Every year hundreds upon hundreds of baseball players get hit with the injury bug. I'm sure you don't need reminding about how long and tedious a full season of baseball is, even in the Minor Leagues where they do not play as many games as their Major League counterparts. It's a marathon of grueling bus rides, terrible roach motels, and subpar conditions. Add in over 140 baseball games and injuries are bound to crop up.
For the younger folks that don't understand the name of the series, take a gander at this clip of one of the most best movies of the 80's, accompanied by one of the most iconic songs in film.
In this series, we'll look at a player from each team that missed a significant amount of time in 2015, but it still someone to keep tabs on. Some may be Tommy John surgery survivors, others may have dealt with a wonky back or shoulder. Either way, the players mentioned here are looking to put a disappointing, injury ravaged 2015 season in the rear view mirror.
Lewis Thorpe, LHP
Photo courtesy of Chelsey Liebenow
Listed at a lithe 6-foot-1 and 160 pounds, 20 year old Lewis Thorpe put his name on the prospect map in 2013 with an excellent professional debut after signing with the Twins for a cool half million bucks in 2012. The left handed thrower and right handed hitter threw 44 masterful innings in the Gulf Coast League as a 17 year old, posting a 2.05 ERA while striking out 64 (13.1 K/9) to only six walks (1.2 BB/9). Only 32 batters managed a base knock off the Aussie native in his debut season, good for a 6.5 H/9 mark and leading many prospect junkies to dream heavy on the southpaw.
Thorpe returned to his native land to take part in the Australian Baseball League during the Winter, starting for his hometown Melbourne Aces. Facing competition that was on average eight years his senior (but not all members of affiliated baseball), Thorpe thrived with a 2.45 ERA and 1.20 WHIP over seven starts and 36.2 innings of work. He struck out 30, allowed 10 free passes and 34 hits allowed for Melbourne, and took home Rookie of the Year honors. He impressed the Twins brass enough that they had him skip the rest of the short season leagues, and jump straight to Low A Cedar Rapids for the 2014 season.
The Twinkies didn't throw him straight into the fire so to speak, holding back in extended Spring Training until June before unleashing him on the Midwest League. He made 16 starts spanning 71.2 frames with an uninspiring 4.65 ERA and 1.37 WHIP. He set down 80 batters with a strike out (10.0 K/9), issued 36 free passes (4.5 BB/9), and allowed 62 hits (7.8 H/9) in his age 18 season. While the ERA isn't pretty, his ability to miss bats at such a young age is very promising. He also finished the season strong, allowing two earned runs or less in each of his last nine starts.
At his best, Thorpe can run the fastball up to 94-95 mph, but has had times in the past where he struggles to bump it past the 90 mph mark. His change up can be a plus pitch with the potential for even more, showing excellent fade while maintaining his arm speed when he gets it right. He also features a hook with sharp break and tight rotation, along with a developing slider. Thorpe pairs his four-pitch mix with good control and command of the ball and pitchability beyond his years. Along with regaining his arm strength, the Aussie native will also need to work on better consistency with his offspeed stuff as he has been known to throw his fair share of loopy breakers, cement mixer sliders, and meatball change-ups.
In the brief time between the end of the regular season and the Midwest League playoffs, Thorpe felt something wrong with his elbow during a bullpen session in September. The Twins tried the rest and rehab route for Thorpe when he first experienced elbow trouble at the end of the 2014 campaign. Like many others, this did not work and he went under the knife for UCL replacement surgery in late March. The industry consensus is that 12 months is the typical time frame for returning from Tommy John surgery, which would put Thorpe on track to be ready by the beginning of the season. I'm of the opinion that this is just not enough time. Too many pitchers have tried to come back this early and have run into complications because of it. I personally wouldn't want him back in game action until at least 15 months after surgery which would be a late June/early July return.
When he comes back, I'll expect him to spend some time in short season ball before returning to Low A. He will be 20 years old the entire season and is still young for the Midwest League which had an average age of 21.5 last season. Thorpe was ranked as the 13th best prospect in the Twins organization (link opens in new window) in John Sickels' 2016 rankings, receiving a grade that straddles the C+/B- line. John notes that Thorpe is "Rated a B- pre-season before he underwent TJ surgery. Mid-rotation arm if he makes a full recovery." From all accounts, the kid has a good head on his shoulders and most importantly knows how to pitch. I agree with John's opinion of his upside, and that fetches a MLB pitcher around $15M a year on the open market. My gut is telling me he's going to bounce back just fine, but there's no evidence to back that. For those in deep dynasty leagues, Thorpe could be a long term play that has fallen through the cracks due to his injury.
Below is a montage of Thorpe's time in the Australian Baseball League prior to the 2014 season -