Rays first-rounder Taylor Guerrieri appeared to be on the fast track to the Majors when an elbow injury and subsequent Tommy John surgery forced him to take a step back.
Now in the final stages of his rehab and with a drug suspension firmly behind him, a "humbled" Guerrieri is hoping to continue his journey to Tampa Bay.
With a plus fastball and curveball and a changeup that grades out as at least average, the 21-year-old right-hander impressed the Rays' front office staff during his first season in short-season Hudson Valley in 2011. His struggles began the following year in Class A Bowling Green and intensified until he was unable to throw his curveball and surgery was the only remaining option.
"I want to stay healthy," Guerrieri told MLB.com. "I never want to go through this process again. And I've made great strides in my work ethic, my personality, too. Being injured will definitely humble you. All around, I would say it's a good thing that it happened."
Tampa Bay's No. 3 prospect was 6-2 with a 2.01 ERA for the Hot Rods in 14 Midwest League starts in 2013, before exiting a start in Cedar Rapids after just two innings on July 15 when he complained of elbow soreness.
He underwent Tommy John surgery to repair his right elbow nine days later and has logged just 9 1/3 innings in five Rookie-level Gulf Coast League contests this season. The organization said at the time of his surgery that he was unlikely to play in a Minor League game in 2014, and that with recovery usually taking around one year, he will be ready to go once Spring Training starts in March 2015.
"When he was pitching for Hudson Valley [in 2012], you saw superior stuff and 'Major Leagues' written all over him," Rays farm director Mitch Lukevics told MLB.com. "He has plus-plus stuff. Plus-plus fastball, curveball and changeup. And he showed that that year in Hudson Valley.
"He wasn't the same at Bowling Green. You wondered if something was going on. You ask him, and he tells you he feels all right."
The injury is just one of the obstacles a maturing Guerrieri has had to overcome in his brief time in pro ball.
He was suspended for 50 games in October 2013 following a second positive test for a drug of abuse.
"We continue to try and educate our players prior, during and after," Lukevics said. "And what takes place, we tell them, 'You made a mistake, young man. Make good on it. You have your whole life ahead of you, a whole career ahead of you. Is this what you really want in life? If so, make good on the task at hand and move forward.'
"One of the things with these young high school kids -- for the most part, they have a lot of growing up to do," he added. "When Taylor got here, he had a lot of growing up to do."
Added Guerrieri: "I'm just really trying to stay positive throughout this whole process. I'm always going to be that guy now. I put myself in that situation, and I'm just going to try and move past it."
Ashley Marshall is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AshMarshallMLB.