Prospects improve for prospect
Reds draft pick Kainer working way back after kidney transplant
BY JOHN FAY | ENQUIRER STAFF WRITER
The odds say Carson Kainer will never play for the Reds. He's a 14th-round draft choice.
Fourteenth-rounders fall well short of can't-miss on the prospect ratings scale.
But so far in his 21 years, the odds haven't stood much of a chance against Carson Kainer.
People in the Reds organization have seen that. Why else would the club pay Kainer $60,000 in bonus money six weeks after he underwent a kidney transplant?
That's correct. Kainer, an outfielder from the University of Texas, received a kidney from his father, Ron, on Sept. 12. He signed with the Reds on Nov. 1. Kainer expects to be ready to go when minor-leaguers report to spring training in March.
"I'm getting where I need to be," he said. "I started jogging two weeks ago. I had my first full workout the other day. I'm hitting off the tee."
The Reds knew of Kainer's condition when they drafted him. He's dealt with kidney problems his whole life.
"They told me, 'We know you're not a 14th-rounder, but there's the concern with your health,' " Kainer said. "I wanted to play, but I didn't want to sign and then have the Reds feel like they were stuck with me. I was very truthful with them."
Kainer considered going back to Texas - he was drafted as a junior - but the surgery kept him from enrolling for the first semester. A player can sign until he enrolls in school.
The Reds did their due diligence, but they didn't back off Kainer because of the transplant.
That wasn't totally for altruistic reasons. Kainer has had a very impressive career at Texas.
"He can really swing the bat," scouting director Chris Buckley said.
Kainer was a teammate of the Reds' No. 1 pick, Drew Stubbs, at Texas. In fact, the two roomed together.
Kainer doesn't have Stubbs' speed or power, but his overall numbers at Texas were better than those of Stubbs. Kainer hit .364 with four home runs, 66 RBI and 25 doubles in 2006. He led the Longhorns in RBI and doubles.
He hit .312 with three home runs and 65 RBI on the Longhorns' national championship team in 2005.
"We always liked him," Buckley said.
Kainer's kidney problems go back to birth, but they worsened right at the time of the June draft.
Kainer is well-versed in telling his story. Here's the condensed version:
He was born with an infection in his right kidney. That, however, wasn't discovered until he was 2 years old. Surgery was done to remove the infection, but doctors also discovered his "good" kidney was extremely small - a third of the size of a normal kidney.
He had more surgery at age 6 to reconstruct the valves leading to the kidneys. Doctors told his parents that Carson would be able to function, but somewhere down the road he'd need a transplant.
Kainer lasted much longer without a transplant than anyone expected.
"Most patients don't make it to puberty (before a transplant)," he said. "Here I was at 21 playing baseball at a high level."
But, again, around the time of the draft, Kainer noticed a drop in his energy level.
"I knew something was wrong," he said.
Kainer came close to signing in June. He was set to go to Billings to join the Reds' rookie team there. But his doctor told him that would be a mistake.
"The doctor told me she couldn't let me go to Montana," Kainer said.
Tests showed his kidneys were functioning at only 12 percent.
Though Kainer knew he'd eventually need a kidney transplant, he did not know if anyone in his family was a match.
"For insurance purposes, they won't let you test until your function goes below 15 percent," Kainer said.
Kainer's father and two brothers all matched on blood type.
"My dad was ideal," Kainer said. "He's very healthy at 53."
The reason his father was chosen is transplanted kidneys tend to last about 20 years, so he might need one of his brothers to donate one down the line.
Kainer kept his own kidneys. The one from his father was placed in his hip socket on the right side.
That's key, said Reds medical director Dr. Tim Kremchek, who investigated Kainer's case before the Reds signed him.
"Sometimes when we talk to other doctors, they have no idea what we do in sports medicine," Kremchek said. "His doctors were very aware. The kidney was placed in a spot where it's well-protected.
"It's something that should not cause a problem. And, God forbid, if something happened, he could always have another transplant."
Kainer knows of no other baseball players playing at such a high level who have had kidney transplants.
"The two precedents are Sean Elliott and Alonzo Mourning in the NBA," Kainer said. "What they do is more physically demanding than baseball. I should have no problem."
Kainer would be closer to being ready right now, but he chose to do the non-steroid protocol.
"Because I'm an older patient, they decided to go that route," he said. "There are a lot of side effects of steroids. It's worked out perfectly for me."
The Reds haven't decided where to send Kainer for next season. He'll be eight months removed from playing live baseball when he reports to Sarasota.
"They want to see how I do," he said.
Kainer is just happy the Reds are giving him a chance. He thought once he had the transplant, they'd back off from signing him.
"I was really surprised," he said. "I'm extremely glad they were still interested."
Once Kremchek signed off on his health, the Reds did not hesitate to sign Kainer.
"He's a good kid, from a good family," Buckley said. "We're excited to have him."