Two days before he was drafted, college outfielder Brandon Guyer dislocated his left shoulder sliding into home plate. The Cubs took him in the fifth round regardless, and later sent him to the Rays as part of the Matt Garza trade.
After some brief playing time at the major league level in late 2011 and early 2012, Guyer developed soreness in that same shoulder, and it was discovered that he would need surgery to repair a torn labrum. (details)
Nine months removed from the surgery, Guyer now reports that his shoulder is in the best shape of his professional career. He claims that his shoulder has always "felt good", but now advertises that the seven anchors placed in his left arm now give him an extension with the bat he's lacked since his playing days at the University of Virginia.
I would be remiss to not mention Brandon's other anchor in his life: Fox 5 sportscaster Lindsay Murphy in Washington DC. They married in 2011. They're adorable.
The most shocking aspect to Guyer's confession of a sub-par left shoulder over the last few years is how excellent his batting line has been in the minors. He held a .437 wOBA in AA in 2010, and .399 at AAA Durham in 2011. Knowing that Guyer could improve on his previous performance is a bit astonishing.
The problem of getting to inside pitches is reminiscent of an issue identified in Luke Scott's swing prior during last season. Scott was still in the 18-month recovery window presumed for shoulder surgeries, and struggled with the inside of the plate in the first half of the season - something well illustrated by Tommy Rancel at the Process Report. Scott's shoulder improved throughout the season, as did his ability to find inside pitches.
Guyer placed 17th on our DRaysBay top 30 prospects list, but would not have placed higher than 20th had it not been for my own personal vote of confidence in his recovery. Realistically, Guyer is probably a year away from being 100%, given the nature of shoulder injuries, but that doesn't mean he won't be playing this season.
Shoulder issues aside, what really may be holding Guyer back is simply the Rays' depth.
Guyer will be competing against Wil Myers, Jason Bourgeois, Shelley Duncan, Rich Thompson, Jack Cust, and Nick Weglarz for playing time in Spring Training, as well as a higher ranking on the 2013 depth chart. He's currently projected as the starting left fielder for the Durham Bulls, where he will have his opportunities to prove where he belongs, but making it to the Show is not a given.
To his credit, Guyer has options remaining and fully developed tools in defense and speed. If he's healthy and produces, it's hard to imagine Guyer won't be the first man out of the minors if there's an injury on the 25-man roster.
The safest upside for Guyer is on the bench as the fourth outfielder. It's a role currently blocked by Sam Fuld - whose season preview was featured earlier this week, and who won't be a free agent until 2017. Fuld has world conquering defense, but Guyer may have the upper hand. Literally.
Given the extend of his surgery and the question marks involving such injuries it's difficult to project his future performance, but there's no denying that Guyer mashes lefties well (.979 OPS vs LHPs in 2011). If Matt Joyce continues to struggle against southpaws, Guyer would function well as the right handed portion of a platoon.
Guyer also holds an extra year of control, has defense that is quite suitable in the corners, and at age 27 is three years younger than Fuld. The Legend is lucky that he is out of options and that Guyer is still recovering, otherwise he might have been pushed out of a job. Unfortunately for Fuld-fans, there's no guarantee his position on the roster won't be in jeopardy down the stretch.
A healthy Guyer may be a force to reckon with.