A key Royals storyline this season was injuries. Joakim Soria, Danny Duffy, Felipe Paulino and Blake Wood all ended up with Tommy John surgery. Additionally, John Lamb got back on a minor league mound after June 2011 surgery.
At the end of the year, first round pick Kyle Zimmer had surgery to clean out some bone chips in his elbow (though this was never as threatening as the ligament tears the others suffered).
Obviously none of that is good news.
The good news is that they’re all on their way back.
Soria has recently started throwing again and reports say that he looks good. The Royals have a decision to make on his contract, but the most reasonable idea is to buy out his remaining options for $750,000 rather than pay him $8 million in 2013 (when they don’t know how effective he might be).
Blake Wood is set to start throwing again tomorrow and seems to be ahead of schedule. While Wood isn’t as big of a name as others in the bullpen, he was a serviceable middle relief option in 2011. His presence on the 2012 Royals could have helped soak up a few more innings. He would have been a good option in the first half of the season when the Royals were routinely using five or six relievers to get through games.
Duffy and Paulino are the two names that mean the most going into 2013. Both are expected to be a part of a contending Royals rotation (or at least be in the competition for it). Paulino is staying in Kansas City to work his way back. Bob Dutton reported he’s likely two months from starting a throwing program of any kind. He was off to a hot start last season and had he stayed healthy, would look like a great fit in the rotation right now.
While Mike Montgomery and Chris Dwyer languish in the minors, Duffy made it up in 2011, then broke camp in the rotation last year. He started out well, striking out more batters and looked like he was figuring out the level of competition, but after six starts, his elbow gave out. As a lefty, he added that element to the rotation, as the other options as southpaw starters turned out to be Will Smith, Bruce Chen, Ryan Verdugo (once) and Everett Teaford. None of those options are particularly overpowering, and a staff would do well to have a strikeout guy every fifth day, especially throwing from the left side.
Both Duffy and Paulino hope to get back around July. Rehab time on Tommy John surgery is usually about 10-14 months, so that may be the optimistic timetable.
Lamb and Zimmer are the two closest to 100%. Lamb’s surgery was long enough ago that it’s just a matter of getting his game conditioning back and used to the pace of the game again. Lamb will start back in Double A after 13 innings at the Rookie level late in 2012. He struck out 14 batters and walked four, though he wasn’t totally sharp. After an offseason of work and more time, his strength and command will return.
Zimmer’s injury was something reported as well-known at the time and bone chips weren’t a short-term worry. It’s still a little scary when your first round pick goes under the knife, especially when it’s a pitcher and the area of concern is the elbow. But everything went fine and he’s in line to start next season at High A Wilmington. In nine starts as a pro, Zimmer worked in 39.2 innings with an ERA of 2.04. He had better than a 5/1 K/BB ratio over that span and most reports pointed to a lot of life on his fastball. Zimmer could be a fast riser in the Royals system, possibly in Double A by the end of next season if he pitches well. Like Lamb, he’s expected to be 100% once spring training rolls around.
These are all good signs. The Royals look to add pitching this offseason, but there’s always a need for good arms on a pitching staff. The Royals could see four pitchers come back and contribute next year at the big league level, which would be a big lift and added depth for the whole organization.