Note: Welcome to the debut of MiLB Prospective. Feel free to email suggestions, prospect-related questions and links to this column's writer.
What a sight it is to watch young arms at work, even if it's simply on MiLB.TV and not at the ballpark. See right-hander Dylan Bundy blazing fastballs here, lefty Tyler Skaggs spinning curveballs there. Images of their plate-ward arms bring to mind the word that otherwise has no business in baseball: electric.
Now imagine them without power in an instant, like a scoreboard losing its lights.
Because of a disturbing -- and increasingly more expected, if not accepted -- trend, there's no need to wonder. During the run up to this season it was announced that Sammy Solis (Nationals' No. 10 prospect on March 6), Arodys Vizcaino (Braves' No. 4 on March 20), Jose Ceda (Marlins' No. 14 on April 3) and Jordan Swagerty (Cardinals' No. 16 on April 4), among others, would all undergo Tommy John surgery.
Of the typical 12-to-18 month recovery each will face from the infamous elbow-ligament-replacement operation, John Lamb (Royals' No. 6) and Kyle Gibson (Twins' No. 6), who went under the knife on June 3 and Sept. 7 of last year, can speak from experience.
"I hate to hear about guys getting hurt -- and no pun intended when I say this -- guys that were on the verge of making it or breaking it ... at the highest level. Tough to hear and tough to watch," Lamb said, "At the end of the day, I personally have learned that I want to look in the mirror and know that I did everything I could today to put my body and arm in the best position to not get hurt. That's the one thing that I continue to tell these new guys that are fresh out of the operating room. Now I can say I am doing what it takes."
That's because Lamb is at the field for the start of his 10 a.m. workout in Surprise, Ariz., while Gibson is up and at 'em by 8:15 a.m. in Fort Myers, Fla. The hurlers, ranked by MLB.com as the No. 28 and 42 overall prospects in the game prior to being shelved, are hard at work.
Gibson, the 22nd overall draftee in 2009, is throwing four days a week, building his way toward 120 feet of tossing. He aims to be on the mound June 7 and in a Minor League game on Aug. 7, 11 months to the day after visiting Dr. David Altcheck, who also operated on former Twin Joe Nathan, in New York.
"[Nathan] was able to say, 'Listen, you're arm's going to be sore at certain points. Don't worry about it. That's normal. Battle through the plateaus and times where it gets worse, because it's always going to get better,'" Gibson said. "My best advice would be, 'Make sure you stick to the program.' If it says three sets of 15, then I would say, 'Do three sets of 15.' There's always going to be that fine line and if you start crossing it, you're going to do more damage than good."
Gibson, who is talking about strengthening his shoulder as much as rehabbing his elbow, added that he was encouraged upon reading this: Ninety-two percent of "elite pitchers" with a reconstructed ulnar collateral ligament regain their former glory for a minimum of one year, according to an ESPN The Magazine article.
Lamb, who completed his second 15-pitch bullpen session last Thursday -- he threw all fastballs, at 60 percent-effort -- works out with 7-10 other Royals, including Juan Gutierrez, Edgar Osuna and Ryan Wood, recovering from injury. He even tried throwing a couple of breaking balls: "That was prett scary," he admitted.
"I'm stepping in the right direction, trying to trust the process," Lamb added. "It's getting more and more exciting. I am starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. It's been humbling in the sense of what I took for granted in the game, which was, to be brutally honest, my lack of knowledge or workload. I really didn't have the drive to put into the game, which allows you to stay healthy. ... I have learned how much more my body has in there."
The lefty, who is currently throwing the ball free and easy and on a line 150 feet, will need to complete 18 total bullpen sessions, four with batters standing in the box, before pitching in game situations, ideally by mid-June. He said he hopes to implement as much of his current routine, which includes new exercises and basics like healthier eating, into his five-day plan as a member of a Minor League rotation.
"It took an injury, a very serious injury, for me to realize that I'm blessed with the arm that I have and I need to not take anything for granted," Lamb said. "The things I am learning from my rehab, particularly my shoulder routine, I'm mind-blown with the stuff that I am learning. I can only hope that I have the desire and urge to maintain that strength and continue to build as my career, hopefully, goes on.
"No one wants to be hurt; no one wants to get cut on their body and get operated on, but with as high as the success rates that I have heard of coming back to at least where you were before, this is a great opportunity for guys with potential big league careers to get everything they can in order."
This space will be more decisive in future editions, but a three-way tie is unavoidable here: Brevard County's Jed Bradley (Brewers), Delmarva's Dylan Bundy (Orioles) and Greenville's Matt Barnes (Red Sox) -- all making their first three pro starts within the season's first three weeks -- accumulated nine MiLB.com headlines:
Potomac's Anthony Rendon
(Nationals) literally went down. Washington's first-round draftee -- he was the sixth overall pick out of Rice University -- doubled and tripled in his first four at-bats before suffering a slight fracture
of his left ankle while rounding third base on April 7. There is no timetable set for his return, though his injury is not considered season-ending.
Memo from Mayo
There are three members of MLB.com's Top 100, all of them high school picks in the first round of the 2011 Draft, who are currently toiling in relative anonymity in extended spring training. No. 17 Bubba Starling, No. 62 Javier Baez and No. 98 Taylor Guerrieri remained at the Spring Training complexes of their respective organization.
More than anything, the trio hung back to get further acclimated to life as a professional and all that it entails. It means regular at-bats, consistent innings, all without the microscope of being in real game action "under the lights." All will play somewhere in 2012 to make their official professional debuts. There's a chance Guerrieri could pitch to Starling in the Appalachian League this summer, but don't count out the possibility of the two hitters getting the chance to try out a slightly higher level once they get assigned.
For more of Draft and prospects expert Jonathan Mayo's analysis, visit MLB.com's Prospects Central.
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