The draft may be already underway by the time you read this. Some college or high school kid is going to be at the start of his dream, going from the greatest thing his town has seen in twenty years to another kid getting off the bus in Arizona. It’s a transition most don’t make. Few will ever get far enough to even get noticed in this column, not that it would be a good sign if they were. What’s more surprising is that few teams will truly consider how many of the picks they make will be sapped by injury. The shotgun approach to the draft remains in full effect, years behind the careful scientific study of players by the NFL and NBA. More than any other change the Lords of Baseball could make in the draft, a true baseball draft combine could do more to save money than any other single act. It’s time.
Powered by the unlimited text messages on my trusty recharged Sidekick, on to the injuries:
- Albert Pujols had an MRI on his injured right oblique, but it cleared nothing up. The slugger will likely see small improvements over the next week–a reduction in the pain and swelling, an increase in his ability to move. It’s the type of thing that leads to players thinking they can come back and re-injuring themselves. The Cardinals have made some initial inquiries on the precision imaging cortisone procedure that was used by the Giants on some of their players this season, including Noah Lowry. No stone will be left unturned by the organization, yet the key will merely be patience and rest. Sing the Tom Petty song to yourself–the waiting is the hardest part.
- Carlos Zambrano seems to pitch better when there’s talk of injury around the Cubs clubhouse. He went deep with his second straight run at a no-hitter, though his pitch count was under more control on Monday night. Does Zambrano’s run at these milestones hurt him long-term? The answer is likely no. Zambrano often pitches deep into games, and he tends to run up the count to every batter. Despite multiple extended counts in every game, he’s had very few high pitch count outings in his career and for that, I’ll tip a cap to Dusty Baker. Baker has let him go in his two chances at a no-no and come out with a quick hook once the hits happened. Don’t forget on this draft day that Zambrano is represented by Scott Boras, who isn’t scared to call a GM if he thinks his client is being overused. It was three years ago when Boras told me that Zambrano was the best pitcher the Cubs had. I won’t doubt him again.
- If you wait long enough, everything goes away. The knee injury to Carl Crawford is one I haven’t spoken about here much, mostly because there wasn’t much to speak of. Crawford had a sore knee that limited him until it didn’t. Watching him run and steal second on Monday showed me pretty much all I needed to see. There’s still an open question about what caused the soreness, and whether it’ll return.
- Any injury to Derek Jeter is going to have an element of panic. An injury to him brings out a certain duende in the pinstriped masses that recalls the full power of Nick Cave. The Yankees just aren’t used to being without the Captain, and as odd as it is to think that Alex Rodriguez could shift over and be just as good, that doesn’t fit with the Yankees’ mindset. Jeter is dealing with what is being called a deep bruise to his right thumb. He’ll return as soon as he regains full grip strength, something difficult to determine a timeline on. Negative x-rays are a big positive here, but even on a return, expect a week or so of affected play.
- A guy with a twice-repaired pitching elbow, one who had his elbow described as looking “like a grenade went off in there,” should get some leeway. Scott Williamson not only came back, he came back ahead of the normal schedule (whatever normal is for Tommy John these days) and has pitched well since doing so. A bit of soreness had to worry both Williamson and the Cubs, but he’s checked out with only a bit of tennis elbow. There’s nothing to be concerned about long term other than Williamson losing some opportunities for a team that has plenty of options in the pen, such as Carlos Marmol. Williamson shouldn’t miss more than the minimum.
- The Pirates drive me insane. As much as I want to root for this team–their Triple-A team is in my backyard, I love PNC so much that it’s on the wall behind me, and I have a tendency to root for the underdog–the Pirates just keep making the same mistakes. Given a second chance at a Craig Wilson type with Ryan Doumit, they pushed him to switch positions and ended up with a recurring hamstring problem for the promising youngster. The team continues to push for Kip Wells‘ return after vascular surgery this spring despite a wealth of pitching. Sure, some of the pitching is problematic and inconsistent, but the addition of Wells isn’t going to change much besides adding numbers. With this and the Jody Gerut and Chris Duffy situations, the Pirates aren’t going to get a lot of long-term love from the players they’ll need to turn things around in the future.
- Ben Sheets was back up on a mound for the first time in a while Monday, a sign that has to inspire his teammates in the middle of a losing streak. Sheets remains without a firm target for return as the Brewers continue to focus on getting their ace back to a sustainable health. Expecting Sheets back before the ASB looks shaky but one has to look at the Brewers’ track record and diligence as positives down the line. The Brewers may yet use their ace to make a run at the NL Central this year, but Doug Melvin and his crew have bigger plans for the future.
- Quick Cuts: The Yankees hit Josh Beckett around like they knew what was coming … Jeff Niemann is throwing in extended spring training. Remember that on draft day before you get too high on any pick … Brian McCann will have a two game rehab stint at Rome before his scheduled return on Thursday … Another cautionary tale for your draft day … Might as well toss out my top picks here–Luke Hochevar will be a controversial number one, but I like his upside. Where does Evan Longoria fit for the Pirates? Daniel Bard getting picked before Andrew Miller will end up looking like Clint Everts going before high school teammate Scott Kazmir. Tim Lincecum will be a steal no matter where he’s picked, probably between 12-18–he’s Billy Wagner. The program at Russell County (AL) will have another run of picks this year and I’m very interested in how they’re doing it. If things fall the way I’m hearing it will, the Cards and Yankees will come out golden.