For eight years since being a second-round pick in the 1999 First-Year Player Draft, Ryan Ludwick was almost an afterthought.
He put on four different uniforms before the 2007 season, suffered a fractured hip that would set him back tremendously and, before the Cardinals took a chance on the 6-foot-3 UNLV product in 2007, his Major League stat line in eight years read like this: .237 batting average, 14 home runs and 44 RBIs in just 104 games.
Meet the new Ludwick. He's healthy now -- "Knock on wood," he said -- he rakes at the plate and he's giving a whole new meaning to the word "sleeper."
Last year, he showed the Cardinals he's capable of being a Major League outfielder.
This season, he solidified a spot in the starting lineup.
And last week, he continued to show the baseball nation he's one of the best in the league.
Ludwick hit .538 (14-for-26) with four home runs and eight RBIs in his past seven games en route to being named the Bank of America National League Player of the Week for the first time in his career -- a career destined to include more hardware if he continues to stay healthy.
"That's key to this game -- taking care of your body and trying to stay healthy," Ludwick said recently.
During the Phillies-Cardinals broadcast on ESPN on Sunday night, broadcaster Joe Morgan asked Cardinals manager Tony La Russa if he ever expected this kind of season out of Ludwick. La Russa, who gave Ludwick a Spring Training invite in 2007, said his outfielder came up with some big hits toward the end of last season that made him believe he could have a big impact year.
While La Russa was saying this, Ludwick was in the middle of pounding the Phillies in the Cardinals' three-game home set. Although his club lost two of three to the first-place Phils, Ludwick hit four home runs in the three games and went off in the Cardinals' only win in the series on Friday, going 4-for-4 and adding the fourth multihomer game of his career -- all of those coming this season.
"I'm definitely a different hitter than when I was 25," said the 30-year-old Ludwick, a native of Satellite Beach, Fla. "I think with some experience, I'll be a different hitter when I'm 32.
"I think I had a lot of confidence coming into this year. I think that was the main issue for me -- proving to myself that I can play at this level."
He definitely can.
The series put a cap on a week that saw Ludwick hit safely in all seven games, knock in at least one run in six contests, put up a .613 on-base percentage and score seven runs. On the year, Ludwick is in the top 10 in the NL in the three big offensive categories -- batting average (.306), home runs (27) and RBIs (78). All of this while his Cardinals are staying in contention in the tough NL Central, sitting at 62-52 after a 4-3 week and just six games off the lead while being one game back of the Wild Card-leading Brewers.
Since being named to the All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium, Ludwick has been on a tear, raising his batting average 17 points while adding six home runs and 13 RBIs in 17 games.
"I had a rough June, and I felt like I made some adjustments," Ludwick said recently. "It's going to be a constant grind. They've got guys scouting me every day, trying to find ways to get you out. They might find a hole, and you've got to find a way to cover it up.
"It's a mind game."
Also nominated for the award were: Ludwick's Cardinals teammates Joe Mather (.290, 3 HR, 7 RBI) and Yadier Molina (.385, 10 H, 5 RBI); Milwaukee's Prince Fielder (.400, 5 HR, 6 RBI) and Jeff Suppan (1-0, 0.00 ERA, 7.0 IP); Philadelphia's Chase Utley (.364, 3 HR, 6 RBI) and Brad Lidge (4 SV, 1 H, 5 SO); Colorado's Matt Holliday (.385, 4 HR, 6 RBI) and Ubaldo Jimenez (1-0, 0.00 ERA, 10 SO); Aramis Ramirez (.333, 1 HR, 3 RBI) and Alfonso Soriano (.414, 3 HR, 4 RBI) of the Cubs; Florida's John Baker (.381, 2 HR, 7 RBI) and Josh Willingham (.435, 4 2B, 5 RBI); Damion Easley (.316, 2 HR, 7 RBI) and Jose Reyes (.407, 11 H, 2 SB) of the Mets; Houston's Carlos Lee (.318, 2 HR, 7 RBI), Kazuo Matsui (.360, 2 HR, 2 RBI) and Hunter Pence (.409, 1 HR, 3 RBI); San Francisco's Barry Zito (1-0, 0.00 ERA, 5 SO); Cincinnati's Adam Dunn (.682 SLG, 3 HR, 6 RBI); San Diego's Greg Maddux (2-0, 4.09 ERA, 5 SO); Chad Billingsley (1-0, 0.00 ERA, 8 SO) of the Dodgers; and Ryan Doumit of the Pirates (.500, 4 2B, 4 RBI).
Alden Gonzalez is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.