Just last June now-Oakland Athletics prospect, Dustin Fowler, made his major league debut for the New York Yankees playing right field.
And it was not one to remember, although Fowler will as those of us that have seen the video of his season-ending injury on that very same late-June day.
A center fielder by trade, the speedy Fowler ran full force into the right field wall, his right knee slamming directly into an unpadded, metal electrical box. He was carried off the field by stretcher and taken to the hospital by ambulance, all before even getting his first big league at-bat.
Is he ready to have that at-bat yet? Fowler says he is currently at about 85 percent, giving him plenty of time to make up that last 15 percent which he says is,
“Just getting that last little strength back in the leg, last little girth. That’s that last little bit to get the speed back to where it was.”
Fowler expects to begin playing in Spring Training games with the team that begin on February 23rd at Hohokam Stadium in Mesa, AZ. But can a player comeback that soon after having season-ending surgery due to a ruptured patella tendon? Especially a player who relies on speed in the outfield and on the base paths as keys to his success? It was a little unknown at first, whether or not Fowler would recover to start the 2018 season, given the injury is one more prone to football players than baseball players.
He underwent the surgery almost immediately but was still less than four weeks into the mandatory six weeks of being in a knee brace when he was traded from the Yankees to the Athletics as part of the blockbuster trade that sent Oakland’s ace Sonny Gray to New York.
Even though recovery from this type of knee surgery can often take up to a year, Fowler’s recovery has been remarkably quick. As early as August, a mere month after the incident, there were reports that his recovery is going more rapidly than expected. The Athletics officially removed him from the 60-day disabled list on November 6. Fowler has now already been hitting, running and throwing for the past month and is confident that his best tool, his speed, will be just fine.
Fowler was the Yankees top defensive outfield prospect at the time of his injury. Despite not making MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 Prospects List this year, most speculate that it was the injury, and not his abilities, that kept him off of the prestigious list.
Here on Prospects1500 I ranked Fowler the Oakland Athletics fourth best prospect on my A’s Top 50 Prospects for 2018.
So far it appears that Fowler is taking his recovery realistically and seriously. To have come so far in so little time and still know that he needs the next month to get to 100 percent shows maturity that some young players do not have.
The Athletics are excited to have Fowler penciled in as their starting center fielder for Opening Day 2018.
Fowler is equally excited both to get back onto the playing field and also, to be in Oakland. He feels the team has a tone similar to the the “Baby Bombers” he almost joined in New York.
“I think it’s a great group here,” Fowler said last Friday on the eve of the team’s Fan Fest. “I can compare it to the group we had in New York. A lot of these guys were drafted together, they’ve come up together and played well together. It’s a great thing. We had a great thing there, so having all these guys that know how to play with each other is huge. I’m excited to get going and learn how to play with them.”
Despite reports that he is penciled in for Opening Day, Fowler still believes he has a job to win in center saying,
“I have a job to win. There’s always someone trying to take your job. I think that’s the biggest curiosity for me, is not quite knowing where I’m going to be or stand yet … There’s a lot better opportunity here and I’m happy to get going.”
Injury aside, Fowler is seen as having one of the best outfield gloves and is looked at being the type of player who has 20-20 seasons in his future. He’s the type of player that the A’s have wanted in their farm system for quite some time and they took a chance on him despite the fact that he may not have ever fully recovered. Their gamble on the 22-year-old Fowler seems to already be paying off, even if you look only at his maturity and enthusiasm for the game, before adding on how quickly his knee has already healed.
Both parties are sure to be thrilled when Fowler takes his first steps onto the field this Spring Training.
Article featured image – Dustin Fowler, photo credit Jessica Christian, The Chronicle