Jobu examines the return of “Pronk.”
Last season we did a series of posts called Redemption Song, where we profiled some veterans that were experiencing a sudden encore performance in the bigs after seemingly being on their way out of the league. One of the reasons baseball (or possibly PEDs in some cases) is great, is because there’s always a handful of stories like these every year. Right now, we’re experiencing the redemption song season for the Yankees’ Travis Hafner. He’s gone above and beyond what the Yankees could possibly have hoped for. Congratulations, Travis.
“Pronk”, as he’s known around the big leagues (legend has it that Rangers’ teammate Bill Selby combined two nicknames, “The Project” and “Donkey” that Hafner already had), has been around quite a long time. He was born on June 3, 1977 in Jamestown, North Dakota (no, history buffs… that’s not that Jamestown). He attended such a small high school, that it didn’t have a baseball program. That’s probably because his senior class only had 12 people in it (thanks, wiki). Anywho, he eventually attended Cowley County Community College in Arkansas City, Kansas (I guess Kansas took the whole Kansas City, Missouri thing pretty hard), and it was from there that the Texas Rangers plucked him in the 31st round of the 1996 amateur draft.
Hafner didn’t make his Major League debut until 2002, when he was called up for a cup of coffee by the Rangers at age 25. That off-season, he was traded to the Indians with Aaron Myette in exchange for catcher Einar Diaz and starter Ryan Drese. Good lord, Texas. Diaz played one less than stellar season in Texas before hopping around to a few teams and retiring a few years later. Drese, meanwhile, Pitched parts of three years with the Rangers, not impressing much at all before being waived in 2005. What did Hafner do? Oh… not much… He just became one of the best power hitters in the league… Not much at all.
After he spent the 2003 season in a part time role, the Indians finally gave him a regular spot in the lineup in 2004, and he didn’t disappoint. Over the next three seasons, Hafner didn’t hit below .305 and topped out at 42 homers and 117 RBI in 2006, when he also led the league with a .659 SLG and a 1.097 OPS. It was after that season, however, that he began to get bit by the injury bug. After a mediocre 2007 season (although he still drove in 100 that year), he began missing a lot of games. He only played 57 games in 2008, 94 in 2009, 118 in 2010, 94 in 2011 and 66 in 2012. Worse yet, when he did manage to play, he wasn’t very good. He topped out at 16 homers during that stretch, and never drove in more than 57 runs. His once robust batting average was .228 in his last season in Cleveland in 2012.
That’s when the Yankees came calling. Hafner’s big time contract (4 years for $57 MM extension in 2007) expired after the 2012 season. The Yankees, while pretending to drop payroll to reach an $189MM payroll by 2014 to avoid a luxury tax, managed to pick Hafner up off the scrap heap for a cool $2MM. Apparently the Indians tried to bring Hafner back at the last moment, but he told them that he had come pretty far in his negotiations with the Yankees, and he had to honor that (or at least thats the story Michael Kay told on the air). He signed to be the Yankees DH against righties. The Yankees (and Hafner too, I’m sure), were hoping that a diminished part-time DH role would help Hafner stay healthy all season long. The way he’s been hitting, I think everyone is now hoping that’s the case too.
Through his first 26 games, Hafner has hit .291/.417/.592 with 6 home runs and 18 RBI. Not only that, but he’s hit some key game-tying and game-winning homers so far this season. With the Yankees offense featuring guys from an Abbott and Costello routine (who? what? I dunno on third), the Yankees needed someone to step up and help Robinson Canó carry the load, and Hafner has done just that.
Let’s just hope he can stay healthy… at least until the Yankees start getting their bigger bats back from the disabled list.
Featured image courtesy of: Al Bello/Getty Images
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