How Does Tommy John Surgery Impact Miguel Amaya's Long-Term Outlook?
The Cubs best catching prospect, Miguel Amaya, needs Tommy John surgery to repair his ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow.
Amaya played only 23 games with Double-A Tennessee in 2021 because of the elbow injury. He last played in a game on June 3, and didn’t catch in a game after May 27.
Normally, catchers need a full year to recover from the ligament repair, which means that Amaya will likely return to action in 2023.
From a developmental standpoint, this is bad news for Amaya. Not only will he be missing a year, but he’ll be doing so after already missing significant time because of his injury and the canceled 2020 minor league season. Amaya did participate at the Cubs alternate training site in 2020 and played 10 games in winter ball, but he’ll now likely head to 2023 having caught 12 games above Class A.
But more importantly, how worrisome is Tommy John surgery for a catcher’s long-term prognosis?
There are plenty of examples of catchers who have had Tommy John surgery and made a full recovery. Two years after Tommy John surgery Royals catcher Salvador Perez caught 124 games this year and threw out a league-leading 44% of basestealers. Matt Wieters, Travis d’Arnaud and Christian Vazquez are examples of other backstops who have recovered well from the surgery.
But a relatively recent study (July 2018) in the Journal of Shoulder and Elbow Surgery does offer some discouraging news.
The study, authored by Dr. Christopher Camp, Dr. Stan Conte, John D’Angelo and Dr. Stephen Fealy, looked at every major and minor league position player they could determine had ever had Tommy John surgery (up to that point).
What it found was among position players, professional outfielders returned to play 88.9% of the time. Infielders returned to play 75.6% of the time. But catchers only returned to play 58.6% of the time, a rate that is not only worse than any other position player grouping, but was also significantly worse than the return rate for pitchers (83.7%).
As with any study, there is some noise in the data. It’s possible that since it looks at minor league players as well as MLB players, some of the poor return rates can be explained by fringe minor leaguers whose development was derailed by the amount of missed time, although the same issues would likely be prevalent for other position groups as well.
Before his injury, Amaya was slated to rank fifth on our Cubs Top Prospects ranking. Now he’s slid to outside of the Top 10. Amaya has a long road of rehabilitation ahead of him. Hopefully it leads to a return to action and a return to form in 2023, but the statistics make that less of a certainty than one might have believed.