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Mariners #3 prospect, Sam Carlson, has Tommy John surgery

We sort of knew this was coming, but it’s still a bummer

Seattle Mariners v Minnesota Twins
Will not be throwing skittles for 10-12 months
Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

My daily routine looks like this, in order: I wake up, check my phone for major news notifications, check the LL slack for news, check Twitter for news, have a nice cleansing scream, and then check Instagram, for fun...and news. Funews, if you will. Instagram is one of my favorite sources because it’s literally a snapshot into a player’s life, and you can get things there you might not see elsewhere. (It’s also an especially great place for players whose first language isn’t English to be able to connect with the fanbase, although that’s a different article. Everyone go yell at Tim, who three months ago said he’d write an article analyzing Jean Segura’s language of emojis on Instagram and has yet to do so.)

Unfortunately, today wasn’t funews, just news.

This is not entirely a surprise. Good ole scarlson is a prolific poster on the app—as Jidenna says, may not be able to spell but he knows his instagrammar—and while it looks like he’s been up to all sorts of things in Arizona, none of those things seemed to be happening on a baseball field. He pitched all of three innings after being drafted in 2017 before being shut down, and hasn’t been able to return to the field since. Last we heard he pitched a bullpen on May 30, but apparently the results weren’t optimal. The Mariners have been trying to rehab Carlson without surgery, but it looks like they finally bit the bullet, to which I say: good. Obviously it’s always a blow to lose time to TJ, which does still carry risk even if it’s not the same procedure it was ten, or even five, years ago. However, studies on PRP (platelet-rich plasma) injections and the like are inconclusive; all they seem to say definitively is that more data is necessary. From what we’ve seen with players we know have undergone PRP, most of them wind up having to have more extensive surgery anyway. To me, it seems like in situations like this you have to pay the TJ piper now or later, so better to start a career off on firm footing rather than constantly worrying if the elbow is going to go.

Before the draft, Carlson was ranked anywhere in the prospect ranks from #3 (MLB Pipeline, Minor League Ball, and Baseball America) to #2 (Fangraphs), just behind Kyle Lewis and Evan White. The arrival of Logan Gilbert will push Carlson down the list a slot, and Josh Stowers, off to a strong start in Everett (149 wRC+), probably pushes him outside of the top five, but this is still a blow for a system that is thin on highly acclaimed talent. I’ve seen a take or two that suggests Carlson’s TJ reflects badly on the Mariners’ scouting and development team, which seems...bizarre. The Kyle Lewis injury is just flat-out bad luck, and Jeff Passan literally wrote an entire book about how hard it is to predict and prevent pitcher injuries. If there’s a criticism to be made of the Mariners in this scenario, my instinct is to criticize the fact that the surgery didn’t happen sooner; I wish they had been more aggressive in treating this to get Carlson chugging along the TJ path before he lost a year-plus of development. As it stands, we probably won’t see Carlson in competition until spring of 2020, assuming they don’t want to rush him along, which makes sense for someone who has all of three innings of rookie ball under his belt. However, that’s an easy critique to make from the outside and without any of the necessary information involved. Maybe Carlson’s elbow looked like it was progressing in images but didn’t hold up when tested. Maybe he or his family pushed for a non-surgical treatment plan. Who knows. There’s a reason prep arms are considered one of the riskiest commodities in the draft.

Aside from Sam Carlson the prospect, though, our thoughts are with Sam Carlson, the person. Recovering from TJ, from all accounts, is a long, unpleasant, frustrating, lonely slog. We wish Sam the best as he moves forward with his recovery, and hope that his path—hopefully in Arizona, around the team facilities and in the sunshine—is less long and lonely than most.