Tommy John Surgery Clouds What May Have Been a Bright Future for Taylor Guerrieri

By David Hill

Prospects are, at best, tricky to project. There have been plenty of players who have torn through the minor leagues, only to reach the majors and suddenly lose their ability to either hit or get anyone out. Then there are players who are barely fringe prospects and get to the majors as a stopgap, and suddenly take off. Even though experts like to think of the ‘can’t miss’ prospect, there is truly no such beast.

Yet, recently the Rays have had two prospects come through that may have been as close to can’t miss prospects as any in the game. Wil Myers started off slowly for Durham this year, but heated up and has been one of the Rays best hitters since his promotion to the majors on June 18th. Taylor Guerrieri was the other, a right handed pitcher who had been dominating since he debuted for the Hudson Valley Renegades last year. This season, for the Bowling Green Hot Rods, he had gone 6-2 with a 2.01 ERA, striking out 51 in 67 innings. Guerrieri had also not allowed an earned run in his last five starts, as he appeared poised to take the next step up the ladder.

Now, that ascent is on hold, as Guerrieri now has to deal with a major hurdle. After feeling soreness in his elbow during his July 15th start, Guerrieri had been diagnosed with a torn ulnar collateral ligament and underwent Tommy John surgery yesterday. Typically, Tommy John surgery requires a one year recovery, meaning that we won’t see Guerrieri until at least late July on 2014, but given how cautious the Rays are with their pitching prospects, they may well just shut Guerrieri down for the entirety of 2014 to make certain that he is healthy. The Rays are lucky that with their pitching depth, Guerrieri was going to be very slow in his ascent to the minor leagues to begin with, and having him in the big leagues in two years would have been more a luxury than anything else.

Even if the surgery is successful and there are no complications, there is no guarantee that Guerrieri will be back to the dominating prospect he had been. Although it seems like the vast majority of pitchers who have undergone the procedure lately have come back better than they were previously, any surgical procedure comes with risk. In fact, this procedure is essentially considered routine, as almost one third of the pitchers in the major leagues today have undergone at least one Tommy John surgery.

Yet, there are risks. Having the first Tommy John surgery, especially while young, makes it more likely that a second procedure will be needed later on. Also, as pitchers such as Pat Hentgen and B.J. Ryan can attest, there is no guarantee that one will actually be able to come back with any success, if at all. As slim as it may be, there is the chance that Taylor Guerrieri’s career could be over almost before it had a true opportunity to begin. At any rate, the injury is a reminder that even can’t miss prospects can certainly fail, even when they appear to be on their way to a bright future.

Tommy John Surgery doesn’t change the fact that Taylor Guerrieri is an extremely talented pitcher. There’s a chance that even with his surgery, he will still rank as the Rays’ top prospect, and he will certainly still rank in the top 5. But there’s no taking anything for granted with an arm injury and Guerrieri has plenty of work ahead of him to prove that he can get past this.