Names such as Carlos Quentin, Pat Burrell, and Aaron Rowand have been mentioned as early-season sleeper candidates for the All-Star game.
But one name, who hasn’t been mentioned as much the others—is quietly demanding (and loudly earning) more attention and respect than all of the previously named possibilities.
Ryan Ludwick, of the St. Louis Cardinals, has been a straight beast thus far in the 2008 season. Ludwick is crushing the ball at a .336 clip, with 12 HRs and 35 RBI.
His numbers trump his NL Central counterparts Carlos Lee, Alfonso Soriano, and Adam Dunn. Although some people might disagree, the stats speak for themselves. Ludwick has been the best OF in the NL, and he has 20-40 ABs less than most of his competition.
So where did Ludwick come from?
Drafted in 1999 in the second round by the Oakland A’s, Ludwick was actually pegged for stardom early in his career. He played in the Futures Game as a minor leaguer, and has always hit for power as well as average.
But injuries have derailed his career up to this point. After making his major league debut with Texas as a 23-year old, Ryan bounced from the bigs, to the minors, to the disabled list.
The most games he played on an MLB team between 2003 and 2006 was 39, with the Cleveland Indians. Ludwick admits to wondering if he was fit to play ball with the big boys.
When the Cardinals gave him a shot and signed him to a minor-league deal in 2007, Ludwick didn’t disappoint. In only 303 ABs, he hit 14 HRs and drove in 52 runs, hitting .267. Those numbers suggested that with a chance to be a full-time player, he had the capabilities to be an above-average hitter.
Ryan will be 30 in mid-July, but has only now begun to shine. If he continues to be one of the best hitters in baseball, Tony La Russa will have no choice but to play him everyday.
With quality players like Chris Duncan and Skip Schumaker on the bench, and youngsters like Colby Rasmus and Joe Mather knocking on the door to the bigs, Ludwick’s time hasn’t come easy, and he'll have to continue to fight.
However, with hard work and persistence, he’s proving that no dream is over if you’re still fighting for it. You’d be hard-pressed to find a better story in the game of baseball.