From Giancarlo Stanton (hand) to Yu Darvish (elbow) to Jung Ho Kang (knee), there will be several players returning from injury in 2016. Here are five to keep a close eye on heading into spring training.
The pain on Stanton's face after a big swing in late June turned out to be caused by a fractured hamate bone in his left hand. He was expected to return to action within a couple months, but excessive scar tissue caused lingering discomfort and Stanton's season officially ended in September. The rest appears to have done him good: Stanton returned to hitting in December and says he feels great.
No matter how much Mesoraco tried to make adjustments -- including a brief attempt to play in left field -- so he could continue his 2015 season, the hip pain he was experiencing was too much to overcome. He underwent surgery in June to repair the labrum and resurface the bone in his hip, a procedure that comes with a four-to-six-month recovery. As of December, he reported no issues with getting in and out of the squat position, something he could not do comfortably last season. He will ramp up his baseball activities through spring training and expects to be ready for Opening Day.
3. Yu Darvish
There were signs of trouble in 2014 when Darvish dealt with elbow inflammation late in the season, but no one expected his 2015 season would be limited to one inning ... in spring training. A torn UCL meant Tommy John surgery, and Darvish has been on the rehab road ever since. The team is hopeful he can return to action in May, but it's worth noting that such timetables are often in flux right up until the end.
4. Ryan Braun
Shortly after Braun was sidelined with back pain for seven straight games in September, he underwent surgery to address a herniated disc. So far, so good. But even Braun acknowledged he won't really know how his back is feeling until he's swinging the bat on a regular basis. The good news is that his right thumb is feeling fine after two cryotherapy procedures last year. But, again, swinging the bat repeatedly will be the real test.
5. Jung Ho Kang
It was not pretty when it happened, that takeout slide by Chris Coghlan that literally took out Kang's left knee in September. A fractured tibial plateau and torn lateral meniscus required immediate surgery, and his recovery, projected at 6-8 months, is still ongoing. The Pirates intend to move him to third base, which will decrease the demands on his knee, but he'll still need to have quick lateral movement to that left side for defensive plays. The team hopes for an April return for Kang, but how he moves in spring training should give clues as to how much confidence he has in his surgically-repaired knee.