Originally Posted by David Paschall
A lot to shoulder
Arm woes plague prospects
By David Paschall Staff Writer
SARASOTA, Fla. ó Homer Bailey has a bit more going for him than the typical 19-year-old.
In 2004, the right-handed pitcher from La Grange, Texas, was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds and signed for $2.3 million. Baseball America listed him before last season as the No. 1 prospect in the Reds organization, and he pitched well enough in Single-A Dayton to retain the honor this year.
The Reds believe Bailey could be No. 1 again next year provided he stays healthy, but Reds pitching prospects staying healthy is no guarantee.
Since 2001, Ricardo Aramboles, Bobby Basham, Phil Dumatrait, Richie Gardner, Chris Gruler, Josh Hall, Ty Howington, Luke Hudson and Thomas Pauly have had promising careers derailed by shoulder or arm surgeries. Each has pitched for the Lookouts except for Pauly, who was slated for Chattanooga last spring before undergoing two shoulder surgeries, and Gruler, who signed for $2.5 million in 2002 but underwent shoulder surgeries in 2004 and í05. Why the high number?
"Itís the million-dollar question for our organization, and obviously everybody wants an answer," Lookouts manager Jayhawk Owens said.
Cincinnatiís failure to develop pitchers through the ranks has left the Reds with no choice but to make big-league trades. Such recent acquisitions have proven more harmful than helpful for an organization that has endured five consecutive losing seasons for the first time in 50 years.
Reds minor league officials believe avoiding future surgeries begins with better off-thefield decisions.
"I donít want to be stepping on anybodyís toes or questioning our program, but I just donít remember the injuries when I played 25 years ago, and pitchers werenít allowed in the weight room back then," Lookouts pitching coach Bill Moloney said. "I donít know if that has anything to do with it, but itís certainly not because of what weíre teaching them in the organization as far as mechanics and stuff."
Owens agreed that weightlifting has played a role, as did Mack Jenkins, who was Chattanoogaís pitching coach from 1996-2001 and is now in his first season as Cincinnatiís minor league pitching coordinator. Jenkins said there already have been tweaks in the daily throwing programs and in strength and conditioning for the shoulder area.
"Weights help, but for a pitcher there is a point of diminishing returns," Jenkins said. "Sometimes kids just think more is better, and when it gets to that point, it causes injury.
Gardner, voted by the Reds organization as its top minorleaguer for the 2004 season, made 13 starts in Chattanooga last year before undergoing shoulder surgery in early August. He said "itís when, not if" for pitchers who throw a lot and lift a lot of weights.
Another area the Reds are adjusting, especially with younger pitchers, is innings pitched.
Last year, Bailey worked 103 2 /3 innings in his first professional season. In 2000, a 19-year-old Howington threw 141 2 /3 innings for Dayton in his debut year.
Howington was Cincinnatiís first-round pick in 1999 and signed for $1.75 million. The 6-foot-4 lefty underwent elbow surgery in 2001, shoulder surgery in 2004 and never made it past Double-A, going 2-10 with the Lookouts in parts of three seasons.
After missing all of 2004 and pitching just five innings last season in rookie league, Howington was released by the Reds earlier this month.
"When you look back at it, we might have overworked some guys early on," said Grant Griesser, Cincinnatiís assistant director of player development. "Weíre not going to do that anymore."
Last season, the Reds used a piggy-back system for pitchers at their Single-A levels in an effort to preserve young arms. In most cases, two pitchers would work four innings apiece, and no individualís pitch count exceeded 75. The system has since been scratched under new ownership, much to the delight of coaches and players.
"I understand why they did it, but it seemed like we were creating an organization of fourinning pitchers," Moloney said. "The deal was to try to get these kids into the fifth or sixth inning with 75 pitches, but a lot of these kids tried too hard to throw a strike knowing that they only had 75 pitches."
Added new farm director Johnny Almaraz: "Iím not against piggy-backing at the rookie level, but once you get to Single-A there is no substitute for traditional baseball."
Almaraz said pitching is the toughest position to develop and bad luck often is involved. Moloney pointed out that Hall has one of the best deliveries heís ever seen and "heís broken down twice."
In the future, Reds officials say they will study pitchers individually and use less of the blanket policies of the past.
Bailey will begin this season in high Single-A Sarasota and, with a hot start, could be in Chattanooga by June. The 6-4, 195-pounder hasnít experienced any setbacks so far and doesnít plan to this season.
"I think we have guys who really know what theyíre doing and have lots of experience, so I donít see that as a problem at all," Bailey said. "Whatever has happened here in the past is just that ó itís in the past."