When Matt Guerrier was wheeled into surgery last August to repair the flexor tendon on his right elbow, he fully anticipated the surgeon would discover ligament damage as well — the injuries frequently occur together — and perform Tommy John surgery, too.
But Guerrier awoke to learn his ligament was healthy, a development that sped up his recovery and should allow him to pitch right away when spring training begins. That opportunity will come with the Twins, his first major league team, after Guerrier signed a minor league deal Wednesday that includes an invitation to the big-league camp.
”I told them if [the ligament] looks like it needed to be fixed, fix it,” the 35-year-old righthanded reliever said. “But [Reds surgeon Dr. Tim Kremchek] said everything looked good.”
So Guerrier escaped with surgery in which his tendon was cut completely away from the bone, then reattached by “drilling holes to tie it on” to the elbow. But that was much preferable to a ligament replacement, which would have cost Guerrier the 2014 season.
Guerrier will report with Twins pitchers and catchers on Feb. 16, and he fully expects to win a job in the Twins bullpen, a position he held from 2004 through 2010. After compiling a 3.38 ERA in 393 games with the Twins, he signed a three-year, $12 million free-agent contract with the Dodgers in 2011, and appeared in 135 games with a 4.02 ERA with the Dodgers and Cubs since, but says the tendon has bothered him since the 2012 season.
Normal recovery time from his Aug. 17 surgery is six months, almost exactly to the date of spring training’s start. Guerrier said he is already throwing off a mound, and “I’m pretty confident in myself that if I come back healthy and feel good, I have as good a chance as anybody” to win a roster spot, he said, despite seven members of the 2012 bullpen returning.
Guerrier is the third former Twins player to come back this offseason, joining Jason Kubel and Jason Bartlett, all three of whom broke in with the Twins in 2004 and spent four seasons as teammates before Bartlett was traded to Tampa Bay.
“I think it’s kind of a good scenario for the chances of high reward, low risk,” Guerrier said. “ If things work out, and some of us come back and play like we feel we’re capable of, it could be great. … It’s exciting for everybody.”
Guerrier said one of the most appealing aspects of rejoining the Twins was the chance to do his post-surgery work under pitching coach Rick Anderson. It will be interesting, Guerrier said, “to see what he thinks about my mechanics, if anything has changed.”
Guerrier would be perfectly content to find that nothing has changed since he left the Twins in 2010, those three straight 90-plus loss seasons notwithstanding.
Buxton No. 1 again
Going 4-for-4 is nothing new for Byron Buxton, but this is a home run that all of baseball noticed.
The Twins’ 20-year-old outfield phenom was ranked the No. 1 prospect in baseball on Wednesday by ESPN baseball analyst Keith Law. Along with an identical ranking by mlb.com, Baseball America magazine and Baseball Prospectus website, Buxton has swept the top spot in all four preseason evaluations.
“Buxton could be the next 20-homer/50-stolen base player, with high averages and OBPs and great defense in center,” Law wrote, “which would make him a perennial MVP candidate for the Twins for years.”
Law, a longtime scout and former assistant general manager of the Toronto Blue Jays, ranked four other Twins among his top 100 prospects.
Third baseman Miguel Sano, “the best pure offensive prospect in the minors,” according to Law, was his eighth-best prospect, with second baseman Eddie Rosario 49th, righthander Alex Meyer 62nd and righthander Kohl Stewart 76th.
Overall, Law rated the Twins’ farm system as the second-best in baseball, behind that of only the Houston Astros.