Injury Bug Visits One In Five Elite Pitching Prospects

Flame-throwing Royals rookie Yordano Ventura left his start Monday in the third inning, complaining of elbow discomfort.

Mets Triple-A righthander Noah Syndergaard flew to New York this week to have an MRI performed on his elbow, which revealed a mild flexor pronator strain.

Noah Syndergaard

Noah Syndergaard (Photo by Cliff Welch).

The plight of Syndergaard and Ventura, who ranked Nos. 16 and 26, respectively, on our preseason Top 100 Prospects list, has become distressingly common for young pitchers. While this particular duo avoided going under the knife, both will spend time on the disabled list as they recover. However, the rash of young big league starters to have Tommy John surgery—a list that includes Jose Fernandez, Matt Harvey, Matt Moore and Martin Perez—combined with the spate of arm problems visited upon pitching prospects has everybody in the industry feeling on edge.

Taking a closer look at the preseason Top 100 Prospects, we find that nine of the 45 pitchers therein—20 percent—have spent time on the DL this season with some sort of arm injury, while 17 of them—nearly 40 percent—have either spent time on the DL or have gaps in their gamelogs. Righthander Mark Appel isn’t one of them, even though he hasn’t pitched for high Class A Lancaster since April 23, and he logged a 6.23 ERA in four starts when he did. The Astros said they sent Appel to extended spring training to get accustomed to the tandem-starter schedule.

The news gets worse for best of the best pitching prospects. Just five of the top 15 on the preseason Top 100 have a 100 percent clean bill of health this season: the Yankees’ Masahiro Tanaka (No. 4), the Rockies’ Jon Gray (12), the Reds’ Robert Stephenson (19), the Rockies’ Eddie Butler (24) and the Marlins’ Andrew Heaney (30). Furthermore, seven of the top 15 pitching prospects have dealt with or are dealing with an arm injury.

Here are all the pitchers from the Top 100 who have missed time this season, listed in order of preseason ranking. Arm injuries are grouped first.

Top 100 Prospects With Arm Injuries

9. Archie Bradley, rhp, Diamondbacks. He’s contending with a mild flexor strain in his elbow at Triple-A Reno and last pitched on April 26.

11. Taijuan Walker, rhp, Mariners. He hasn’t pitched in a game since making a rehab start at Double-A Jackson on April 9 as he’s battled a shoulder impingement. He is scheduled to start Wednesday at Triple-A Tacoma and throw 70 pitches.

15. Dylan Bundy, rhp, Orioles. He’s on the comeback trail from Tommy John surgery he had last June, and the Orioles don’t expect any major contributions this season.

16. Noah Syndergaard, rhp, Mets. As outlined above, he’s dealing with a flexor pronator strain in his elbow at Triple-A Las Vegas, for which he’s gone 5-2, 4.02 with a 1.45 WHIP and 3.0 SO/BB ratio.

22. Jameson Taillon, rhp, Pirates. An early casualty to Tommy John surgery this spring, Taillon had the procedure in early April, before he could throw a pitch for Triple-A Indianapolis.

26. Yordano Ventura, rhp, Royals. His MRI exam turned up no ligament damage, but we do know that Ventura’s 96 mph velocity was the fastest among qualified big league starters this season. He has gone 2-5, 3.45 in 10 starts with a 1.26 WHIP and 3.1 BO/BB ratio.

28. C.J. Edwards, rhp, Cubs. The Double-A Tennessee righty had an MRI on his right shoulder to determine the source of tightness he experienced during a side session. The test found no structural damage, but he hasn’t pitched since April 20.

53. Max Fried, lhp, Padres. As he nears his return from forearm soreness that cost him April and May, the 2012 first-rounder can look forward to an assignment to high Class A Lake Elsinore.

62. Braden Shipley, rhp, Diamondbacks. The 15th overall pick in last year’s draft joined the low Class A South Bend rotation once he put a case of biceps tendinitis behind him. He missed two starts.


Top 100 Prospects With Other Injuries Or Absences

20. Kevin Gausman, rhp, Orioles. He exhausted his prospect eligibility this season and, fortunately, his DL trip was not arm-related. Gausman experienced an oblique strain while at Triple-A Norfolk, which he attributes to excessive coughing, and he missed the minimum amount of time.

21. Lucas Giolito, rhp, Nationals. He hasn’t pitched at low Class A Hagerstown since May 11, and the Nationals say this is a matter of workload management as the teen righty ramps up from Tommy John surgery he had the summer after signing in 2012.

23. Kyle Zimmer, rhp, Royals. Kansas City kept Zimmer in extended spring training at the outset of the season, they said, to keep him fresh for the dog days of summer, but now he has a strained right lat and could be out of action for another two months.

46. Tyler Glasnow, rhp, Pirates. He returned to the fold on April 25, joining the high Class A Bradenton rotation after the tightness in his lower back cleared up.

65. Eduardo Rodriguez, lhp, Orioles. The Double-A Bowie lefty sprained a knee during an in-between starts workout and he missed about a month.

87. Pierce Johnson, rhp, Cubs. He dealt with a tight hamstring during spring training and later a strained left calf, necessitating two trips to the Double-A Tennessee disabled list.

89. Trey Ball, lhp, Red Sox. A non-arm injury afflicted the 2013 first-rounder, who hit the low Class A Greenville disabled list (briefly) with a case of strep throat.

99. James Paxton, lhp, Mariners. A right lat strain has kept the big lefty sidelined for a big chunk of April and May, and though he returned to action on a rehab assignment at Triple-A Tacoma on May 24, he experienced a setback in the form of a triceps injury.