Wells' Ride to the Show Hits a Road Block

Casper Wells leaned against a wall in the clubhouse. His eyes were glazed over and reddened, and he slouched over like a prize fighter who had just realized that he was no longer untouchable. This was a man who had been defeated by forces beyond his control, but did not quite have the time to process what it all meant yet.

Casper Wells was headed to baseball's version of purgatory- the disabled list.

"I fractured the hamate bone in my hand. I have to go down to Lakeland and get surgery and rehab. I won't be back for a couple of months," Wells said in an emotional exchange after Wednesday's game.

With one errant swing all the progress Wells had made over the previous year had come to a screeching halt.

Wells quickly shot up the Tigers organizational charts last season after spending his first three and a half years relatively unknown and unnoticed. For a while, it appeared that he was destined to be a career minor leaguer, or, even worse, an unemployed former minor leaguer.

The early going was so bad that at one point he began to contemplate his future in baseball.

"I was probably close to being cut before last year and I wasn't so sure that baseball was in my future anymore," Wells explained.

When he was called up to Erie on June 6 he had hit .240/.351/.447 through his first 50 games at West Michigan which, on the surface, may not be an awe inspiring line, but the Midwest League is notoriously pitcher friendly and the Whitecaps home field also favors hurlers.

After bashing ten home runs in 50 games, he caught the attention of the front office and garnered a harder look, so he was sent up to Double-A Erie. Apparently that vote of confidence was all it took to make it all click again for Wells.

Almost overnight he transformed into one of the best outfield prospects in the Eastern League. Over the last 75 games of the season he went on an absolute terror, posting a .289/.376/.589 batting line with 17 homers, 18 doubles, six triples, and 53 RBI. He ended the season by hitting .345 in August with 10 homers, 27 RBI, 10 doubles, four triples and 34 runs scored, and was honored with the Player of the Month Award for his performance.

His strong play afforded him the opportunity to participate in the prospect rich Arizona Fall League after Clete Thomas got injured, opening up a spot for him. He took full advantage of the opportunity by hitting .321 with eight homers and 23 RBI in 23 games and was impressive enough that the Tigers added him to their 40-man roster in November.

After his breakout season everyone expected Wells to stick on with Toledo after he continued to impress with his play in spring training but a logjam in the outfield left him as the odd-man out.

"We have so many good outfielders, he could easily make the Triple-A team, but they felt it wouldn't hurt him to come back and start here," Erie hitting coach Glenn Adams said. "You can get to the show from Double-A too, you know."

So this was the year that was supposed to be his coming out party. Maybe with a little luck it even could have been the year he got a call-up to the show. Instead, he is left to ponder if he'll get back on track after getting cut down during his quick ascension up the organizational charts.

Wells became injured last Monday after swinging awkwardly at an outside pitch during the sixth inning in a 2-1 loss to Bowie.

"I swung at an outside pitch, and kind of slowed up and finished my swing. Everyone said it looked kind of weird. I'm usually always playing with something wrong with me, but I was actually feeling 100 percent today, then this happens," Wells said after the game Monday. "It's ironic."

Wells will be flying down to Lakeland on Monday to meet with the team doctors and if all goes to plan he will have the operation the same day. Best case scenario: he'll be able to rejoin the team during the second half of the season. In reality, though, the recovery times for this type of injury are all over the place.

The typical recovery time for this operation is listed at 6-8 weeks, but that's for an average person who needs their hands for nothing more than going through their daily mundane tasks, not for an athlete who is repeatedly required to violently swing a bat to earn a living.

You don't need to look far for examples of varying recovery times after surgery. Last year Ryan Strieby and Scott Sizemore had their seasons cut short in the second half by breaking their hamates, which is quickly becoming baseball's version of the wisdom tooth.

Sizemore was the first to go down and was operated on in June. Although a little rusty, he was ready to go again in time for the Fall Instructional League. Strieby, on the other hand, wasn't as fortunate. He broke his hamate in August and there were still doubts surrounding his availability for the season opener heading into the final week of spring training.

This type of injury tends to be harder on power hitters, as it takes a while to regain the bat speed and power they had before the procedure. This could be bad news for Wells, but he seems determined to not allow it to become a lingering problem.

"Who knows, something worse could have happened, so I'm still pretty optimistic about it. I'm not totally done, it's not like the season is over for me. So I'll just get ready and tear it up during the second half. Hopefully I'll be back by the All-Star break," Wells said. "It's in God's hands now."


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