MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Sitting in the Minnesota Twins locker room Sunday surrounded by many of the most promising minor leaguers, Christian Binford remembered back five years ago, when he was a 10th grader pitching for the Mercersburg Academy in Pennsylvania.
Up to the plate walked some stud on the other team who was good enough to attract 10-20 scouts.
“I’m going to try to one-up this guy,” Binford recalled thinking. “I had terrible mechanics. I was just trying to throw as hard as I could, and I didn’t know any better. I was having a great game up until that one pitch.”
That pitch altered his life.
“It popped. I could hear it,” he said. “I had no idea what the sound was at the time. I thought I just pulled a muscle. I took three days off and tried to throw, and I couldn’t make it to 90 feet. The ball just didn’t go anywhere. So I had an MRI, and it was completely torn.”
Just 16 at the time, Binford joined the list of Tommy John surgery alumni.
Elbow ligament-replacement surgery isn’t just for big leaguers these days. More than two dozen major leaguers have had the elbow ligament replacement operation in the last year, a group that includes Miami’s Jose Fernandez, the New York Mets’ Matt Harvey and Tampa Bay’s Matt Moore. New York Yankees star Masahiro Tanaka has a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament and may need the procedure.
At least three players at the All-Star Futures game already had the surgery: Binford, a Double-A right-hander in the Kanas City Royals organization, was joined by Lucas Giolito, a Class A righty with the Washington Nationals who was the 16th overall pick in the 2012 draft, and Steven Moya, a Double-A outfielder with the Detroit Tigers.
“Sad to say,” Giolito explained before the U.S. team’s 3-2 win, “it’s kind of become a kind of routine deal for pitchers — hopefully not all of them.”
Several top orthopedists met last week in Seattle to come up with a recommendations for how Major League Baseball should proceed, among them Dr. James Andrews, New York Yankees team physician Dr. Christopher Ahmad, Los Angeles Dodgers head team physician Dr. Neal ElAttrache and Dr. Bert Mandelbaum, an orthopedist based in Santa Monica, California, who was tasked by MLB to head the project. The doctors developed a series of bullet points and consensus statements that were forwarded to baseball Commissioner Bud Selig, who plans an announcement later this month.
Binford, throwing consistently in the low 90s during a 1-2-3 inning in the Futures game, still remembers the warm reception he received at Andrews’ office in Birmingham, Alabama.
“It was awesome, absolutely awesome,” he said, “going down there and seeing Roger Clemens’ jersey in our waiting room. He treated me like I was a big leaguer — he treated me with the same respect.”
Giolito, who turns 20 on Monday, was 9-1 with a 1.00 ERA two years ago as a senior at Harvard Westlake in California, and was projected to be a high first-round draft pick before straining an elbow ligament. Before the draft, he was known for his Hollywood family: An uncle, Mark Frost, was a co-creator of the television show “Twin Peaks;” his mother, Lindsay Frost, appeared on “Boston Legal,” ”Crossing Jordan,” ”Lost” and “Frasier;” his grandfather, Warren Frost, was Mr. Ross on “Seinfeld.”
Washington decided that even with the injury, Giolito had enough potential to justify using a first-round pick for him. When his elbow didn’t get better, Giolito had surgery performed by Dr. Lewis Yocum that Sept. 13. He’s back throwing 90 mph-plus, and gave up a long two-run homer on an offspeed pitch to Chicago Cubs prospect Javier Baez in the fifth inning.
Giolito attributes his injury to “a brutal combination of me throwing too hard with my body not developed enough” and sees a need for change.
Many in baseball were shocked when Dylan Fosnacht, a high school pitcher for Rochester in Washington state, was allowed to throw 194 pitches during a tournament game in May.
“I hope that it starts to open the eyes of amateur coaches, even travel ball coaches for 11-, 12-year-old kids,” Giolito said. “You see things like 10-year-old travel ball kids playing hundreds, thousands of innings a year, just nonstop baseball. I don’t think that’s good.”
With snapped ligaments repeatedly in the news, those who haven’t needed the surgery hope they’ll remain healthy.
“I don’t know what you’re going to do, unless you’re just not going to throw, which isn’t ever going to happen,” said Alex Meyer, a Minnesota Twins prospect who reached 97 mph in a four-pitch inning. “You don’t really want to go out there thinking about anything like that. You just go out there and worry about getting guys out.”
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