Spring training is here once again and that can mean only one thing: Several players in are in the best shape of their lives. There are always a few who committed to intense offseason workouts and came to camp looking better than ever. The most famous case was Sammy Sosa, who showed up to Mesa in 1998 with 20 pounds of new muscle.
Most of the more modern cases don’t have the same advantages available to Slammin’ Sammy, but that doesn’t stop them from putting in work to be in the best shape ever. And after careful consideration, we’ve narrowed the field of this year’s roster to three: Yu Darvish, David Bote, and Albert Almora Jr. Each player fits neatly into one of the different narratives applied to BSoHL candidates.
Let’s begin with Bote, who came up from Iowa and delivered some big walk-off homers in 2018. He’s looking to carve out a permanent role for himself in the big leagues after several years spent toiling in the minors and arrived in camp looking considerably more musclebound than last season.
The dude is jacked, to the point where some have begun to throw around the term “large adult son.” It’s led to a parody Twitter account and a rash of stories like this one from the Tribunes’ Mark Gonzales, all of which have something to do with Bote being bigger, stronger, and ready to prove himself.
As so many other Best Shape candidates are wont to do, Tank Bote downplayed his new physique.
“People said I now look bigger and say how much weight I’ve put on,” Bote said. “I really haven’t put on extra weight. I’m better stacked. I’m more open in the chest area and not so rounded, more vertical. I can move easier and have better range of motion.” If you need me I’ll be at the gym getting better stacked.
Darvish fits into a different media narrative, that of the injured veteran looking to have a big bounceback year. Steve Cishek has referred to Darvish as a beast and NBC Sports Chicago elaborates that the righty has added 10-15 pouds of muscle.
Darvish often posts the healthy meals he’s eating on Twitter, but there no word if he’s prepared to go full Tom Brady and never eat anything with flavor again. People love a comeback story, so expect to hear more about this over the coming weeks. Here’s hoping Darvish sticks to his diet better than Pablo Sandoval, who once hired his brother to cook him healthier meals.
Almora is trying to make the ambitious leap of going from contributor to impact player. His offseason workouts have a specific goal in mind: getting faster. He plays incredible defense despite not having blazing speed, but previous efforts to bulk up had left him looking a little sluggish and perhaps unable to get that extra step to make all those spectacular plays.
So significant are the changes to Almora’s physique, even his own manager doesn’t recognize him.
“He can not look better than he looks right now,” Joe Maddon said. “I didn’t even know that was him running after some fly balls.”
Will any or all of these new-look Cubs translate their offseason transformations into on-field success? Will Chicago food undo all the physical gains they made? Will I stop eating Taco Bell? These are questions only time can truly answer. Well, I can tell you definitively right now that the answer to the final question is no.
Last season’s BSoHL champion, Kyle Schwarber, looks a bit bigger than the svelte slugger who wowed everyone last year. I think the most important lesson we can draw from this whole exercise is, it’s really good that real baseball starts again this weekend.