Tigers prospect Joey Wentz ‘right where I need to be’ in road back from Tommy John surgery

Detroit News

In the young baseball life of Joey Wentz, Tuesday of this week will be no ordinary date.

He will throw batting practice on the TigerTown compound at Lakeland, Florida.

And while that might seem a mundane event, definitely light on drama, it will be theatrical for a 23-year-old, left-handed Tigers prospect who 13 months ago had Tommy John surgery.

“Really excited about that,” Wentz said during a Zoom interview Sunday from Lakeland, where he had just wrapped up a workout.

The tingle stems from a long pitching layoff. Wentz has not thrown an on-field pitch, to a legitimate batter, since the early days of March, 2020, when he first noticed trouble in his left elbow. He soon learned he had a frayed ligament that would need the customary replacement procedure known as Tommy John surgery.

“To be honest, I think I cried when I was told,” said Wentz, who came to the Tigers in July 2019 as the primary player Detroit received in its trade of reliever Shane Greene to the Braves.

He had the operation on St. Patrick’s Day more than 13 months ago. It was a few days later when he met with Corey Tremble, who handles rehab at the TigerTown complex, and who said to him, with perspective only an experienced athletic trainer might offer:

“Hey, you’ve got a week or two to be down in the dumps. We’ve got to get you better and get you back.”

Which is where he is as the Tigers this week wrap up minor-league spring camp at Lakeland ahead of May 4 and the start of this year’s reunion with a minor-league schedule. 

Wentz will stick with the lower Single-A kids and farm teens at Lakeland as he continues with a program that by the third or fourth week of May could see him throwing in a Single-A Lakeland game.

“I’m right where I need to be,” Wentz said Sunday. “I’ll kind of use the whole month of May, building up as any pitcher would in spring training.”

That he could end up at some point in 2021 pitching in a game for the Tigers is at least a possibility.

Within weeks of his trade to Detroit two years ago, Wentz was busy showing why the Tigers made him central to the Greene swap.

He was starting at Double-A Erie, racking up 37 strikeouts against four walks in 25⅔ innings (2.10 ERA, .093 WHIP). He had a fastball that was cruising 93-94, a nice change-up, and a serviceable curveball seeking more spin and bite.

He showed up at spring camp 14 months ago figuring on a big 2020 season and, if all went well, a possible first taste of big-league life with the Tigers.

What he never imagined were two catastrophes: his elbow giving out, and, simultaneously, the arrival of a bug known as COVID-19 that was about to wipe out the entire 2020 minor-league calendar.

“It probably made it a little easier to not watch everyone play,” he said, speaking of his convalescence, which came while most of his minor-league fraternity was also sidelined, all due to coronavirus’ killing the entire 2020 farm season.

“But I was kind of bitter, nonetheless. It probably wasn’t as terrible as if I’d been watching all the other guys play. Everyone said: ‘If there’s a year to have it (surgery), this is the year to have had it.’

“It’s not like I missed a ton of action.”

He went home, to suburban Kansas City, when time and rehab allowed. Wentz was home for Christmas when he got word that 2020 had delivered for him another blind-side blitz: He had COVID-19.

“I had it, along with a few family members,” Wentz said. “Nothing too serious. I didn’t have any terrible symptoms or anything too severe. But it was a crazy year.”

Wentz isn’t sure where his velocity will be when he tosses batting practice Tuesday. He really doesn’t care. The mission during these next 30 days will be to gradually build stamina and regain his feel for three pitches.

Or, perhaps, for four pitches. The Tigers analytics and development teams have been assessing whether a slider might be added to Wentz’s quiver.

“I’ve thrown some good ones in the bullpen,” he said, speaking of some recent experiments with the slider. “It’s definitely something we’ve thought about.

“We’re looking at some of the analytics from my pitches and trying to figure out where we can have the highest success.”

He plans, for now, to polish his fastball and change-up. As for a breaking pitch, Wentz says: “I think the curveball is much improved.”

So, he says, is his overall physique. Wentz is 6-foot-5, 220 pounds — and it’s a sturdier package, he says, from a year ago.

“I see the benefits of the rehab process,” he said, reminding that the protocol continues. “In my mind, I’m going to get into the weight room and get my body ready and more explosive.”

Explosive. That’s a descriptor, as well, for how he felt when he learned two years ago of his trade to the Tigers, which came three years after he had been drafted by the Braves, 40th overall, in the compensation phase between the first and second rounds.

“We were getting done with a series in Mobile, Alabama,” Wentz recalled, speaking of the team for which he then pitched — the Double-A Mississippi Braves. “I actually found out (about the trade) via Twitter.

“That was kind of funny. But I think whenever you’re included in a trade like that, it’s nice to be wanted by another club.”

He remembers reporting to Erie. And joining a SeaWolves team that then was burning up the Eastern League.

“It was kind of a whirlwind 48 hours,” Wentz said, recalling the trade commotion. “I think we had about a month left in the season. But that team I went to in Erie in 2019 was really good — probably the best team I’ve ever played on.”

He would enjoy reacquainting himself with all of that, of course, particularly the pitching part. He has had it with rest and recuperation. He wants to throw, in games, preferably in Detroit if the timeline cooperates, this season, next season — just get him back to his craft and to a life that seems due for some normalcy.

Lynn Henning is a freelance writer and former Detroit News sports reporter.

Articles You May Like

Sawyer Gipson-Long To Undergo Internal Brace Surgery
Jaden Hamm dominates again in Whitecaps romp
Injury Notes: Albies, Suzuki, Basabe, Gipson-Long
Tigers 7, Rangers 9: Leiter up!
Tigers Minor League Report podcast with Brandon Day: Max Clark and Luke Gold lead the week’s top performers

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *