It is becoming almost a weekly update at this point.
Another big-ticket pitcher is going under the knife for Tommy John surgery. This time it is Duke ace Mike Matuella, a right-hander who was one of the targets for the Arizona Diamondbacks, owners of the No. 1 overall pick in June’s amateur draft.
The news was announced Wednesday afternoon after Matuella had already made six starts for Duke. He had a 1.08 ERA and 24 strikeouts over 25 innings. The 6'6" junior started his season as the No. 2 draft prospect, according to MLB.com. He has since dropped to fifth.
Duke RHP Mike Matuella, a potential first overall pick in June, tore his UCL and will have Tommy John surgery— keithlaw (@keithlaw) April 1, 2015
Matuella’s injury comes a week after we got word that last year’s No. 1 overall pick, Brady Aiken, underwent Tommy John surgery. Aiken has dropped to sixth on the MLB.com draft prospect board. That makes two of next June’s potential No. 1 picks unable to pitch until next year.
It is not just those two, though. A couple of weeks ago, news broke that Stanford ace Cal Quantrill also had a busted elbow ligament and would undergo Tommy John surgery. While Quantrill is not eligible for this year’s draft, it was just more bad news on the elbow injury front.
While it is not unheard of for a team to use a high draft pick on a player in the midst of rehab from this injury, or with the knowledge that a player is at risk for the injury, it is difficult to gauge a team’s interest on using the top overall pick on such a pitcher. Especially when you consider that draft position is slotted at about $8.6 million, up from $7.9 million last year.
Matuella has had a scattered injury history since arriving at Duke. Last year it was a lat strain followed by spondylolysis, a lower back defect in the vertebra. While it is said to be a manageable injury, teams are saying that is more of a concern than the elbow since so many players have recovered from Tommy John surgery and gone on to have productive careers.
In the long run, teams tell us they are more concerned about Matuella's back than they are the elbow injury.— JJ Cooper (@jjcoop36) April 1, 2015
The surgeries for Matuella and Aiken put the top of this next draft in a bit of flux, but prep shortstop Brendan Rodgers, committed to Florida State, has risen up the board with improving power, and because he projects to stay at his position through the pros.
As far as pitchers go, the next five on MLB.com’s board are all pitching prospects, including Matuella and Aiken. Vanderbilt’s Walker Buehler, Virginia’s Nathan Kirby and Louisville’s Kyle Funkhouser fill in the top six.
Elsewhere Around MLB
Nationals’ Spring Injuries Spill into Regular Season
The Washington Nationals had hoped their spring training injuries would stay in Florida when the team broke camp for the regular season. But as the days tick away, we are getting confirmation that those ailments are continuing well into April.
Third baseman Anthony Rendon will start the season on the disabled list after a third opinion confirmed he has a left MCL sprain, which happened March 9 and has not gotten much better. There is not a timetable for his return, as he is still sore after resting for the previous three weeks.
Anthony Rendon will start the Nats season on the DL and teammate Jayson Werth may join him there http://t.co/QEUBTtPu5n— Post Sports (@PostSports) April 1, 2015
The Nationals are going to be without right fielder Jayson Werth on Opening Day, too. He has a shoulder injury that has limited him to three at-bats during spring training, which means if he lands on the DL, he can be backdated and miss as few as four regular-season games.
That might be thinking optimistically, however, since Werth has only those three at-bats. He needs more live reps before he is considered ready to step into the lineup.
Center fielder Denard Span is still on the shelf as well. After undergoing a second core surgery in three months on March 9, Span is still not ready to play in games and will stay at the team’s spring training complex when it leaves to start the season. He also does not have a timetable for his return.
That means the Nationals will start the season without their 1-2-3 hitters, putting even more pressure on their vaunted rotation.
Christian Vazquez Another Tommy John Victim
Vazquez was expected to solidify his value to the Boston Red Sox this season, fighting for tag of “catcher of the future” with top prospect Blake Swihart. Now, Vazquez’s immediate future will be spent rehabbing after the team announced he will need Tommy John surgery on his right elbow.
Dr. James Andrews will perform the surgery in Gulf Breeze, Fla. Vazquez will miss the ’15 season.— Pete Abraham (@PeteAbe) April 1, 2015
Vazquez, 24, had complained of discomfort last month, but an MRI on March 27 showed ligament damage in the elbow. Position players typically take less time to come back from the surgery, so Vazquez should be ready for camp next year.
Vazquez was expected to get the bulk of time behind the plate for Boston, and scouts believed he was advanced enough defensively that he could be a lighter-hitting version of Yadier Molina.
But this injury opens the door for Swihart. If he hits at Class AAA Pawtucket this season, he could get a big league call-up sooner than expected. And now with this Vazquez news, the Red Sox are looking even better for not trading Swihart for Cole Hamels.
Juan Lagares Gets Paid
The New York Mets know they want Juan Lagares to be their center fielder for at least the next five seasons. Reports Wednesday say the team and Lagares have agreed on a five-year extension worth $23 million.
The deal reportedly buys out the remaining arbitration years for Lagares, and the Mets hold an option worth $9.5 million for his first free-agent season.
#Mets & Juan Lagares have agreed on a 4-year extension with a club option…deal expected to be over $20m covers all arb yrs &1FAyr w opt— Jim Bowden (@JimBowden_ESPN) April 1, 2015
Source confirms @JeffPassan report: It's 4-years, $23M from 2016-2019 for Juan Lagares, plus $9.5M team option for 2020 with $500k buyout.— Adam Rubin (@AdamRubinESPN) April 1, 2015
Lagares is not a big hitter. He has a .262 career average and .302 OBP, but those numbers are dragged down by a bad rookie season. Last year, his second in the majors, Lagares hit .281/.321/.382. If he keeps that up, and pairs it with outstanding defense, his new deal could be a bargain for the Mets.
Lagares won a Gold Glove last year, led his position with 28 defensive runs saved and a 25.3 ultimate zone rating per 150 innings and was second in the majors with a 20.2 overall defensive rating in center field. In this era of advanced statistics and a new-found appreciation for defense, Lagares is worth the money.
Rondon’s Roster Spot In Jeopardy
Bruce Rondon was once a highly regarded pitching prospect for the Detroit Tigers, but after undergoing Tommy John surgery 13 months ago and missing all of last season, he was scratched from his outing Wednesday with shoulder soreness. It was the first time this spring Rondon was used on consecutive days.
It was his final hurdle to clear before being assured a spot at the back end of the Tigers’ bullpen. Now, his roster spot is uncertain.
Yet another uncertainty in the Tigers’ pitching staff is Justin Verlander. He left his last start with a cramp in his triceps and still has lingering soreness. He threw Wednesday at “60 percent,” according to manager Brad Ausmus. Ausmus also acknowledged Verlander’s first start of the regular season, on April 8, is “a little bit of a stretch.”
All quotes, unless otherwise specified, have been acquired firsthand by Anthony Witrado. Follow Anthony on Twitter @awitrado and talk baseball here.