With Spring Training Looming, Top Players Are On The Mend

Jameson Taillon and Dylan Bundy both missed large swaths of mound time as minor leaguers, including two fully inactive years for Taillon. Still, in 2016 they got fully healthy and made an impact in the majors—Taillon for the first time, and Bundy for the first time in four long years.

Many other top prospects are in a similar boat as they head into 2017 trying to regain their form and their health after a largely lost 2016. Here is a look at 10 such players and where they stand with spring training just two weeks away.

Braxton Garrettlhp, Marlins

Miami Marlins

Injury: None

2016 stats: None

The Marlins drafted Garrett seventh overall in the 2016 draft but he did not pitch for them during the season after signing late. Combined with the late sign, the Marlins were weary of overuse after he pitched 65.1 innings during the spring for Florence (Ala.) High in addition to other work prior to the high school season. He took the mound for the Marlins for the first time in instructional league in the fall, notably facing Tim Tebow in a scrimmage against the Mets (he got Tebow to ground into a fielder’s choice). Without any pro experience under his belt, Garrett may stay back in extended spring training and begin the year with Rookie-level Gulf Coast, but his exemplary polish could see him start at low Class A Greensboro if he is fully ready to go.

Hunter Harvey, rhp, Orioles

Baltimore Orioles

Injury: Strained ulnar collateral ligament

2016 stats: 0-1, 2.13, 5 GS, 12.2 IP, 12 H, 3 ER, 18 K, 6 BB

The 22nd overall pick of the 2013 draft continued his injury woes and stands to miss most of the 2017 season after having Tommy John surgery. He was shut down at the end of 2014 with elbow soreness, missed all of 2015 after sustaining a leg fracture on a comebacker in a minor league spring training game and missed the beginning of the 2016 season after having sports hernia surgery. He finally got on the mound in June on a rehab assignment with the Rookie-level GCL Orioles and advanced to short-season Aberdeen before being shut down in July with what general manager Dan Duquette termed “a strain in his elbow.” Harvey had ligament reconstruction surgery on July 26. His rehab progression is reportedly on schedule, including some light throwing over the winter, but his best-case scenario return to the mound would be that he pitches a few games at the very end of the 2017 season.

James Kaprielian, rhp, Yankees

Injury: Right flexor tendon strain

2016 stats: 2-1, 1.50, 3 GS, 18 IP, 8 H, 3 ER, 22 K, 3 BB

The 16th overall pick in 2015 made only three April starts last season before sustaining a flexor tendon sprain in his right elbow that shut him down for the year. The good news for the Yankees is Kaprielian re-emerged in the Arizona Fall League and showed the same 95-97 mph fastball he did before his injury, while holding up just fine through seven starts and 27 innings. He finished 2-3, 4.33 with 26 strikeouts and eight walks in the Fall League. Kaprielian has all of 29 official professional innings under his belt and none above high Class A, but when healthy he has the stuff and experience to be a fast riser. He is fully healthy heading into spring training and has a chance to receive an Opening Day assignment to Double-A Trenton with a strong showing.

Tyler Kolekrhp, Marlins

Miami Marlins

Injury: Torn ulnar collateral ligament

2016 stats: None

The No. 2 pick in the 2014 draft missed all of the 2016 season after having Tommy John surgery in April. There was already some concern after the 100 mph fastball he showed as an amateur backed up in his first full season at low Class A Greensboro in 2015, and his injury further compounds the concerns about his stuff. Kolek is only in month 9 of the 12-18 month rehab process and is progressing slowly. He will not be ready for spring training, but Marlins officials said they are targeting a return to game action in May or June.

Michael Matuella, rhp, Rangers

Injury: Right elbow ligament sprain

2016 stats: 0-0, 0.00, 1 GS, 3 IP, 1 H, 0 ER, 1 K, 2 BB

The former Duke ace has pitched exactly once since the Rangers drafted him the third round in 2015. He was in the midst of Tommy John surgery rehab when the Rangers drafted him and didn’t make his pro debut until June 2016, a full year after he was picked. He pitched three scoreless innings for short-season Spokane while reportedly touching 97 mph in that one outing, then was shut down for the remainder of the season with a sprained ligament in his right elbow. He was left off the Rangers fall instructional league roster and did not begin throwing again until December at the Rangers complex in Arizona. Per Rangers assistant farm director Paul Kruger, Matuella chose to rehab his injury rather than have another Tommy John and spent the winter participating in a throwing program to try and ramp back up. If all goes well, Matuella’s target return to the mound is late April or early May, likely at low Class A Hickory.

Tyler Nevin, 3b, Rockies

Injury: Hamstring strain

2016 stats: 1.000/1.000/2.000 (1-for-1), 1 R, 1 2B

The son of former big league third baseman Phil Nevin suffered a severe hamstring strain during extended spring training and was limited to one plate appearance the entire season as a result. Nevin doubled in that one at-bat on Aug. 16 for short-season Boise, came around to score on a single and was immediately removed the next half inning. He did not play again the final three weeks of the minor league season. Nevin’s hamstring did not tear away from the bone and he did not need surgery, so there is hope it has healed on its own. He is expected to be fully healthy and ready to go for spring training but hamstring injuries have a nasty habit of recurring, so he will be monitored closely and carefully.

Nick Plummer, of, Cardinals

Injury: Hamate bone removal

2016 stats: None

The 23rd overall pick in the 2015 draft missed all of last season after having surgery to remove the hamate bone in his right hand in the spring and then follow-up surgery in June to repair a tear in the same hand. Per Cardinals farm director Gary LaRocque, Plummer finished rehabbing over the winter at the Cardinals’ complex in Florida without issue and is expected to be a full participant in spring training. Health will be Plummer’s optimal goal in 2017 while showing he can also make more consistent contact after hitting just .228 in his pro debut in 2015, albeit with a .379 on-base percentage. Rookie-level Johnson City, short-season State College or even low Class A Peoria are all possible starting spots for Plummer depending on his spring training performance.

Tyler Stephenson, c, Reds

Injury: Concussion/wrist injury

2016 stats: .220/.287/.340, 31 R, 5 2B, 1 3B, 4 HR, 18 RBI, 14 BB, 52 SO

The 11th overall pick in 2015 spent significantly more time on the disabled list than on the field in his first full season, playing in only 39 games for low Class A Dayton. He suffered a concussion when a ball hit him in the head during a practice drill in April in a freak accident, suffered a left wrist injury shortly after his return that caused him to miss all of June, and ultimately had season-ending wrist surgery in August. Stephenson was not on the Reds instructional league roster, but has been taking swings and working out in his native Georgia with the expectation he will be healthy and a full participant in spring training. Stephenson should head back for another shot at Dayton as long as he stays healthy.

Sam Travis, 1b, Red Sox

Injury: Torn ACL

2016 stats: .272/.332/.434, 26 R, 10 2B, 6 HR, 29 RBI, 15 BB, 40 SO

Boston’s heir apparent at first base got off to a solid start at Triple-A Pawtucket before he tore his left ACL in a rundown on May 31, ending his season. Travis rehabbed throughout the year and participated fully in the Red Sox’s rookie development program in January, taking ground balls, running and cutting and more or less participating in all baseball activities. He is expected to be fully ready for spring training and take part in big league camp. Travis is likely to begin the year back in Triple-A, but a major league callup is in sight.

Kyle Zimmerrhp, Royals

Injury: Thoracic outlet syndrome

2016 stats: 0-2, 1.59, 3 GS, 5.2 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 11 K, 6 BB

The oft-injured 2012 first-round pick struggled with shoulder fatigue that repeatedly shut him down in 2016 before he was diagnosed with thoracic outlet syndrome in July. Zimmer had season-ending surgery for the condition, which is caused by the compression of nerves around the neck and shoulder, in the summer and began his rehab in the fall. He is expected to recover in time for spring training, which will be a crucial one for the former top prospect. Zimmer has pitched more than 65 innings only once in four full professional seasons due to a series of maladies, including surgeries on both his pitching elbow and shoulder. Zimmer has been successful when healthy, recording a career 2.53 ERA in 20 Double-A appearances. The Royals put him on the 40-man roster at the end of the 2015 season and have kept him there, but the 25-year old is running out of chances to show he can stay on the field.

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