It’s no secret that all pitchers carry injury risk. Even more concern surrounds young pitchers who may not have adjusted properly to the workload required to play professional baseball. This is evident in the many different forms of innings limits we’ve seen around the league in recent years, most notably in the cases of Stephen Strasburg and Matt Harvey. Unsurprisingly, Strasburg and Harvey have both seen the harsh reality of pitching injuries. The most recent case of a young pitcher falling to injury is Cardinals prospect Alex Reyes. Reyes was recently ranked by Baseball Prospectus as the No. 1 prospect in baseball. The Cardinals were expecting him to smoothly transition into the rotation in 2017. On the verge of a possible breakout season and/or a Rookie of the Year campaign, Reyes suddenly and tragically went down to a serious injury.
Despite the risk of building a future on pitching prospects being widely known, it often falls to the back of our minds. The flashy stuff, high velocity, and success seen in the minors distract us from the harsh possibilities that come with pitching prospects. This is of special interest to the White Sox, who recently saw an influx of pitching talent into the farm system.
Lucas Giolito has already undergone Tommy John surgery once before. Michael Kopech and Reynaldo Lopez both have electric arms but somewhat erratic deliveries that could potentially lead to injury. Carson Fulmer‘s similarly unorthodox delivery puts him at risk, while Alec Hansen and Zack Burdi aren’t immune, either.
This is not to say that the White Sox are doomed for failure because all of their pitchers will suddenly fall apart at some point. However, the injury to Reyes, before he even made a significant impact on the Cardinals, reminds us of one of the worst possible scenarios in the White Sox rebuild. Each of the pitchers at the top of the White Sox farm system carries a level of risk in terms of starting or relieving. In a similar, but much more frightening way, each of the top pitching prospects in the White Sox system carries a significant injury risk.
What this means is that the White Sox rebuild could quickly and easily be derailed by one or more of the top prospects going down to injury for a year or more at a time. Not only could it leave the White Sox without an important pitcher for more than a year, but there is no guarantee that a pitcher returning from Tommy John surgery or a similar injury will be the same pitcher he was before the injury.
The Mets, coming off a World Series appearance, appeared to be primed to have a similarly great season in 2016. Instead, they saw every single one of their pitchers (minus Bartolo Colon) fall to injury at some point during the season. The injury to Harvey was the most severe, but the injuries to Steven Matz and Noah Syndergaard hurt the team’s record and brought about concerns for the future. The Mets staff was built for success and filled with incredible arms. And yet, they quickly saw it fall to pieces.
Indeed, the Mets currently boast the best example of how Tommy John surgery is not a guarantee once the requisite recovery time is completed. Zack Wheeler has now missed two full seasons and what he will look like when–or if–he ever returns is very much in question.
A glimmer of hope does remain, however. The White Sox greatest success in the past five seasons has been drafting and developing pitchers while also keeping them relatively healthy. Through the 2016 season, the White Sox two best pitchers were Jose Quintana and Chris Sale. Neither has experienced a serious, arm-related injury since moving into the White Sox’ rotation.
Have the White Sox found the magical solution to pitcher injuries? Absolutely not. They’ve still seen Nate Jones and Zach Putnam, among others, go down to severe arm injuries. What it does mean is that the White Sox have either gotten extremely lucky or found a way to, at the very least, combat and slow down the process and possibility of pitcher injuries. If the former is true, they might be due for some bad luck. If the latter is true, the White Sox have slightly less to worry about. Regardless, the Reyes injury was a bleak reminder of the reality of building a future around young arms. As a White Sox fan, that’s a troubling wrinkle in the process of the rebuild.
Lead Photo Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports Images