Florida junior righthander Karsten Whitson, a third-team preseason All-American and unsigned 2010 first-round pick, will miss the 2013 season following cleanup surgery in his shoulder, according to his father, Kent Whitson.
The good news is Whitson's labrum and rotator cuff are in good shape, and Dr. James Andrews was able to locate and repair an impingement that was causing him discomfort.
"When they went in, there was not a definitive thing they were looking to do. They were looking for what was causing the discomfort, and they found it," Kent Whitson said. "It was the least invasive thing they could do. Now, putting a scope in your arm is invasive in itself. Honestly, you're talking about eight weeks before you can pick a baseball back up. That's why this year is going to be a scratch for him. There's really not a way for him to get himself caught back up. It would be silly to pitch the last two weeks of the year, burn a year (of eligibility), burning opportunities that down the road you probably would wish that you didn't do. So for him, it's just going to be better to not pitch this year. Realistically, Andrews told him four months before you can pitch again."
That timetable opens the possibility that Whitson could return to pitch in summer ball and try to boost his stock with scouts, but Kent Whitson said it's too early to determine whether Karsten will try to do that or just direct all his energy toward preparing for his redshirt junior season and the 2014 draft.
"He's going to come back 100 percent, without the pain, and he's going to be lights-out," Kent Whitson said. "He is really going to be tough come the spring of next year. He's never had a fall, a break, a spring, then rolling into competition. It hasn't worked out that way for him. I think what he'll do is just redshirt and go into '14 still having options open."
Whitson famously turned down a $2.1 million offer from the Padres as the No. 9 overall pick in 2010, and he is unlikely to be offered that much again this year, though he could rebuild his draft stock if he returns to full strength in 2014. At his best, Whitson has shown premium stuff at Florida—a mid-90s fastball, a wipeout slider and a good changeup—and he has proven he can perform at a high level in the Southeastern Conference when healthy. He earned freshman All-America honors in 2011 after going 8-1, 2.40 with 92 strikeouts in 97 innings and helping the Gators reach the College World Series.
But Kent Whitson said his son started feeling shoulder discomfort toward the end of his freshman year—Karsten described the feeling to his father as "a catch." The shoulder discomfort hindered him throughout his sophomore year, Kent Whitson said, causing him to drop his arm slot and rely on two-seam fastballs. He was limited to just 33 innings last year, then three more innings in the Cape Cod League, though he showed electric stuff in those three innings.
"The sophomore year, it just didn't ever really get right," Kent Whitson said. "The arm slot gravitated down, because that was more comfortable than the high three-quarters. So last year just kind of got weird. But amongst all this, Karsten's not lost his confidence at all. Today, we got home, first thing we did is pop in the tape from the 2011 World Series. We watched it, and I said, 'That's you right there.' He said, 'Yeah, that's me.' So the confidence is there."
Whitson showed his usual dominant stuff (reaching 97 mph) and felt good at times during the fall and spring, but the shoulder discomfort lingered, even though MRIs were inconclusive.
"That was our issue is, how do you listen to him tell you his arm is hurting and he's touching 96s and 7s on scout day?" Kent Whitson said.
This week the Whitson family decided to shut him down and have Andrews scope his shoulder. Andrews repeatedly said, "That arm looks good," during the scope, which encouraged Kent Whitson, watching the procedure on a video screen.
"The labrum and the rotator cuff were rubbing, and that was causing the pain," Kent Whitson said. "They tried a cortisone shot, but it didn't eliminate it. In this case, it would just kind of mask it—it wouldn't go away. Once he started pitching again, it was contact again, and that was causing the pain. So they cleaned all that stuff up, and it created a nice gap between the two (rotator cuff and labrum), so his arm motion can work the way it needs to.
"It's very encouraging. It's the best day he's had in a long time. This is something Karsten's been dealing with the last two years. I'm relieved there's a conclusion to it, and it worked out favorably with Karsten."
Kent Whitson said he is aware of all the schadenfreude being expressed on the internet by those who think Karsten got what he deserved for turning down big money out of high school. He said Karsten doesn't get too caught up in what people are saying, but it gives him a little extra motivation.
For their part, the Whitson family has no regrets about the decision to turn down the Padres. The family places a premium on education, and Whitson got to cross off an item from his "bucket list" by pitching in the College World Series.
"That was Karsten's decision—who would I be to argue that?" Kent Whitson said, referring to the decision to attend Florida. "I want my kids to be happy. Money doesn't make everybody happy. At the end of the day, if he's able to get his bucket list checked off and still go on, he's always wanted to pitch in pro ball, always. But he's very much at peace with what his decision was, there's no doubt."
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