The past five years
It seems that Arizona’s oft forgotten 4th outfielder will be ready for action soon.
The 2013 season is one that Cody Ross would almost certainly prefer to forget. Ross missed Opening Day, sideline with a hamstring injury. Upon returning to the lineup, Ross had difficulty finding consistency at the plate, while also seeing his power numbers all but evaporate entirely. Ross' hitting, while by no means atrocious, was hardly what the Diamondbacks were expecting when they signed him to a 3-year, $26 million contract, with Ross falling to a season-low OPS of .648 on June 11th. Given that Ross' predecessor, Justin Upton was sporting an OPS of .842 on the same date, there was real hand-wringing over Ross who was, at the time, more comparable to Seattle's Endy Chavez than the Cody Ross of 2012. Ross' struggles, combined with Kirk Gibson's approach to team management and lineup construction came to a head when Ross openly criticized his sporadic use and playing time during a radio interview with Burns and Gambo, with Ross pointing out how it is hard for any player to break out of a hitting slump if he isn't allowed to play enough to get right again. Supports and detractors quickly took sides in the debate, shining an even bigger light on both Ross' and the team's troubles than either probably needed at the time.
The first half of 2013 was also marked by Cody Ross suffering from, but playing through, vision issues - issues which were finally corrected in late June. The vision correction did indeed seem to work wonders for Ross. From June 19 through August 11, Ross hit .350, sporting a .968 OPS with 3 home runs and 13 RBI in only 18 games, all while playing above average defense splitting his time between left and right fields. The highlight of Ross' season came during this stretch when, on August 2, Ross made his return to Boston, where he played in 2012. After publicly airing the bad blood between himself and the Red Sox, Ross went on to record four hits, including two doubles and a home run while scoring twice and driving in three to lead the Diamondbacks to a 7-6 victory over the eventual 2013 World Series winners.
On August 11th, with Ross clicking on all cylinders, it seemed that there was still a brief glimmer of hope for the Diamondbacks' season despite the team's 59-57 record. Then, in the first inning of a game against the Mets, Cody Ross hit a routine grounder to third and while running to first, managed to break his right hip when making contact with first base. Ross dropped to the ground as though he had been shot. Fans and players alike watched as he was carted off the field along with the vast majority of Arizona's postseason hopes.
The injury ended Ross' season. A fluke injury, there were no comparable past incidents with which to project a baseline for recovery. Perhaps the scariest part of the injury narrative was that the closest comp in professional sports was the hip injury which Bo Jackson suffered in January of 1991 that ended his football career and all but ended his baseball career as well. No small number of people expected Ross to miss the majority of the 2014 season while he fully recovered.
Cody Ross' recovery has been anything but "as expected". Instead of missing the vast majority of 2014 to the injury, Cody Ross took his first actual at-bats since the injury on March 16th in a Spring Training game against the Cleveland Indians. With the Diamondbacks starting the season early in Australia, Ross is starting the season on the 15-man DL. However, should his progress continue on its current pace, Ross should be ready to return to the lineup in time to join the Diamondbacks when they travel to Chavez Ravine on April 11th to take on the Dodgers.
The offseason acquisition of Mark Trumbo and the departure of Adam Eaton gives some idea of how the team expects to make use of Ross. Before the injury, Ross was capable of playing all three outfield positions above average. With the emergence of Pollock as a stellar defensive center fielder, and Parra's ability to also field center, it is unlikely Ross sees much time is any away from the corners.
Ross's bat is almost the very definition of a platoon bat with a 138 tOPS+ against lefties as opposed to his 85 tOPS+ against righties. This would seem to make him an almost perfect fit to platoon with the left-handed Parra who struggles mightily against lefties. However, Ross' contract and Gibspn's penchant for playing musical chairs with the lineup would seem to suggest that this is not the most likely use to which Ross will be put, even though the combined salaries of Ross and Parra come out to $14.35 million, or just a hair above the qualifying offer threshold for 2014.
Will Arizona be willing to accept the combined cost in right field and use Ross as primarily a left-handed platoon player? What level of production does Pollock need to achieve against righties that his defense gives him the nod over Ross? Will Trumbo be able to make a hitters transition to the NL? Given the nature of Ross' injury, and the state of the Diamondback offense, these are the sorts of questions that need to be addressed before one can speculate as to just what sort of production can be expected from Ross.
Even if Ross is used almost exclusively against lefties, with some appearances as a late-inning defensive replacement for Mark Trumbo, the team could do far worse than a platoon of Parra/Ross that hits righties and lefties to the tune of a tOPS of 127 and 138 respectively.