If a prospect has a lost year of development, it’s unfortunate, but it’s something that can be overcome, especially if that prospect was young when he started out. Two lost years is worse, yet still, you can work with two years. What do you do when you end up with three lost years in a row?
The Orioles faced this question with Dylan Bundy before, and they will face it with their 2013 first round pick, Hunter Harvey, next, albeit under somewhat different circumstances.
It was two years ago in July that Harvey was shelved during his first full professional season with what was, at the time, termed a right elbow strain. Any time you hear strain and elbow, that’s scary. Did he need Tommy John even then and the Orioles just never figured it out? We may never know.
What we do know is that Harvey didn’t pitch at all in 2015, not because of the elbow problem but because of other random injuries that plagued him, including having a line drive ricochet off of his leg in spring training.
When Harvey finally took the mound again this year, just tentative short outings in the Gulf Coast League or at Aberdeen, levels below the talent he’d already demonstrated, he made only five starts before being shut down. Very nearly two years to the day after the right elbow strain, the Orioles announced that Harvey needed Tommy John surgery.
Maybe they’ll throw him into some GCL games next August if his rehab goes well up to that point, but for the most part, 2017 will also be a lost year for Harvey due to the recovery. That’ll make three in a row. Whenever he takes the mound to start 2018, assuming there are no setbacks, he will have thrown all of 12.2 innings across three straight seasons, plus whatever he might do next August. That is a tough thing.
As fans, it’s all too easy to sit where we sit and proclaim that Harvey should have gotten Tommy John surgery two years ago. The field of medicine had a remarkable thing happen to it when Dr. Frank Jobe came up with the surgery over four decades ago and performed it on John, after whom it’s named.
Most pitchers return from the surgery nowadays, but it’s still a last resort. None of us would be very likely to lightly decide to have an arm sliced open, with other parts of your body sliced open too while the doctor tries to see where you might have a suitable tendon to harvest to reconstruct the torn ligament in the elbow.
You might even end up with a dead man’s tendon, as happens sometimes, such as in the second Tommy John operation done on former big leaguer Todd Coffey, chronicled in Jeff Passan’s The Arm. Creepy. So when it takes a while to figure it all out there’s not much to do except say, “Dang. That sucks.”
The good news for the Orioles with Harvey, such as it is, is that he will not be under the same contract pressures as Bundy that forced Bundy onto the MLB roster perhaps before he was ready to be there.
Harvey will need to be added to the 40-man roster to protect him from the Rule 5 draft after next season, but he’ll still have all of his option years remaining, time in which the Orioles can, hopefully and if all goes well, build up his innings so that when he does hit MLB he can pitch without any restrictions.
It’s hardly the dream scenario that it looked like the Orioles might be getting after they drafted Harvey when he quickly pitched his way onto top 100 prospect lists. If he developed quickly, Harvey might have even been the Orioles’ trade deadline “acquisition” - calling him up instead of screwing around with Wade Miley. But that’s not how it worked out.
This year was a lost year for Harvey, just like last year. Next year’s not looking so good either. Here’s hoping that when he’s finally able to be unleashed again, Harvey can pick up where he left off and keep moving towards the big leagues.