One of the most heartbreaking things for us here on the minor league side at Talking Chop is to see players we like both as people and as players suffer setbacks in their development. Rough seasons and/or injuries happen all the time in the minor leagues and many chalk it up to “just the way it goes”, but these are real people with real dreams and to see their careers potentially derailed is the opposite of fun. However, injuries are not the end of the line for most players and one such player that is even closer to making it to the big leagues than he was BEFORE he went down due to injury is right-handed pitcher Patrick Weigel.
Patrick was taken in the 7th round of the 2015 draft out of the University of Houston and sports a high octane fastball that touched the upper 90’s, a slider that emerged as his best breaking ball to our eyes, a slower curve that is a nice change of pace pitch to keep hitter off balance against his harder slider, and a change-up that helps him against lefties and has made big strides. Before his injury, Weigel was well on his way to being a top 10 prospect in the Braves’ farm system as he had ascended all the way to Triple-A while sporting career marks of a 3.27 ERA and 275 strikeouts in 283.2 innings of work while holding opposing batters to just a .223 batting average against him.
Unfortunately, in 2017, Patrick had to undergo Tommy John surgery which caused him to miss a chunk of the 2017 season and basically all of the 2018 season. He did return to action in the GCL for a few cameo appearances and pitched down in instructs as well. The Braves thought enough of him and his recovery to add him to the 40-man roster to protect him from the Rule 5 draft this offseason and he is now just a phone call away from the major leagues.
I managed to catch Patrick at a good time during what has been a busy offseason for him as he prepares for the season and he agreed to chat with us about his recovery and the path forward for him in 2019. This is a good one….enjoy!
Let’s just get this out of the way. Back in 2017, you had a good start to the year in Double-A before getting moved up to Triple-A. When did you first notice your arm was bothering you?
Well, I initially injured it back in 2014 which was when I sprained it the first time. It always bothered me in certain spots so I would move my arm angle or I would make an adjustment where I could throw where it wouldn’t hurt as bad. It would hurt the next couple of days that year after I threw and it kept getting worse and worse. It got to where I would warm up for my start and it would still hurt in the bullpen and then when I would get up for the game, the adrenaline would kick in and it wouldn’t hurt anymore. Eventually, that pain would last into the first inning and then it was the second/third inning and then in my last start, it just never stopped hurting. It was hurting in Toledo which was my start previous to that Columbus start and I don’t know how, but I think I got through five innings and just finessed through five. That next start in Columbus, I couldn’t throw my fastball, I couldn’t spin a breaking ball…I just couldn’t generate the arm speed. I had known that something was probably wrong for a while because your arm isn’t supposed to hurt there that bad. So I came off the mound and I kind of knew that it was time to know what was going on.
When I went in for the MRI, they actually found that I had two tears on the UCL, one on each end of it. One was the prior one from 2014 and another one that had developed for the last…well, however long it was.
Once you had to undergo Tommy John surgery, how did your recovery go? Did it progress as expected or did things go faster or slower than the timelines you had in place?
It progressed just as expected. As a player and a competitor, you want it to go a little bit faster, but the medical staff did a really good job of keeping me grounded and saying, “I know you are feeling good right now, but you need to take your time and get the whole thing going.” I was still able to throw those I think four innings in the GCL and then maybe another five or six in instructs, so I got those first 10 or so innings out of the way just to have peace of mind that I know I can still go out there and pitch still.
Once I got past the point where I had full movement in my arm as far as extension and inflection…like point your hand back toward your shoulder…once I got past that point, it was relatively painless. I think I started throwing at the six month mark and after that it was just going through the throwing progression and break through all of that scar tissue.
There is a perception out there amongst laymen that rehab largely just waiting for things to heal and just slowly testing things out over time. What was a typical day for you during the rehab process once you could start throwing again and when did you start feeling like yourself again?
Once I started throwing, a typical day would be I would get there early in the morning just to get what they call “prehab”. You get your body moving and you get the blood flowing to your arm and then go out for stretch. Then I would go do my throwing however far it was that day. After throwing, we would go out to the outfield and we would do our sprint work and then we would go inside and that is when we would do all of our rehab exercises that as you go through, you keep building on each other. It gets to a certain point that once you start throwing bullpens, they start backing off the rehab and then you get into a cycle of throwing your bullpens and focusing on the recovery aspect as opposed the strengthening of the elbow aspect. After I would do my rehab, then we would lift probably three to four times a week. During that time, I would have to hang out at the facility and watch about five innings of each GCL game.
For some people, it was a bit surprising that you didn’t throw in the Arizona Fall League because, at least to an outsider without knowledge of how long TJS rehab should take. Was there any discussion of you pitching in the AFL or was the plan always for you to return at instructs?
We had that discussion and I know it was something that we had talked about, but we decided that instructs was just a better place for me to facilitate those innings. The club has more control of what goes on as far as instructs. I was only throwing one inning at a time, but I was able to start every game that I threw. They had that control that I would stay at home…I don’t think I traveled to any of the games, so I got to throw at home for each of the games and they got to control that I started each one. For them, because I was coming off the surgery, I think that they wanted to take the most precautions and in the safest environment to facilitate those innings.
You started throwing down in the GCL and in instructs this past year. How did that go and what was it like getting back on the mound?
It felt really good. You know, it was the culmination of the past 16-17 months of work that I was able to get back on the mound and I was able to have some success. As for how everything was feeling, I was pretty much back up to where I was. My offspeed was a little more inconsistent than I would have liked and that is just part of the rehab process. They say that you don’t really have full feel of where you were until like 22-24 months which is about where I will be in April. I got to go down to Houston this offseason and start up my throwing program. Through the rehab process, I got to look at a lot of video. I obviously got hurt for a reason, so there was something mechanically wrong that I was doing that put that stress on my elbow. We were able to take a dive into some video work and make some adjustments in my delivery and some things that I am really excited about taking into spring training this year.
In terms of where you were in 2017 versus now, have you noticed any differences in how your pitches are behaving after your recovery? Have you made any changes to your mechanics?
My pitches are pretty much behaving the same. I actually feel like I have a little bit more control now post-surgery because I don’t have that issue of moving my arm around and trying to find a delivery that doesn’t hurt. I’m finally healthy enough that I have a consistent delivery where it is just easier for me to repeat and find the strike zone. I noticed in my bullpens that I have had an easier time hitting spots. Mechanically, it is a little hard to say what I am doing over the phone or without showing video, but I would say that I have done some work on the takeaway from my glove. I know that I would take the ball way behind me and my arm would be really late getting up at foot strike. My arm would be behind which would cause it to flare outside of my body on the delivery and that puts a lot of stress on the elbow. We’ve done some work on cleaning that action up and making sure that the arm is up at foot strike and it is amazing how much easier it is when you are in the right positions and not trying to fight pain.
The Braves thought enough of you to protect you from the Rule 5 draft by adding you to the 40 man roster this offseason. How does it feel that, despite everything you have been through, that you are now that much closer to the big leagues?
I can’t say how blessed I am. It really speaks highly that the Braves are able to do that and I just can’t wait for the season to be given that opportunity whenever it comes. I am just excited to go out there and just accomplish a dream and contribute to this team. It has been really fun this past year watching all the guys that I played with…you know Newcomb, Touki, Soroka…just go down the line of pretty much everyone who pitched this year, I played with at some point in the minor leagues. Seeing those guys go up there and do their thing, I couldn’t be happier for them and it just gives you more motivation to get up there and do it myself. It is different this time around. Went I went to camp in 2017, I was going up there and I knew a few guys..I think it was Sims, Newcomb, Fried…so I knew a few guys that were in camp, but this year it seems like our whole Rome pitching staff is pretty much up there as well as some other guys which is pretty ridiculous to think about. I am so excited for this year.
Going into 2019, you are on the 40 man roster and amidst a ton of starting pitching prospects. Are you open to starting the season as a reliever to manage your innings a bit and potentially get another set of opportunities in the big leagues and what are your goals for this coming season?
I am at the point now that I just want to pitch in the best role that the team thinks that I will be the best at or that I will be able to contribute the most at. Whether that is in the pen or the starting rotation, that is not really up to me. I came out of the bullpen in college and I started when I got to pro ball…I’ve done both. Whatever they decide that puts me in the best position to contribute, I am absolutely open to that. My goals this season are one: to stay healthy. Two: I want to make my major league debut this year and just to continue to pitch to the level I was before the injury if not better. I have the goal that I just want to get back to where I was and re-establish myself not for anyone else, but for myself just knowing that I am fully back.