Rice Pitchers Battle Injuries, Stigma
HOUSTON—Like seemingly every prior moment of his baseball career, Rice
lefthander/first baseman Joe Savery was acutely aware of how his July
6, 2006, surgery to remove bone spurs from his left shoulder could
affect his draft position.
Up until that moment Savery had, by
his own admission, lived a charmed life on the diamond. He was a Little
League standout, an all-state performer at Lamar High in Houston,
Baseball America's Freshman of the Year in 2005, and a third team
All-American as a sophomore.
amount of money each team spent on signing 2006 draft picks. These
numbers do not include draft-and-follows signed this spring, or Jeff
Samardzija’s $10 million major league contract (the second he signed)
with the Cubs.
|*Haven’t signed 11th overall pick Max Scherzer.|
progressive step was beautifully in sync until Savery experienced
lingering discomfort in his shoulder during his sophomore year and went
under the knife. For the first time, uncertainty had a grip on Savery.
And he had no clue as to what lay ahead.
"I have dealt with the
feeling that (teams) are looking for a reason why I won't succeed," he
said. "The thinking has been, 'Well, he's not hitting 95 (mph).' It
definitely enters your mind, especially from my side coming off
Savery and classmate Cole St. Clair have had the
misfortune of being first-round talents who sustained injuries during
their draft-eligible seasons—while pitching for a program that has had
a rash of first-round picks suffer significant arm problems early in
their professional careers.
From Kenny Baugh and Jon Skaggs in
2001, to Philip Humber, Jeff Niemann and Wade Townsend in 2003, Rice
has produced a string of hurlers whose development was slowed by
shoulder and elbow maladies.
"Absolutely, that will be discussed
everywhere," one National League scout said. "It's gotten to the point
where so many of them have had surgery that you have to say, 'Wait a
minute.' In both situations, you're going to have to go off what you've
seen in the past. I don't think you're going to see either guy
completely healthy this year."
Because Baugh, the 11th overall
selection by the Tigers in 2001, and Skaggs, taken 42nd by the Yankees
in the same draft, had their careers derailed by labrum (Baugh) and
Tommy John (Skaggs) surgery, the operations Humber (elbow), Niemann
(shoulder) and Townsend (elbow) had early in their pro careers raised
eyebrows. Whether it's legitimate, there is a perception of worry when
it comes to pitchers developed at Rice. The unfortunate timing of their
minor injuries left Savery and St. Clair branded by a stigma.
with arm injuries so prevalent across baseball, some wonder how the
stigma was born, and why Rice pitchers are forced to bear that burden.
are way too many variables out there for me to pinpoint it, because I
know that when I was in high school and lower than high school, I
didn't know anybody's arm that got hurt," Skaggs said. "Nowadays I hear
about 15- or 16-year-olds having Tommy John surgery. There's a lot more
going on than anybody knows, more than pitch counts, more than
nutrition and training and overtraining. So I really don't have a
strong take on it."
For Savery and St. Clair, who missed the
first two months of this season with biceps tendinitis that developed
from an offseason weightlifting mishap, their considerable upside
hasn't prevented scouts from worrying about their health.
there's no question that the track record at Rice is a concern," one
American League scout said. "The thing with Savery that may help him is
that he's been a first baseman, too, so his innings and pitch counts
have been limited, especially after his injury. St. Clair is a concern
again. They're saying he's fine . . . but he's a real wild card."
St. Clair: "It's unfortunate, but (the perception is) there. I feel
like I'm taken care of well here, but if you look at the track record,
there is reason for people to believe that.
"It's an interesting
game you have to play, where I have to go out there and do as well as I
can and convince them that I feel fine, and they have to be skeptical
just to make sure they're giving their organization a fair shot at
really analyzing me as a player."
That analysis will continue
through the run-up to the draft. Savery has slowly worked his way back
to form, reaching milestones in pitch count (110 at Alabama-Birmingham
on April 29) and velocity (touching 93 mph several times against Tulane
on May 13). After he regained his mechanics, St. Clair again featured a
fastball topping out at 93 mph.
Even that good news offers no guarantee, however.
go from maybe being a top five pick to right now I don't really know,"
Savery said. "I really have no idea what to think or what (teams) are
thinking. It (the draft) is going to be exciting because it's a big
step in my life, but it's also going to be a relief in the sense that I
can just go play. Those things are decided, and you don't feel like
everything is being critiqued as closely."—MOISEKAPENDA BOWER