Sick of getting burned, Twins focused more on pre-draft medical info
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MINNEAPOLIS -- It'd be tough to find another team in Major League Baseball that has suffered through more pitching injuries than the Minnesota Twins over the past five years.
Between 2010 and 2012, Twins hurlers were unavailable for nearly 1,000 total days in-season due to arm, back and oblique injuries -- a rate nearly three times as high as the Tampa Bay Rays, who are known for using innovative methods to keep pitchers healthy.
The Twins also drafted four pitchers in the first round or supplementary round between 2008 and 2010, and all four eventually wound up undergoing arm surgery before sniffing the major leagues.
Kyle Gibson (drafted in 2009), Matt Bashore (2009) and Alex Wimmers (2010) all underwent Tommy John surgery. Carlos Gutierrez (2008) underwent arthroscopic shoulder surgery.
"Well, that was kind of our philosophy in the past," Twins scouting director Deron Johnson said last weekend in an interview with 1500 ESPN. "A pitcher with good arm action, good delivery, they're going to get hurt, period. That's just the nature of the game. Baseball's not natural. ...
"I would say three years ago we changed our philosophy. We were probably one of the last few teams that didn't really rely a lot on medical. We've gotten burned over the years."
The idea to dive deeper into medical evaluation was spearheaded by assistant athletic trainer Tony Leo after the Twins moved into Target Field. He receives help from rehab coordinator Lanning Tucker. Part of the process involves getting input from team doctors and sending out medical questionnaires to potential draft picks, although Johnson, Twins general manager Terry Ryan and others within the organization declined to comment on the specific methods being implemented.
"We have conference calls weekly throughout the spring," Johnson said. "We try to get medical information early as often as possible on the majority of the players on our draft list -- not just pitchers, position players as well. ...
"I think it's really helped to make my decision a lot easier."
Whereas the Twins have just recently started being more proactive about using medical information to evaluate players and prospects, other teams have gone much further down that path.
The Baltimore Orioles, for example, brought 37 pitchers to the American Sports Medicine Institute -- run by Dr. James Andrews -- in the spring of 2012 to undergo evaluation of mechanics and arm action. This biomechanical analysis, in theory, helps the Orioles evaluate injury risk by seeing which pitchers are putting unnecessary stress on their elbows and shoulders.
The Orioles' pitching staff was much improved from 2011 to 2012, but it's hard to determine exactly how much -- if at all -- biomechanical analysis helped.
The Twins are anything but early adopters when it comes to medical evaluation, but they have identified a problem and are working to fix it.