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LSU Pitcher Jaden Hill Tears UCL: How Could It Impact His 2021 MLB Draft Stock?



Louisiana State announced Monday that righthander Jaden Hill will miss the rest of the season with a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right pitching elbow.

Hill suffered the injury during last Friday’s game against Vanderbilt and team doctors confirmed the tear after an examination of his elbow on Monday.

“It's heartbreaking for all of us to receive this news," LSU head coach Paul Mainieri said in the team’s statement, "but it's especially disappointing for Jaden as a young man who has such a bright future in baseball. We will do everything we can to support Jaden in his return to full health. He has a tremendous work ethic, and I'm very confident he will overcome this setback."

Hill currently ranks as the No. 8 draft prospect in the 2021 class and the third pitcher overall. The industry seemed to view Hill in the second tier of college pitchers (which includes Texas righthander Ty Madden and Mississippi righthander Gunnar Hoglund) at the moment, behind Vanderbilt righthanders Kumar Rocker and Jack Leiter.

The 6-foot-4, 235-pound righthander entered the season as a candidate to challenge Rocker as the top player in the class with a strong performance in a starting role, as scouts admired his size, athleticism, command and the potential of his pure stuff. At his best, Hill has shown three pitches that have plus grades, with a fastball regularly in the mid 90s, a consistent changeup and a slider that flashed wipeout potential at his best.

Hill struggled to a 6.67 ERA through seven starts and 29.2 innings this spring, though, as scouts questioned the life of his fastball and didn’t see the sort of breaking ball he had shown in the past in a reliever role.

"Heading into this year, none of the college pitchers projected to go in the first round needed innings more than Hill," said one scout. "While he was viewed as a top 10 pitcher to begin the spring, he pitched his way out of that spot early on. A healthy version of Hill was going to be somewhat decisive given his upside and lack of production this year. Now the lack of innings compound the problem. He's probably out of the first round for many teams with this injury, at least conservative teams. Fifty-one career collegiate innings for a first rounder would be completely anomalous."

Now, scouts won’t have an opportunity to see whether or not Hill could make a mid-season adjustment and re-discover the form that made him a top-10 prospect to begin with. Hill’s injury is reminiscent of current Mets prospect J.T. Ginn, a member of the 2020 draft class who threw just three innings before undergoing surgery on his right elbow and missing the rest of the season. Ginn ranked No. 12 in the 2020 class entering the season and in our final BA 500 rankings of the class, he still slotted in as a first-round talent at No. 23 overall.

Ginn was a more highly-regarded pitching prospect than Hill out of high school (the two were in the same 2018 prep class, ranking No. 39 and No. 86, respectively) and established a much better track record as a starter. Ginn signed an overslot $2.9 million deal with the Mets in the second round as a draft-eligible sophomore.

While it is always disappointing for a pitcher to tear a UCL, research has shown that the recovery rates for Tommy John surgery are quite good for professional pitchers.

Multiple studies have also shown that the performance of pitchers who undergo pre-draft Tommy John surgeries compares well to their non-surgery peers, with a 2016 study claiming “similar statistics and no statistically significant difference in rate of professional advancement” between the two groups. A more recent 2018 study found similar results, with the TJ pitchers reaching the majors “20 percent of the time compared to 12 percent for the control group” of non-TJ pitchers.

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