It was difficult to understand a few years ago about a torn UCL (ulnar collateral ligament) in the elbow. Though, now, for a pitcher and position player, the injury is common and expected even with all the care and medical personnel that are assigned to big league teams.
For athletes this is more common, more so ballplayers that throw with tremendous velocity at a young age. Position players also have become addicted to throwing hard and have joined this growing list of the torn UCL injuries which eventually leads to Tommy John surgery.
Sunday, 20-year old Jasson Dominguez, the Yankees prospect with switch hitting power of Mickey Mantle, and a smile and bright spot of a losing season, was diagnosed with a torn UCL in his right elbow. His season shutdown and recovery time probably no baseball until next June or later.
Facts: UCL injuries have increased in baseball at the minor and Major League level. Dominguez adds to the 13% of MLB players with UCL injuries at some point in their career. And 25% of MLB pitchers and 15% of minor league pitchers have undergone UCL injuries or surgery.
Angels’ two-way player Shohei Ohtani was diagnosed with a torn UCL to his right elbow, and he also may undergo surgery for a second time. Though, Ohtani remains in the lineup and awaits a second opinion.
But the injury to Dominguez leads to more theories and questions in regard to an increase of the torn UCL, a rising number of pitchers from the Dominican Republic and baseball roster on all levels with players of Latino descent. An issue with the Yankees will be determined as to how they will fill a void with their top prospect.
A part of the Yankees youth movement, Dominguez was making early inroads as that budding and next superstar, the youngest player since 1900 to hit a home run in four of his first seven games. The injury is a setback and pending surgery he should recover, though the Yankees fan base lost their last blast of enthusiasm in these final three weeks of a season that went wrong in so many ways.
Back to the issue, though, it is difficult to understand this recurring trend of the torn UCL. The Dominican born Dominguez, ranked as the top prospect to sign with a MLB team in the 2019-20 international class, signed with the Yankees for a franchise record $5.1 million bonus in July of 2019. As with many others in the baseball hotbed of the Dominican Republic, he started throwing a baseball at the age of eight.
The arm and throwing hard will eventually take a toll. Ask baseball personnel and scouts as I often do, the arm and elbow are not a robot. They tell me, as I once witnessed on a visit to Santiago, kids are throwing at high velocity before the height of their development.
Most likely, Dominguez became a victim of the torn UCL, though I am not a specialist to make that determination. Scouts who tour the Dominican baseball scene are a first hand witness of observing the throws. Dominguez is a position player but when a kid arrives to play ball the first inclination is to determine their ability to throw hard.
Throwing hard off the mound or from the outfield, and continuing reliance on strength through training, can contribute to more muscle tears at a young age, again discussing these rash of injuries with medical personnel leads to this consensus.
“It’s because they’re taught is to throw hard and throw strikes and throw softballs and throw hard and long toss,” one evaluator said who has been around that baseball hotbed in the Dominican Republic. “Nobody works on building the small muscles anymore.”
Perhaps, this theory contributes to the torn UCL. Perhaps the years of wear and tear contributed to Dominguez’ injury that will eventually require Tommy John surgery. Regardless, scouts and evaluators are first to jump on a prospect at a young age that throws with above average velocity. Over the years covering baseball I have asked players the first time they were introduced to baseball, many from the Dominican Republic with similar accounts of throwing at a young age.
Many have escaped the injury and others have not. Perhaps, as one medical expert informed me, “It’s the composition of the body structure or training to increase strength of the arm and elbow,”
He said, it is a hit or miss and this time Dominguez, with all of his talent had the misfortune of striking out. But that same expert said chances of Dominguez and a full recovery are in his favor, no doubt that age is a factor. But the road to recovery will be a difficult climb.
“You’re never expecting for this to be the result,” Dominguez said through an interpreter Sunday when asked about his injury. “Now understanding what happened, we have to look forward and go through It.”
He had his usual smile. The Yankees will find another option as they move forward to being a contender again in 2024. But finding a solution to reducing a torn UCL has become an issue and more difficult to find.
Rich Mancuso: Twitter@Ring786 Facebook.com/Rich Mancuso