The news that Hunter Harvey will undergo Tommy John surgery on his right elbow Tuesday left me with two thoughts.
- What a crapshoot amateur pitching is.
- How the decision to have elbow surgery is a personal one, and there’s a tricky balance there.
When the Orioles selected Harvey with the 22nd pick in the 2013 first-year-player draft, they knew they were taking a risk. High school pitching is unquestionably the most unpredictable commodity in the sport.
But the Orioles also felt good about the selection because of Harvey’s connection to the game. His father, Bryan Harvey, pitched nine seasons in the majors. A former elbow-surgery patient himself, the elder Harvey understands the complexities and frailties involved with pitching.
At the time of the draft, I was told by a couple different Orioles officials that Bryan Harvey’s involvement was one of the enticing things about selecting his son. They knew Harvey kept a watchful eye on Hunter and that he wasn’t the subject of pitching overuse that many high schoolers and American Legion pitchers are.
The hope was that Harvey’s arm was fresher than most and, theoretically, could hold up longer.
Well, due to various injuries, he’s barely pitched, and now he is going to be on the shelf for 12 to 18 months at age 21.
“That’s one of the biggest assets he has going for him. His dad’s super. He’s not one of those push dads. He knows the reality as evidenced by the scar on his elbow,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “It’s also a reminder that you can take every precaution possible and there’s no magic grid. There’s nothing that shows you, follow this, and this happens or this doesn’t happen. I don’t think you can get any more diligent than his dad or our people in the minor leagues have been. Sometimes it just happens, but thank goodness there’s a way to hopefully rectify it.”
The Orioles may deserve some heat that Harvey is getting the surgery now after experiencing forearm/elbow discomfort in 2014 and 2015. The argument can be made that if the decision occurred earlier, the kid could be back pitching again much now or in 2017.
The Orioles and Harvey chose other remedies to try and avoid surgery, rest, plasma-rich platelet injection, etc.
“With the elbows, we always try a number of different options before we get to surgery. We knew that Hunter Harvey had a couple of setbacks with his elbow, but based on the information and his willingness, we were going to (have him) try to pitch and see if he could pitch effectively,” Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette said. “Now, there are several pitchers in the big leagues that can pitch effectively with the type of injury that Hunter had. Some of the younger pitchers, if they are not as physically mature as some of the big leaguers, then you’ve got to go the surgical option. So, in Hunter’s case, we tried a couple of different options and ultimately here we are.”
Ultimately, these decisions are up to the player. And you can’t blame Harvey for not getting Tommy John surgery initially. It’s not a magic wand as so many people believe it is.
It’s a grueling process and one that tests a player’s mettle. It’s a major decision and should be treated as such.
The bottom line: It’s an unfortunate situation for everyone – a promising player’s career is in some jeopardy and the Orioles are now without a top prospect/trade chip probably until 2018.