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Rays prospects hope to rebound from injury

Key minor leaguers look to rebound from injury struggles


Injuries are a part of baseball, and that certainly goes for the minor leagues too. A prospect going out for two months has a larger overall impact than just a lesser player getting all of those plate appearances and innings. Lost developmental time can accumulate and keep a player's career from ever getting off the ground, and some injuries can permanently alter careers. A pair of Tommy John surgeries are likely landing Toronto's Kyle Drabek in the bullpen for the rest of his career. A labrum injury caused Philadelphia's Austin Gallagher to move from third base to first base. Players hit in the wrist or hand may lose power and never regain it. Which Rays have struggled with recent injuries are looking for a healthy 2013?

Luke Bailey: Bailey has a storied injury history that has followed him his entire career. He would have been a top pick in the 2009 draft, but Tommy John surgery allowed him to slide to the Rays in the fourth round. Just after erasing doubts that he would lose arm strength due to the elbow surgery by throwing out 40% of attempted base stealers in 2011 with Bowling Green, a wrist injury caused him to miss about a month at the end of the year. Just a week into the 2012 season with Charlotte, he suffered a broken hand and missed two months. With these constant disruptions, Bailey has only accumulated 690 career plate appearances, roughly how many a draft pick from 2011 would have.

So far, the results have been unimpressive. He owns a .669 OPS, about 4% worse compared to the league averages. He has a low walk rate (6.2%), and high strikeout rate (29.4%), and the stats in no way reflect the kind of talent he had coming out of high school. Behind the plate, he's athletic with a strong arm. At the plate, he was expected to have really good power and a solid bat, and while the power has shown up in games occasionally (.163 ISO), he's never put bat on ball consistently enough to really progress. Maybe it would have never happened with his aggressive approach anyway, but the injuries certainly haven't helped.

Kes Carter: Leg injuries have been troubling for Carter since his platform season at Western Kentucky. He only missed a few games with a calf injury as an amateur, but then his pro debut was limited to just three games because of a shin injury. In 2012, he only got in 37 games with Bowling Green because of a hamstring injury suffered in April. In just 200 plate appearances including a rehab stint in the Gulf Coast League, he has a .742 OPS. He has just two home runs with a 14.5% walk rate and 21% strikeout rate.

Carter is probably capable of having center field with pretty good athleticism, and actually that's the only position he's played as a professional so far. Persistent leg injuries could eventually lead to a shift to left field though, and that diminishes his value greatly because he doesn't have much power. A center fielder being moved to a corner to reduce strain on the legs isn't unusual (see Carlos Beltran), but it's probably too early in Carter's career to consider that.

Grayson Garvin: When it took until the signing deadline for the Rays to secure Garvin to a below slot deal, it was revealed that the Rays were concerned with an injury suffered in 2009 (elbow problems). That second link reveals that he would have gotten Tommy John three years ago if rest hadn't healed him, but he finally had surgery on his elbow after 11 uneffective starts with Charlotte. I can't find any evidence that it was Tommy John surgery, so he shouldn't be missing additional time this season.

Prior to that surgery, he had been able to pitch through whatever issues there may have been, so the two years post-surgery are going to be big for Garvin. Will he have improved durability from this point forward? Was he not pitching at full strength from 2010-2012 and now he'll be more effective? Hopefully his struggles with Charlotte can be chalked up to elbow issues, and he can move on from the elbow injury dogging him for years.

Granden Goetzman: Carter's games missed with injuries have been well publicized, but Goetzman has probably missed even more time. In his first two pro years, Goetzman missed large chunks of time without ever actually being placed on the DL. His status had been unknown until October, when it was revealed that he had a stress fracture in his back that had likely affected him as early as high school. He wasn't even with the team in Princeton for the majority of the season, instead remaining in Florida rehabilitating in Charlotte.

If all of Goetzman's problems staying on the field can entirely be attributed to the back injury 2013 could be a breakout season. He has some great tools and a lot of potential, and personally he was one of my favorite picks in the 2011 draft. Who knows where he would be now if he had been able to stay on the field, but 2013 will still only be his age 2013 season. He hasn't fallen behind the curve to the point of no return yet.

Hak-Ju Lee: Not too long after his 46 game on-base streak came to an end, an oblique injury cost Lee the last month of the regular season. He eventually made up for the lost plate appearances in the Arizona Fall League, but it was bad timing for Lee to go out of the lineup when he was finally hitting his stride in AA. Overall, he has just a .676 OPS in 648 plate appearances with Montgomery, and while he's going to make his money with his speed and defense, the poor season at the plate caused him to drop 46 spots in Baseball America's pre-season top 100 prospect rankings.

Justin O'Conner: O'Conner is a bit different from the previous players on the list because he had no issues getting on the field every night, but he was very limited. In 59 games for Hudson Valley, he did not play a single inning in the field. I didn't look through every team's Baseball-Reference page, but I feel safe assuming that he was the only everyday player in 2012 to exclusively be a DH in the minors. He was unable to catch because of serious left hip pain, similar to what he felt in his right hip when he had surgery in high school. It remains to be seen if he'll be able to get back behind the plate this year.

That provides plenty of reason to be pessimistic, and that's without mentioning his dreadful career performance so far. He owns a .629 OPS in 641 career plate appearances, all in short-season leagues, and a strikeout rate over 30%. Has he been playing through the new hip problem his entire career, limiting his performance? I'm inclined to say no. His potential to swing and miss a lot was well known prior to the draft, and the Rays knew that was a risk when they took him. It's fair to wonder when he'll move to the mound with his arm strength.