MLB 2011 Predictions: Chipper Jones Is Back and Better Than Ever

Evan WalkerCorrespondent IApril 2, 2011

LAKE BUENA VISTA, FL - FEBRUARY 21:  Chipper Jones #10 of the Atlanta Braves during Photo Day at  Champion Stadium at ESPN Wide World of Sports of Complex on February 21, 2011 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

It was Aug. 10, 2010.

Atlanta Braves third baseman Chipper Jones had just made one of the best defensive plays of his career. The 38-year-old sprinted into foul territory to field a ground ball, gloved it, and made a rocket throw to first in time to get the runner—while in mid-air.

However, before viewers could finish processing what they just saw, Chipper landed awkwardly and the camera zoomed into a close-up shot of Jones' face, wincing in pain.

Torn ACL. Out for season.

In the minds of baseball people all around the world, that was it for Jones. Just like his left knee and the hearts of the Southeast population, Chipper's career was in shambles and so were the Atlanta Braves' World Series hopes.

One of the few people who didn't give up on Jones was the Hall of Famer himself.

Three days after the season-ending injury, Chipper, a man of his word, had already gotten the slicing over with and made it clear to everyone that he would be back in 2011.

After a long seven months of rehab, Jones was back in spring training, playing the hot corner with a pep in his step and punishing spring pitching like he has for the past 20 years.

"I've never felt this good from both sides of the plate in spring training," said Jones.

In the regular season, Jones has two multi-hit games to start the season (.444 BA) and is swinging the bat better than he has in years.

Sure, two games out of 162 is not a big enough sample size to project an entire season, but with Jones swinging the bat like vintage Chipper, the future of the 2011 season in Atlanta looks bright.

Now, the only question, and has been for quite some time now, is "Can Chipper stay healthy?"

I would put my money on "yes."

You may say, "Jones has played 140 games only one time since 2003. Why is there any reason to believe that he can do it at the age of 39?"

Then I would say, "You, my friend, are talking to a computer monitor. I can't hear you, la-la-la-la-la..."

Any player can get injured at any time, making it impossible to predict whether a player will suffer an injury.

Yes, Jones does have a history with the disabled list, and many people will point to that track record as a reason to believe that Chipper's 2011 will be cut short.

But with one or two games off every week, there is a good chance that No. 10 will be a regular on Fredi Gonzalez's lineup card for the whole season.

If indeed Chipper does avoid drawing the short straw, which Braves fans can only hope he does, Jones could be headed for a historic offensive season—and I mean historic: .340 BA, 33 HR, 110 RBI.

At first glance, those may just seem like Albert Pujols numbers, not historic numbers, but Jones will end the season at the age of 40 and for a player on the verge of his mid-life crisis, that type of season would be borderline miraculous.

Chipper hasn't collected 110 RBI since the turn of the millennium, but with a seemingly rejuvenated Nate McLouth and an All-Star hitter in Martin Prado batting ahead of him in the lineup, 110 doesn't seem like much of a stretch.

As for the home runs, Jones hasn't reached 30 since 2004, but if he can get a full season under his belt, the switch-hitting slugger should have no problem venturing into familiar territory and knocking 33-or-so over the fence.

Chipper batted .364 in 2008 and if it weren't for that other injury-prone slugger in Philly, he would've run away with the batting title. That was only three years ago.

If you were looking for a dark-horse MVP candidate for 2011, look no further. Chipper Jones is back and this time, he has something to prove.