Chronicles of the Lost: Top-100 prospects for whom 2014 is a lost season
By Sam Dykstra / MiLB.com
Byron Buxton, No. 1 overall prospect, Twins No. 1
Injury: The inspiration for this post, as you might have guessed. Twins general manager Terry Ryan announced Monday that the club was shutting down their top prospect for the remainder of the season. Buxton notably suffered a concussion as the result of an outfield collision with right fielder Mike Kvasnicka during his Double-A New Britain debut last Wednesday. Wrist injuries had previously limited the 20-year-old center fielder to only 30 games at Class A Advanced Fort Myers. After a breakout first full season, Buxton was expected to start the season in Double-A with an eye toward a Triple-A and perhaps even a Major League debut in 2014 if he could reproduce his exciting production (.334/.424/.520, 49 extra-base hits, 55 stolen bases) from a season ago. Alas, that didn’t happen.
What’s ahead: Concussion recovery varies on a case-by-case basis, so Ryan wasn’t in much of a position to discuss the possibility of Buxton heading to the Arizona Fall League, where he also played last autumn, in early October. That doesn’t mean it’s not going to happen. He just needs to clear a bunch of hurdles first, and it’s too early to tell if/when that’ll happen.
As for 2015, the plan will be much the same as it was before his wrist injuries. Buxton will likely return to New Britain, where he’ll try to show a baseline of health, first and foremost, as a 21-year-old and if he shows signs that he’s still the same player despite the missed year, he’ll likely be in Rochester by midseason and perhaps Minnesota by September.
Jameson Taillon, No. 19 overall prospect, Pirates No. 2
Injury: This phrase has unfortunately become rather commonplace among professional pitchers: requires Tommy John surgery. Taillon’s pitching elbow didn’t quite feel right in March, and after he tried to simply rehab the malady, the team decided it was better for the right-hander to go under the knife in early April.
What’s ahead: Taillon, who turns 23 in November, started throwing from 45 feet in late July, a good sign that he’s on the right track to recover in time for next season. Recovery typically takes about a year, which works out well considering he’ll be able to rehab with the team during Spring Training instead of missing time during the season. Even if he is held back briefly — for reference, Casey Kelly returned to a Double-A mound on May 3 this season after undergoing TJ surgery in April 2013 — it shouldn’t be too long before he’s up to speed at Triple-A Indianapolis, where he owned a 3.89 ERA in six starts in 2013. A midseason Major League debut is likely in the cards, barring ineffectiveness/any other injury woes.
Miguel Sano, No. 9 overall prospect, Twins No. 2
Injury: Unfortunately, another Tommy John surgery, this time for a position player. Sano underwent the procedure in early March after being diagnosed with a torn UCL suffered during a Spring Training intrasquad game. As such, he won’t play a game this season after putting up a .280/.382/.610 line with 35 homers across two levels in 2013.
What’s ahead: Like Taillon, Sano is already on the road back, swinging a bat and undergoing a throwing program at the team’s Spring Training facility in Fort Myers, according to Mike Bernadino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Considering it takes position players less time to recover from TJ — their jobs aren’t as solely reliant on throwing the ball like pitchers’ are — the 21-year-old third baseman could be in line to play winter ball in his native Dominican Republic.
That’d be huge, because there are some Twins fans hoping the slugger can compete for the Major League starting third-base job come next spring, and Minnesota would obviously want to see him prove his health before reporting back to Fort Myers. To be fair though, that would probably be too aggressive for a player coming off major surgery with only 56 Double-A games under his belt.
The more likely scenario: Sano gets sent to Triple-A Rochester to start the season and, if his power is back, he gets a call-up after the Super Two cutoff. In other words, it’ll be Gregory Polanco all over again.
Kyle Zimmer, No. 50 overall prospect, Royals No. 2
Injury: Zimmer’s 2014 season resembles Buxton’s a little bit in terms of different injuries keeping him off the field. Biceps tendinitis kept him from starting the season with Double-A Northwest Arkansas, and upon his return to throwing during non-game action, he strained the right lat muscle in his back in late May. The Royals immediately shut down the right-hander and kept him from pitching in the Minors until…
What’s ahead: …Sunday, when he faced three batters in a short stint at Rookie-level Idaho Falls. (He recorded one out, allowed a hit and a walk and tossed 11 pitches.) He’ll continue to make short stints during the rehab and reportedly is unlikely to make any sort of lengthy starts the rest of the way. The idea is to not only squeeze some sort of game action out while there are still Minor League contests to be played, but the AL Central-leading Royals apparently have an eye on Zimmer, who hit 98 mph on the gun with the Chukars, He may potentially help KC’s bullpen during the stretch run. “If they’re not ready for it, it’s fine,” general manager J.J. Picollo told The Kansas City Star. “They’re young guys, and better days are ahead of them. We’d rather be proactive in our thinking than reactive, and going, ‘Man, we should have had Kyle Zimmer throwing an inning.’ … We’re just trying to cover our bases.”
Make no bones about it though — Zimmer’s long-term future is in the rotation, given the amount of plus pitches (fastball, curveball, slider) in his arsenal. For now, we can only view 2015 as his chance to prove that he can be healthy for a full season for the first time since being drafted fifth overall in 2012.
Max Fried, No. 71 overall prospect, Padres No. 3
Injury: Due to soreness in his pitching forearm, Fried didn’t touch a Minor League mound until early July, when he made three rehab starts in the Arizona League. He moved up to Class A Fort Wayne, where he posted a 3.49 ERA in 23 starts (118 2/3 innings) in 2013, on July 16 but lasted only two starts with the TinCaps before elbow soreness put him back on the shelf. Then last week, the Padres announced the 20-year-old left-hander was going to need Tommy John surgery.
What’s ahead: Fried’s case might be the saddest listed here because the timing of the surgery means he’s likely out for most of the, if not the entire, 2015 season. When he returns in 2016, he’ll be 22 with zero starts above Class A ball. If there’s any good news, it could be that Fried is good friends with Nationals top prospect and high school teammate Lucas Giolito, who underwent TJ surgery back in August 2012 and has enjoyed massive success in his first full season following the procedure. There will likely be several texts of encouragement and help shared between the two in the months to come.