Morning Report: Tommy John Surgery Has Become All Too Common For Pirates

On Thursday afternoon, we announced that promising young lefty Hector Garcia had Tommy John surgery earlier this week. If you think the Pittsburgh Pirates have been dealing with a lot of these surgeries since last Spring Training, well that would be correct.

Last spring, there were two high profile cases at nearly the same time. Jameson Taillon and Clay Holmes are both high upside pitchers and they got hurt right around the same time. This year, Brandon Cumpton was the big example from spring, as he was going to battle for a spot with the team and at worst, he would have been the first depth option up from Indianapolis. Next up was Nick Kingham, who likely would have made his Major League debut by now if he did go under the knife in May. Those are just the highest profile cases over that time, but there have been more.

Before Garcia, we announced that Jacob Taylor had Tommy John surgery last month. The fourth round pick from this year pitched one inning in the GCL before he got hurt and now he will miss all of next year as well. Maybe he will get some time in during the Fall Instructional League next year, but that is going to be very limited. Along with Kingham, Taillon and Holmes, you’re talking about four prospects from our current top 30 prospects list. Garcia was a top 50 prospect in our prospect guide, so that’s a lot of talent there, plus Cumpton.

That isn’t all they have dealt with, because it’s not just high profile players that have Tommy John surgery, those are just the ones you hear about often on this site due to the updates. You might forget one case from last year, but it was a player that could have helped the team. Duke Welker had TJS in late June of last year and was released in July. That obviously doesn’t happen if he is healthy, but a late June surgery basically means he would have been out this entire season as well.

We are up to five prospects and two players that may have helped the team. It’s actually four players that may have helped the team if you count Taillon and Kingham. There are more though. Justin Topa was scheduled for Bradenton this year, but he had the surgery in April. Adrian Grullon had his last August, so he is out all of this year. If MiLB would ever update his page, he would look a little more impressive than he does now, because he is a large human. They have him listed at 6’0″, but he’s actually eight inches taller and an imposing figure on the mound. Grullon also looked good at Bristol last year before getting hurt.

Even further down, we found out recently that right-hander Eduardo Vera had his Tommy John surgery in June and just to make sure we get every level, DSL pitcher Ivan Cespedes had his surgery last year and still hasn’t pitched, now in his second year of pro ball. To top it off, catcher Kevin Krause had the surgery in early June this year, just to make it an even dozen since last Spring Training. If you want to really stretch to make it a baker’s dozen, 2015 draft pick James Marvel has been recovering from his Tommy John surgery in the Pirates’ system for the last month.

According to a site that keeps track of Tommy John surgeries in baseball dating back over ten years, no team in baseball has had as many TJS patients since last spring as the Pirates. The Mets have had 11 players, but most teams are in the 5-8 range, with the Brewers and Cardinals having just two each. Since we know about a couple the list doesn’t have(Vera, Cespedes) then it’s possible the Mets could have 1-2 they missed, but that would still make the Pirates either tied for first or second. There are no teams on the list with ten, so they would have to miss a few to get another team besides the Mets over the Pirates.

So as I stated at the top, if it seems like the Pirates are really experiencing a lot of Tommy John surgeries recently, there is good reason. They have more reported cases than any other team in baseball over the last 17 months. They have had multiple big name prospects and players that could have helped the team out this year, go under the knife. The Pirates are one of the most careful teams with pitch counts and innings workload in the minors and even that couldn’t prevent these injuries. If you assume that the injuries aren’t caused by something that they are doing, then things will even out over the next year or so and we won’t see many cases, but it is something to keep an eye on going forward.

Playoff Push

The Pirates trail by six games in the division to the Cardinals. They have a 3.5 game lead for the top wild card spot.

Indianapolis is 7-3 in their last ten games. They have a 2.5 game lead in the division.

Altoona is 5-5 in their last ten games and they are in second place, four games back of Bowie.

Bradenton is 5-5 in their last ten games. They trail Palm Beach by three games in the standings.

West Virginia is 7-3 in their last ten games and they have a four game lead in the division.

Morgantown is 3-7 in their last ten games. They trail by six games in the division and one game in the wild card chase.

The Bristol Pirates are 6-4 in their last ten games. They are 2.5 games back in the division.

GCL Pirates are 8-2 in their last ten games. They are one game back in the standings.

The DSL Pirates have been eliminated from the postseason.

Today’s Schedule

Today’s Starter and Notes: The Pirates were off on Thursday. They now begin a series against the Dodgers, with Gerrit Cole on the mound taking on Clayton Kershaw. Cole has not faced the Dodgers yet this year. He went five innings in his last start, allowing three runs(two earned). Kershaw has a 2.37 ERA this season in 148 innings. He has gone five straight starts with at least eight innings and no earned runs.

In the minors, there is an interesting match-up in the Bradenton game, as Luis Heredia will take on Buddy Borden. Heredia has struggled this year, while Borden was an FSL All-Star and ranks seventh in the league in ERA, eighth in strikeouts and 12th in WHIP. After a rain out yesterday, Billy Roth should get the start for Bristol, coming off a career-best seven innings pitched. He allowed just one run and struck out four batters. In his prior outing, he couldn’t get out of the first inning. The GCL Pirates will finished a suspended game from late July before playing their regularly scheduled game. You can view last night’s prospect watch here.

MLB: Pittsburgh (62-44) vs Dodgers (62-46) 7:05 PM
Probable starter: Gerrit Cole (2.29 ERA, 29:138 BB/SO, 137.1 IP)

AAA: Indianapolis (65-48) @ Norfolk (65-46) 7:05 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Angel Sanchez (2.54 ERA, 12:46 BB/SO, 56.2 IP)

AA: Altoona (59-53) vs Richmond (57-53) 7:00 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Chad Kuhl (2.80 ERA, 35:84 BB/SO, 122.1 IP)

High-A: Bradenton (56-53, 24-15 second half) @ Charlotte (61-46) 7:00 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Luis Heredia (5.94 ERA, 24:34 BB/SO, 63.2 IP)

Low-A: West Virginia (64-45, 27-13 second half) @ Asheville (56-53) 7:05 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Colten Brewer (5.04 ERA, 27:74 BB/SO, 84.0 IP)

Short-Season A: Morgantown (23-23) vs State College (22-23) 7:05 PM (season preview)
Probable Starter: TBD

Rookie: Bristol (19-21) @ Greeneville (22-19) 7:00 PM (season preview)
Probable Starter: Billy Roth (4.83 ERA, 14:25 BB/SO, 31.2 IP)

GCL: Pirates (22-13) vs  Yankees1 (13-20) 12:00 PM (season preview)

DSL: Pirates (22-36) vs Red Sox2(39-19) 10:30 AM (season preview)


Here is video of Barrett Barnes hitting his second homer for Altoona. He had six with Bradenton this season.

Recent Transactions

8/6: Rob Scahill assigned to GCL on rehab.

8/5: Indians claim Deolis Guerra off waivers.

8/5: Isaac Sanchez assigned to GCL Pirates on rehab. Stephan Meyer assigned to GCL from Morgantown.

8/4: Dovydas Neverauskas promoted to Bradenton. Robert Stock sent to GCL.

8/4: Jake Burnette activated from disabled list.

8/4: Jonathan Schwind activated from Altoona disabled list. Adam Miller assigned to Altoona.

8/3: Michael Morse added to active roster. Jaff Decker optioned to Indianapolis.

8/2: Shane Kemp sent from Bristol to GCL.

8/2: Josh Smith activated from Altoona disabled list.

8/1: J.A. Happ added to active roster. Bobby LaFromboise sent to Indianapolis.

8/1: Josh Bell and Jeremy Bleich promoted to Indianapolis.

8/1: John Holdzkom placed on disabled list. Hunter Morris sent to Altoona.

7/31: Pirates trade Adrian Sampson to Mariners for J.A. Happ.

7/31: Pirates trade Jose Tabata to Dodgers for Michael Morse and cash.

7/31: A.J. Burnett placed on disabled list. Bobby LaFromboise recalled from Indianapolis.

7/31: Deolis Guerra designated for assignment.

7/31: Dan Gamache promoted to Indianapolis. Erich Weiss promoted to Altoona. Trace Tam Sing promoted to Bradenton.

7/30: Pirates trade JaCoby Jones to Detroit Tigers for Joakim Soria

7/30: Vance Worley designated for assignment.

7/30: Justin Seller traded to Chicago White Sox for a player to be named later, or cash.

7/30: Pirates sent Gorkys Hernandez outright to Indianapolis

7/30: Logan Ratledge promoted to Morgantown. Erik Forgione promoted to West Virginia

7/30: Pirates acquire Joe Blanton for cash considerations.

7/29: Pirates trade Jayson Aquino to Indians for cash considerations.

7/28: Gift Ngoepe placed on disabled list.

7/28: Pirates release Ulises Montilla.

7/28: Brent Morel refuses outright assignment to Indianapolis.

7/28: Miguel Ferreras retired. Mervin Del Rosario promoted to Bristol.

7/27: JaCoby Jones promoted to Altoona. Josh Smith placed on disabled list.

7/27: Steve Lombardozzi sent outright to Indianapolis. Andy Vasquez placed on disabled list.

7/27: Jordan Steranka activated from Bradenton disabled list. Isaac Sanchez placed on disabled list.

7/27: Junior Sosa added to Bradenton roster.

7/27: John Holdzkom activated from Indianapolis disabled list.

7/26: Jonathan Schwind assigned to Bristol on rehab.

7/25: Pirates designate Brent Morel for assignment.

7/25: Justin Sellers sent outright to Indianapolis

7/25: Adam Miller assigned to GCL on rehab

7/24: Robert Stock activated from disabled list.

This Date in Pirates History

Eight former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, including one better know for his managerial career. We start with an important transaction that occurred on this date in 1958. The Pirates signed an 18-year-old kid out of high school named Willie Stargell. During his first season of pro ball in 1959, Stargell played D League ball, which is similar to Low-A now. He hit .274 with seven homers in 118 games. You can read more on Stargell here.

Players born on this date include:

Jim Gray, who played for the franchise in 1884, 1890 and 1893. He was a very good local player that filled in occasionally when needed. He also played for the Pittsburgh team in the Player’s League in 1890, but dressed for just six games total during his four stops in the majors.

Adonis Terry, 1892-94 pitcher. In a roundabout way, the Pirates acquired him for Hall of Fame pitcher Pud Galvin. They sent Galvin to St Louis for Cub Stricker, who never played for the Pirates. Instead, he was immediately dealt for Terry, who won 30 games between his first two seasons in Pittsburgh, but lasted just one game the next year.

Les Fleming, successful minor league hitter, who never saw that translate over to MLB success. Hit .258 in 24 games for the Pirates.

Jerry McNertney, catcher for the 1973 team. Was the backup at the beginning of the year when Manny Sanguillen tried to replace Roberto Clemente in right field. When that didn’t work, Sanguillen went back to catching and McNertney lost his spot.

Jim Sadowski, pitcher for the 1974 Pirates. Spent eight season in the Pirates system, but his big league career lasted just nine innings.

Steve Kemp, 1985-86 left fielder. He was a slugger for the Tigers in the early 80’s, but his Pirates’ career was a disaster over two seasons.

Tyler Yates, 2008-09 pitcher. One of the first players the current front office trade for, which didn’t work out that well.

The Hall of Fame manager mentioned above is Bill McKechnie, which if you’ve ever been to Spring Training, you’ll recognize the last name. He played six seasons for the Pirates and managed them for five years, including 1925 when the franchise won it’s second World Series title. An interesting note about his start with the Pirates as a manager. He tried out for the team as the backup middle infielder, then when that didn’t work out, he became a coach, which transformed into the manager when George Gibson got fired. You can read more about McKechnie in the link above.

  • welcome to all our recently drafted pitchers we are pleased to welcome you to the first step in your pro career. In the enclosed packet you will find your assignment as well as contact #s. Also you will see a section on TJ Surgery, this will tell you who to contact when your turn comes to have TJ Surgery.(what orientation could sound like for new pitchers, I’m only kidding but most of you are smart enough to see where I’m going with this)

  • In the hockey world, there is a theory that the game is becoming overcoached. That the implementation of strategy has an inverse effect.Im wondering if some of that can apply to the baseball world. Shifts, which is a whole other subject/battle entirely but with coaching young arms as well.

    These days everybody has a guru who can “fix” mechanics. The advent of all these baseball academies, traveling teams, to long toss or not, pitchcounts, rest, the relief specialists that have flooded the game in the last 30 some odd years.

    Maybe its just so oversaturated with dos and do nots, a very simple method of picking a baseball up and throwing it has been overcomplicated.

  • TINSTAAP lives on

  • Going way back more it seems the Pirates have always had issues with highly regarded arms getting hurt. Bullington, JVB, Sean Burnett, Kyle McPherson, Jeff Karstens and his frayed arm…so many guys. Others can probably name more.

  • Up until the a year and a half ago we had a lower rate of TJ surgeries, right? I recall reading a number of references about how good our organization was at maintaining pitchers’ health. And that likely reinforced our practices.

    So I wouldn’t conclude that we’re doing anything wrong, but that what we thought was right isn’t any better than other methods of development. This should make them open to considering new models.

    • The link above in the article has numbers from at least ten years back and some earlier cases mixed in, which you can sort by organization. In 2012-13, the Pirates were about average compared to everyone else.

  • Doug Fister was just moved to the bullpen for the Nationals. I can totally see him a perfect NH buy low candidate. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Fister is in Pittsburgh next year on a one year deal.

  • As usual, what are the Cardinals doing??

  • Do they still prohibit long toss?

  • I guess it sounds like babying, pitch limits and inning limits ain’t the answer?

    If not, then is ANYTHING an answer?

    On the brighter side, I’d rather they get this out of the way in the minors?

    • It’s definitely better if it happens in the minors. Cumpton probably would have been sent down this year, but the injury occurred during minor league spring training, so he is picking up a year of service time this season and an MLB salary

      • Imagine how our season would be going right now if Taillon, Kingham, and Cumpton were all depth options.

        • Actually, our season is going pretty darn good.

          • But Adrian Sampson would still be around and not given away for a guy who may prove to be worthless if he can’t get on track quickly

            • I concur. Sampson though seemed to get worse as the year went on. I wonder if we overvalued him and management didn’t think as highly of him.

              • Well he is still 23 years old, so it would be kind of young to give up on someone with his stuff in AAA. I think the better reason is that they wanted a starting pitcher and paid a high cost for a two month rental, but knew that next year, the AAA rotation looks to be loaded and someone like Sadler or Cumpton can pitch early in the year, Taillon and Glasnow once they hit June

    • If you talk to Dr. James Andrews and many experts in this field, the answer is to radically change the workload and seasons of 8-17 year-old pitchers. Many kids in their teen years never take off more than a week or two and pitch most of the year. It is one showcase after another, spring ball, summer ball, fall ball, winter training, etc. Pitchers in the older days mostly played three sports and didn’t touch a baseball in fall or winter – giving their arms much less cumulative stress. And it is cumulative stress – not a few innings or games – that ultimately leads to TJS.

      One example of many would be Charlie Morton. His HS coach used to let him throw 120-140 pitches in a number of games. He had no pitch count, and if his control was off he would be in for major arm abuse. He was on his way to TJS long before the Braves had any control over him.