It happens every year.
A dozen or so (or maybe more) prospects who have some helium leading into their draft season suffer some sort of season-ending injury that puts their draft status in doubt. Sometimes, the situations look worse than they are. Take, for example, the case of Jeff Hoffman. The right-hander tore his UCL and had Tommy John surgery midway through his junior year, and despite the concerns about his health, he still ended up going tenth overall to Toronto in the 2014 draft.
On the other hand, there are guys like Jordan Sheffield, who was a first-round talent coming out of the high-school ranks in 2013. He began to experience some discomfort during the first start of his senior season, and was promptly shut down and given the same diagnosis as Hoffman: a torn UCL and Tommy John. Sheffield fell to the 13th-round and decided to honor his commitment to Vanderbilt instead.
There are several players this year who have already been bitten by the injury bug, but only time will tell if it affects their draft status, and how.
Here’s a quick look at the more notable names who you won’t be hearing from for a few months (or more).
McCarthy was a very appealing prospect who came into his junior year with a career. 317 average and a spot on most preseason All-American teams. A little less than a month before the start of the season, however, he began feeling some discomfort from an old injury. After some medical exams, it was decided the best course of action was for him to have back surgery. He’s out for at least three months, and even if he does return sometime in May, don’t expect him to put up the same kind of numbers. He’ll likely spend the remainder of the season shaking off the rust, putting his draft status in serious doubt. McCarthy could also return for his senior year, but it’s likely he’ll still get drafted, likely somewhere in rounds 3-5.
Fisher came onto the scene as a freshman, hitting a more-than-respectable .315 with 27 RBI and nearly as many walks and strikeouts. He exploded as a sophomore, producing a .389 average, 17 doubles and 39 RBI. This time he did have more walks (30) than strikeouts (29), and he showed some decent speed, swiping nine bases. Even more important, Fisher bounced around all over the diamond, filling in wherever he was needed as the Lions dealt with some pretty bad injuries. Over the winter, the injury bug finally hit Fisher, who was diagnosed with a torn labrum, and after undergoing surgery it was announced he would miss the entire 2015 campaign. Fisher was one of the more intriguing prospects in a weak crop of catchers. He is also talented enough to man the position behind the plate at the next level. Pre-injury he was a potential round two selection, but it’s more likely that he too slips into the 3-6 range.
A 14th-round pick in 2012, Buehler has been a revelation at Vanderbilt. After easing his way into the rotation as a freshman, he became the Commodores’ ace in 2014, posting a 12-2 mark and a 2.64 ERA. He was garnering first-round consideration since the end of his sophomore campaign, but came into his junior year with some nagging injuries that may, or may not be, a cause for concern. Anytime the words “elbow” and “soreness” are mentioned together, it usually results in either surgery or long-term rehab, but despite some lingering discomfort, Buehler managed to get back on the mound this past week, tossing two scoreless innings. With, or without the injury, Buehler is still likely a first-rounder, with a good chance to go in the top 10-15 picks.
A sentimental favorite here at MLB Draft Countdown, Irvin has returned from Tommy John surgery, and has looked incredibly sharp despite some innings-restrictions that have prevented him from going deeper than four innings in any of his four starts. In 15 innings, the lefty has allowed just one earned run and has a 10-to-1 K-to-BB ratio. Irvin spurned an offer from Boston as a 29th-round selection in 2012 to head to Eugene, and as a freshman he made a name for himself, going 12-3 with a 2.48 ERA. The epitome of a “crafty lefty,” Irvin has a fastball that sits in the 88-94 mph range, so the comeback from TJ should be slightly easier for him than those pitchers who rely solely on velocity. Irvin has a four-pitch repertoire that could warrant a selection anywhere from the back of the first-round to the third or fourth.
Matuella has already dealt with multiple health issues since the end of his sophomore campaign, in which the right-handed posted a 69-to-15 K-to-BB ratio in 58.1 innings. In the fall, he was diagnosed with spinal arthritis, and early on in the 2015 campaign he dealt with a forearm strain. Not a good start for a pitcher who’s never surpassed the 60-inning mark as a collegian. The good news is that Matuella seems to have returned to the mound for good, even if he is on certain pitch count restrictions. His stuff has looked good, and his fastball has been clocked as high as 97 mph. Through ten innings, spanning three short outings, he’s struck out nine and he’s yet to allow a run. Continued health is going to be crucial for Matuella, who was earlier projected as the top-overall pick by many.
Suarez is a two-time draftee. He was selected in the ninth round back in 2011, and in the second round last year by Washington. He rejected the offer and returned to Miami for his senior season, and unfortunately it started very poorly. The lefty felt some discomfort while warming up for his second start of the year, and after the game was diagnosed with a strained oblique. There is currently no time table for his return, which isn’t assuaging any of the fears about his health. Suarez will no doubt be a very appealing target for teams, thanks to his four-pitch repertoire and the command with which he has of his fastball. He walked only 15 batters last year in 109.2 innings. Regardless of his health come draft time, Suarez will go no later than the third round, and there’s every chance he gets selected in the second again.