Every so often, Cubs' scout Dave Littlefield will answer a question from one lucky Cubs' fan. Here is today's question:
Tim (Indianapolis, IN): Dave, with the MLB Draft coming up, I was wondering if you could share some insight as to how you evaluated pitching prospects during your time as GM of the Pirates.
Littlefield: I’m glad you asked this question. As you know, we drafted many pitchers in the first round during my time in Pittsburgh. This included guys like Bryan Bullington, Paul Maholm, and Brad Lincoln, who we all felt fit the blueprint in terms of the type of pitcher we were looking for. Now, you may be asking yourself, “Dave, what exactly was the blueprint?” Well, I have to give props to my predecessor in Pittsburgh, Cam Bonifay. He had been hearing rumors that pitchers who ended up having arm and shoulder surgery would actually come back with even STRONGER arms and shoulders. That’s right, the surgery would make the tendons even STRONGER. So, Cam drafted pitchers who might be susceptible to those types of injuries, and lo and behold, he came up with some gems, like Clint Johnston, Bobby Bradley, Sean Burnett, and John Van Benschoten. Johnston, Bradley, and Burnett all needed Tommy John surgery, and Van Benschoten needed surgery to repair a torn labrum. As a result, all of these guys now have stronger arms and shoulders. That means better velocity. Better velocity means better pitchers.
At first, I was a little skeptical about what Bonifay told me. Then, I saw a great movie on TV called Rookie of the Year. In it, this young kid who was like 11-years old injures his shoulder and gets it operated on. And get this… after the operation, he starts throwing the ball over 100 MPH! And the Cubs end up signing him, and they win the World Series! Since it’s widely known that we should believe everything we see in movies, it was then that I started to think, ‘Hey, Bonifay might be right.’ And then look at this: This guy named Sal Marinello from the awesome website healthandfitnessadvice.com says: “There are indications that a ball player’s arm actually becomes stronger as a result of having Tommy John surgery.” And poster “FencingAG” from the Fencing.Net discussion forum, who himself had an operation to repair a torn labrum, says: “Now, 3 years later, that shoulder is just as strong, if not stronger, than it ever was.” If you can’t trust Sal Marinello and FencingAG, then whom can you trust? So, I followed Bonifay’s blueprint and drafted guys like Bullington, Maholm, and Lincoln, all of whom we felt were susceptible to arm and shoulder injuries.
And now the Pirates are sitting pretty, for the most part. We totally missed on Maholm, though. He didn’t have any significant arm or shoulder injuries, and he’s a soft-tosser in the majors right now and fucking sucks. Meanwhile, Bullington and Lincoln are biding their time in the minors, with their stronger arms and shoulders. I wouldn’t be surprised if both of them are consistently hitting 110 MPH on the radar gun when they finally become regular starters in the majors, just like that kid from Rookie of the Year.