(Photo via the Flickr Creative Commons, seen here)
If the saying “a minor setback paves the way for a major comeback” is true, then St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Tommy Pham is just getting started with his dominance at the plate in the MLB.
Pham played high school baseball at Durango High School in Spring Valley, Nevada, and was both a pitcher and an infielder. He reached the mid-90s with his fastball, but he wanted to be a position player instead of pitching in college. Originally he committed to play collegiate baseball at the University of Arizona, but changed his mind and attended Cal State Fullerton instead.
Since Pham was drafted in the 16th round of the 2010 MLB Draft by the Cardinals, he has spent the majority of his professional baseball career on the DL.
Not only has Pham spent a lot of time on the DL, but he is also legally blind in his left eye, as he suffers from keratoconus. Keratoconus is a degenerative eye condition that causes structural abnormalities in the cornea. He was diagnosed with the condition in 2008, and has had surgery that halted the erosion of his eye. The condition warps the cornea, causing halos or double images to appear.
Here is a link to a video where Pham breaks down his condition: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-QgkwzR-EJw
Regarding on the field injuries, he broke his wrist in his first minor league season as a member of the Double-A Springfield Cardinals. The following season, Pham played 40 games for Springfield, but then he tore a ligament while trying to rob an opponent of a home run.
In 2012, Pham dove for a ball, but heard a pop in his shoulder. He continued to play, but following an examination it was determined that the outfielder had torn his labrum.
In 2013, Pham made 45 appearances for Springfield, where he hit for an average of .301 with six home runs and 28 RBI, along with six stolen bases. He was promoted to Triple-A Memphis, but 30 games into his stint with the Redbirds, he tore his other labrum.
Pham played 104 games in 2014 for Memphis and he had his best season yet. He carried a slash line of .324/.395/.491 with 10 home runs and 44 RBI. He also scored 63 runs, while finishing with 16 doubles and six triples.
His performance at the Triple-A level prompted a promotion on September 7, 2014 to the Cardinals. He only received two at-bats in six games, and struck out in both plate appearances.
Pham began the 2015 in Memphis again, but just as water is wet, he got hurt again. He spent two months on the shelf, this time with a quadriceps injury. Once he returned from the DL, Pham was crushing it at the plate with a .338 batting average, five home runs and 21 RBI over a 24-game span. The Cardinals once more called for him to be moved up to the big leagues.
He made a longer stay with the Cardinals this go-around, as he played in 52 games and smacked five home runs and knocked in 18 RBI. Pham was even selected for the playoff roster and appeared in the NLDS against the Chicago Cubs.
Pham made the Opening Day roster for the Cardinals in 2016, but just when you thought things were beginning to change with his injury history, he tore his left oblique in the first inning of the first regular season game. He would play in 78 games for the Cardinals later in the season, but would struggle with a .226 batting average.
You can definitely say that Pham’s setbacks did in fact set him up for his major comeback, as he played in 143 combined games between Memphis and St. Louis in 2017. His performance in those games proved to be his breakout party onto the MLB scene, as he hit 23 home runs, knocked in 73 RBI, swiped 25 bases, all while carrying a slash line of .306/.411/.931.
He also flashed the leather in the field, as he only committed one error in 1,026 ⅔ innings, and had eight outfield assists, which ranked him tied for eighth in the NL. His terrific season was noticed nationwide, as Pham finished 11th in the NL MVP voting.
Even with his terrific season, Pham may be one of the most underrated players in the entire MLB. He was one of just nine players — joining Jose Altuve, Mookie Betts, Mike Trout, Wil Myers, Andrew Benintendi, Keon Broxton, Brett Gardner, and Elvis Andrus — to finish with a 20-home run/20-stolen base season in 2017.
Pham figures to be a fixture in the middle of the Cardinals lineup for the 2018 season, as long as the injury bug doesn’t bite again.