An outcome that has long seemed inevitable became a reality today when it was announced that pitching prospect Alex Wimmers was slated to undergo Tommy John surgery. It's a major setback in a career that hasn't really been able to get off the starting block.
The story leading up to this news is a familiar and frustrating one. Back in April, Wimmers landed on the disabled list after one start with what was thought to be a minor elbow strain. An MRI exam in early May revealed a partial tear in his UCL. The Twins opted for rehab.
He spent the next couple months wearing a stabilizer, resumed throwing in early July and took the mound later that month for a start in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League.
Wimmers didn't make it through the first inning. He allowed three runs on four hits and a walk while recording two outs. After the outing, he reported discomfort in the elbow, and after another MRI the Twins opted for surgery.
Between Wimmers, Scott Baker and Kyle Gibson, that's three instances in the past two seasons where the medical staff became aware of a pitcher's elbow issue and either misdiagnosed it or prescribed a futile rest/rehab solution. Take it back even further and you can include names like Pat Neshek and Francisco Liriano.
Understandably, surgery is seen as a last resort, but in many of these cases the ultimately misguided decision to delay action can have a profoundly negative impact on these players' careers. For example, there's a chance Wimmers won't return until 2014, at which point he'll be a 25 with one career start above Single-A. Had he undergone surgery back in May when the tear was first discovered, he may have been able to come back midway through next season.
I don't have nearly enough insight on the situation to condemn the medical staff and it's possible this happens just as frequently in other organizations, but on the surface it just looks bad – especially for a pitching-starved franchise with so little margin for error when it comes to handling its prospective young arms.
Either way, complaining about the process avoids what is at the heart of this issue: terrible luck. The Twins had the foresight to addressing their upcoming dearth of starting pitching by drafting fast-track college starters in the first round two years in a row, and within a couple years of joining the organization each one succumbed to one of the most significant injuries a hurler can have.
You can perhaps blame the Twins for pushing back timelines, but you can't blame them for the injuries themselves occurring. These are outside circumstances taking an immense toll on Terry Ryan's ability to rebuild a depleted rotation. For that, he should probably be cut some slack.