Live From the AFL: Angel Guzman

If not for injury you'd probably all know Angel Guzman by now. Heck, if not for injury you'd probably all own an Angel Guzman jersey by now. Perhaps the best pitching prospect the Cubs have had in 10 years (yes, better than Wood, Prior, Zambrano, Willis), Guzman is finally healthy, and getting back to work in the AFL.

Angel Guzman is healthy, and that alone means that so far the Arizona Fall League has been a success.

"I'm feeling pretty good, I basically lost a whole season because of the forearm injury, but I've been healthy here. The coaches are keeping me on a pitch count, just to make sure I'm okay, but so far things have gone well."

This is the best news those in the Chicago Cubs front office have heard about Angel Guzman since Kansas City voided his contract back in 1999. Most consider Guzman the top pitching prospect in the Cubs system, and that's high praise considering he's in the Arizona Fall League with two other Cubs prospects who have already seen time in the big leagues.

"I'm going to make my third start Tuesday," Guzman said, "and hopefully everything goes well, I'm supposed to throw 75 pitches or five innings, whichever comes first."

The Cubs are understandably being cautious with Guzman, because quite literally the only thing holding him back has been injuries. Guzman has challenged for a spot in the Cubs starting rotation since 2003, and assuming he's healthy he'll factor into their plans again in 2006, but those injuries are starting to become a reoccurring theme.

The Royals voided his contract in 1999 after Guzman failed a physical, and though the Cubs were happy to scoop him up, it appears the Royals may have had a premonition. In '03 the plan had been for Guzman, who was dominating the Southern League at West Tennessee, to be the first pitcher called up, but a tear in his labrum resulted in surgery that shut him down for that season. In 2004 Guzman was once again brought along slowly, but wasn't showing the same velocity early in the season and made only 11 starts before being shut down because of pain in his forearm.

"That's the most frustrating thing, being hurt," Guzman said, "but the Cubs told me that this injury, the forearm, is really part of the rehab from my surgery in 2003."

It was a shock to Guzman, who said he felt good coming back from the labrum tear.

"I felt great after the surgery, came back, and didn't have any problems during my rehab, so when I started hurting [in 2004] it didn't really make sense to me, but the doctors told me it happens all the time, so I took that as a good sign."

That shut down lasted the rest of the 2004 season, and into the 2005 year, where Guzman didn't make an appearance in a game until August.

"The toughest part for me was watching the Cubs on TV," Guzman said in Phoenix, where his Mesa Solar Sox were getting ready for another AFL game, "I want to be up there helping them win, and I know I can, but I have to be healthy."

Still, Guzman says that the injuries have helped him.

"It's taught me that you can't just be strong physically, you have to be strong mentally as well. You have to be able to get through tough times, on the mound and off."

The AFL is providing Guzman the opportunity to get in more innings (he pitched just 18.1 innings in 2005), and to prove to everyone, himself included, that he'll be ready as soon as the Cubs call.

"I'm here to show everybody that I'm ready to play, that I'm ready to help the Cubs win. If I'm healthy I think that I can do that, and I think I'll be healthy next year."

Guzman's stuff is electric, and coming back. He's consistently been hitting 94mph on the radar gun with his fastball, and while his curveball has been inconsistent in the AFL, his changeup remains one of the best in minor league baseball. With more work, Guzman is confident he'll have all three of his pitches back to where they were when he contended for a spot on the Cubs back in 2003.

"If I work hard I think I can be even better than I was before, I'm stronger now, I know more about pitching. I'm ready to win."

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