After being lights out at the World Wood Bat Championship in Jupiter, Fla., last fall, righthander Mitchell Traver went into the offseason preparing to have his best year as a senior at Houston Christian High. He lost 10 percent body fat in six months and was ready to go early in the spring. But it turned out to be a rocky season as his velocity was down at times and he had trouble locating pitches. Traver was frustrated because he knew what he was capable of, but couldn’t get there and couldn’t explain it to scouts.
Now, he knows what was wrong. Traver was examined by Dr. Gregory J. Pearl on May 30 at Baylor University’s Division of Vascular Surgery and confirmed a previous doctor’s diagnosis of Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. If that sounds familiar it’s because major leaguers like lefthanders Kenny Rogers and Matt Harrison, and righthanders Aaron Cook and Jeremy Bonderman have all experienced it. TOS is a rare condition that results in pain in the neck and shoulder as well as numbness and tingling in the fingers, and a weak grip—all symptoms that Traver experienced. This happens when blood vessels and nerves traveling through a narrow space near the shoulder and collarbone to the arms don’t have enough room.
Traver will have surgery to remove his first rib on June 13 and then will begin rehab. In about six weeks he can start light stretching along with light throwing and expects to be able to long toss and be back at full strength in eight to 12 weeks.
“Literally, the ball felt weird,” Traver said. “I started experiencing some forearm and bicep tightness. And my arm slot started dropping. I didn’t even notice it. I’m a big video guy. I get in trouble every day in class for watching videos on YouTube. I tried to pitch through it and finally found a way to work through it, but it limited my offerings.”
Traver said his velocity was down and he didn’t know where the ball was going. Against Ball High (Galveston, Texas), he was only able to throw a few warmup pitches in the bullpen because he couldn’t stop throwing pitches over his catcher and the fence.
“I was like “What is going on?'” he said. “I went into the game and pitched with that. I found a way to throw six innings. It wasn’t pretty. My velo was down. I reached back for a couple 94s against Williams, but I wrote it off as a bad day.”
Then in the playoffs, Traver tried to throw a curveball and it bounced about 10 feet in front of home plate because his arm caught. He took himself out of the game and had three MRIs done. There was no tears or structural damage. He was checked out by Dr. John Conway of Texas Christian—where Traver is committed—who put him through a few tests. When Traver experienced pain near his neck, Dr. Conway had him stand with his arms at his side and took his pulse. Everything was normal until he had Traver raise his arms above his head. In a matter of seconds, Traver’s right hand turned white and he had no pulse. Conway deduced that it was TOS and referred him to Dr. Pearl.
In a letter to Traver’s father, John, that was sent to major league clubs, Pearl said that the “outcome following surgical decompression of the thoracic outlet in the high performance competitive athlete has been excellent.”
He has done the procedure on many competitive athletes that have all returned to their activities. Pearl also stated that it is quite common for pitchers to gain velocity on their fastball following outlet decompression.
“I’m glad we figured it out,” Traver said. “I think I’m a major leaguer. Everybody has to have that kind of confidence in themselves. This is just a piece of the story.”