While the potential of Tommy John surgery is normally not as dire for a position player as for a pitcher, the prospect for a catcher could actually be more complex. That's why the Baltimore Orioles and the baseball world are watching the Matt Wieters elbow situation so closely.
Wieters has been playing through a sore elbow. Initially diagnosed as a forearm strain, a later MRI showed a small tear in his ulnar collateral ligament (UCL). Unlike pitchers, catchers tend to cause the sprain with one traumatic event. That event is an unknown to the outside, but it is usually an awkward or off-balance throw, which is part of the danger when he comes back, either before or after surgery.
The tear is not significant, but there is some acute inflammation, some pain with throwing and the danger is there that he will further tear or even rupture the ligament with more activity. Initially, the Orioles were going to limit Wieters to the DH slot, as hitting wasn't causing much problem for the elbow. Then, Wieters was shifted to the disabled list, indicating either further pain or that he and his team weren't comfortable with the process.
This is a conservative move, giving Wieters some time off to rest and rehab before deciding what the next step is. There's no clarity on what's going on inside the B&O Warehouse, but the decision will affect not only 2014 for the Orioles but 2015 as well.
Because of the nature of catching, Wieters is going to have to make those awkward or off-balance throws again. That means he cannot be rushed back the way some position players can and extending the rehab period after surgery to the more pitcher-like nine to 12 months.
This isn't going to be an easy decision for either Wieters or the team. We should get some clarity at the minimum 15 days, which gives Jim Duquette some time to shore up the catching behind Steve Clevenger and Caleb Joseph. That includes a couple other prospects that aren't ready, but with Joseph leading the way, the Orioles are stacked at the position.
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