will be a difficult task. For now, Washington's Dmitri Young looks like the consensus frontunner, with Milwaukee's J.J. Hardy, Atlanta's Kelly Johnson, Colorado's Kaz Matsui and New York's Oliver Perez also meriting consideration.

Cincinnati's Josh Hamilton's comeback from personal problems is inspiring, but because Hamilton is a rookie who had not appeared in a Major League game before the current season, he is ineligible for the award.

Others, such as Rick Ankiel of the Cardinals, probably haven't appeared in enough games to sway enough voters.

Here's a rundown of the leading candidates for the 2007 NL Comeback Player of the Year Award:

FAVORITES

Dmitri Young, Nationals: Young's comeback has been inspiring. After appearing in 48 games for Detroit last season during a year in which he was going through a divorce, given a year of probation for domestic violence as well as being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, Young was given his unconditional release by the Tigers last September. This season, Young has turned his life around. The 33-year-old is among the league leaders in batting and also made the All-Star team.

J.J. Hardy, Brewers: Limited to 35 games last season because of an ankle injury, the Brewers shortstop has been outstanding this season and has played an important role in lifting the Brewers into contention in the NL Central Division. Hardy is on a pace to set career highs in a dozen statistical categories.

»» 2007 AWARDS CANDIDATES ««
• Most Valuable Player: AL | NL
• Cy Young Award: AL | NL
• Rookie of the Year: AL | NL
• Manager of the Year: AL | NL
• Comeback Player of the Year: AL | NL

Kelly Johnson, Braves: After a promising rookie campaign in 2005, Johnson missed the entire 2006 season because of right elbow problems that led to Tommy John ligament replacement surgery. This year, the 25-year-old won the starting job at second base and his production has been a bright spot for the Braves: He's hitting .284, with 15 homers and 67 RBIs in his first 136 games.

THE CONTENDERS

Kaz Matsui, Rockies: The second baseman appeared in 70 games for the Mets and Rockies last season sandwiched around two trips to the disabled list for a total of six weeks. He also endured a 2 1/2-month stint in the Minor Leagues. But he's enjoying a career year with the Rockies this season, hitting .291 with 30 stolen bases and scoring 72 runs in 92 games after spending five weeks on the disabled list early in the season.

Oliver Perez, Mets: With the Pirates last season, Perez was 2-10 with a 6.63 ERA when he was sent to the Minor Leagues on June 29. Acquired by the Mets at the July 31 trade deadline, the left-hander made his New York debut on Aug. 26 and was 1-3 with a 6.78 ERA in seven games. This year the hard-throwing Perez has been outstanding, with a career-high 14 wins to go with a 3.42 ERA in 26 starts for the NL East leaders.

HONORABLE MENTION

Ankiel, Cardinals; Ben Sheets, Brewers.

Jim Molony is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.