In the not-so-distant past, Nick Weglarz was thought of as a top 10 prospect with perhaps the most power potential in the Indians system.
Then injuries came in bunches, each one unrelated and more frustrating than the last.
There was the broken hand in 2006. The stress fracture in his left shin in 2009. The torn ligament in his thumb in 2010. Then came 2011, which began with Weglarz tearing the meniscus in his left knee in spring training and then the UCL ligament (more commonly known as the “Tommy John” ligament) in his left elbow toward the end of the year.
For Weglarz, three seasons were wiped away.
“It’s always frustrating when you get hurt,” Weglarz said. “A lot of those injuries are flukes and there’s nothing you could’ve done to stop them. That’s what makes it frustrating.”
He’s even lucky he didn’t lose a fourth year. The Tommy John ligament tear last August meant it was entirely possible he’d need the surgery usually reserved for pitchers. That would have meant a lost 2012 season and possibly the boiling point for someone just trying to stay on the field. He went to rehab, where it was able to heal on its own, and now he says he’s 100 percent healthy for the first time since 2010, when he hit .285 with 13 homers in 87 combined games in Akron and AAA Columbus.
Weglarz has only been able to play in 128 games the past two seasons. As he says, he hasn’t been able to find a rhythm when his at-bats are coming in spurts.
“Baseball is all about repetition and the day-in and day-out grind,” he said. “It’s stuff you have to do to get locked in and stay locked in. For me, it’s always been daily at-bats that have helped me. That’s a huge factor.
“When I’m locked in, I don’t miss pitches. Home runs seem to come in bunches and that happens when I can get locked in, because then everything’s working.”
Still, it’s hard to find a consistent power stroke, even for the 6-3, 240-pound native of Stevensville, Canada, who got noticed after he hit 24 home runs in 2007 between Lake County and Kinston.
He carries the same “country-?strong, corn-fed” aura that players such as Jim Thome and Travis Hafner own. Weglarz built much of his strength, as might be expected of any kid living through harsh Canadian winters.
“I shoveled a lot of snow, obviously,” he said. “That helps the biceps and stuff. And I used to move furniture in high school. Those are tough jobs, lots of heavy lifting. And it also came from playing different sports like hockey. That helped, too.”
After a dismal 2011 season (.179 average in only 41 games) and equally bad start to 2012 (.189 average, 20 strikeouts), Weglarz is finally starting to hit (.273, two home runs in May). It’s not a lot. But it’s a start.
“I’m using my back leg a little more,” Weglarz said of the knee with the repaired meniscus. “Last year I couldn’t push any weight on it and hit off my front leg because it was so sore.
“I’ve noticed my swings have been better [this month] ... better stretches of quality at-bats. I don’t look at stats. I know when I’m hitting well and when I’m not.”
Now that he feels like he’s 100 percent, Weglarz says his mental approach has also improved.
“If I go up there and hack at three bad pitches, that’s a bad at-bat,” he said. “But if I can put good swings on good pitches, that’s a decent at-bat. I’m trying to get something out of an at-bat and not give any at-bats away.”
Weglarz is still ranked as a top 20 prospect, according to Baseball America. He has tried to string together quality at-bats in 30 games this year, one of his longest healthy streaks since 2008.
He has power. Now he hopes to have the health to show it off.
Ryan Lewis can be reached at email@example.com.