03/23/10 4:10 PM ET
Young hurlers no stranger to Tommy John
Brewers' Braddock, Axford had surgery as amateurs
By Adam McCalvy / MLB.com
2010 Spring Training - Milwaukee Brewers
News & Features
- Brewers officially set roster for Opening Day
- Last call
- Davis excited to make big league debut with Brewers
- Narveson content with move to bullpen
- Schafer to serve as Brewers' emergency catcher
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Spring Training Info
That's not an exhaustive list, but all of those pitchers were old geezers when they faced surgery compared to Angels prospect Tyler Chatwood. He was only 15 years old and primarily a position player when he injured his elbow and went under the knife as a high school sophomore. A strong senior season on the mound prompted the Angels to take a chance in the second round in 2008, and now the Roy Oswalt clone is one of the organization's top pitching prospects."Tommy John surgery is much less a roll of the dice than, say, a labrum surgery [on the shoulder]," said Mariners specialist assistant Tony Blengino, a former Brewers scout who first saw Braddock as a 14- or 15-year-old. Blengino said the Brewers entered the '05 Draft set on picking either Braddock or right-hander Pedro Beato, a Brooklyn, N.Y., high schooler who also underwent Tommy John surgery as a high school junior. When the Mets took Beato in the 17th round, the Brewers went for Braddock in the 18th. Beato made it to Double-A with the Orioles last season. "It's a risk-reward situation," Blengino said. "If you believe in a kid's makeup and you can look at all of the medical records and determine, 'OK this looks like a pretty typical case,' and you're able to sign a player for less money, it can be a worthwhile gamble to take. Not all of them work out, though." Like Indians left-hander Scott Lewis, who had Tommy John surgery while he was at Ohio State University. Lewis was Cleveland's third-round pick in 2004, made it to the Majors for the end of 2008 and started the team's home opener in '09. But he re-injured his elbow in that outing and was dropped from the 40-man roster. He was not in camp with Cleveland this spring. "There is still mixed opinion," said Brewers assistant general manager Gord Ash, who heads Milwaukee's medical program. "There are people who think there is a time limit to the repair." In other words, a pitcher who underwent one Tommy John surgery is at increased risk of future injury. The Brewers have seen that play out with left-hander Chris Capuano, who had his first reconstruction in 2002 while he was a D-backs prospect and another in '08. He recently had a setback and took a brief break from throwing. But there is a positive to those players, too. "The one thing that these kids learn how to do is work, that's for sure," Brewers farm director Reid Nichols said. "You feel like you're indestructible at that age, like nothing is going to break. They learn, through the rehab, what you need to do to get your body ready to play the game. Until you go through it, you don't really know." Braddock sure knows, because his Tommy John surgery was not the end of his injury woes. He has been limited to 73 appearances, 30 of them starts, during his four Minor League seasons by elbow and shoulder problems, but he made a career-high 26 appearances in 2009 and then appeared in the prospect-rich Arizona Fall League. During the '09 regular season, Braddock allowed only eight earned runs in 40 1/3 innings at the Class A and Double-A levels for a 1.79 ERA. He struck out 22 batters vs. only three walks. He's ticketed for Triple-A Nashville to start the season, but many believe Braddock will help the Brewers at some point in 2010. "Things are looking good," Braddock said. "It's my first big league camp, my first opportunity to show them what I can do. It's been a long road in the Minors so far, and it's all led up to now."
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.