Henry still trying to show he's a success story after thoracic outlet surgery


Age on opening day 2024: 24

How acquired: Drafted in second round in 2020 from LSU

Ranking: No. 18 per MLB Pipeline, No. 17 per Baseball America

MLB ETA: 2024
* Projected by MLB Pipeline

Signing bonus: $2 million

2023 levels: Single-A Fredericksburg, High-A Wilmington and Double-A Harrisburg

2023 stats: 0-3, 6.21 ERA, 14 G, 10 GS, 33 ⅓ IP, 33 H, 23 R, 23 ER, 6 HR, 16 BB, 37 SO, 5 HBP, 1.470 WHIP

Quotable: “I consider myself a competitor, so obviously the competitor in me wants to be out there for five, six, seven innings, however long, and just play baseball. But in the back of my mind, too, I know that it's a slow process. I gotta take it easy and make sure that, not only that I can pitch this year, but going forward for many of years. So that's also there, too. So it's just been a process and I had to take a step back every now and then. I didn't have surgery but less than a year ago. So it's definitely been a process. It's been tough, but at the same time, I know what comes with it.” – Cole Henry on recovering from thoracic outlet syndrome surgery

2023 analysis: The mere fact that Henry returned to a mound this season is enough reason to consider this year a success for the right-hander.

He was limited to just nine starts between Harrisburg and Triple-A Rochester last year before needing season-ending thoracic outlet syndrome surgery, which involved removing a rib and a neck muscle.

That procedure has limited the careers of other pitchers, notably Stephen Strasburg, Will Harris and Matt Harvey. But the Nats were hopeful that Henry’s young age would give him a better chance of bouncing back from the difficult surgery.

So far, so good for the 24-year-old. Though it was only 14 games and 10 starts, Henry actually made the most appearances this year than he has in any season since the Nats made him their second-round pick out of LSU in 2020 after taking Cade Cavall in the first round.

Even though the results weren’t always fantastic, seeing him pitch from May through September was encouraging enough.

Henry pitched seven scoreless innings over two starts with Fredericksburg in May, giving up just four hits and no walks while striking out 11. He gave up two runs in 18 ⅓ innings (2.25 ERA) over two starts with Wilmington, going 0-1 with three walks and five strikeouts.

But his results were less impressive at Harrisburg, where he made 10 appearances and six starts. He gave up 21 runs in 18 ⅓ innings (10.31 ERA) with 23 hits, five homers, 13 walks and 21 strikeouts.

Henry was on a strict innings limit this season and only completed 33 ⅓ frames, which was the second-most he’s pitched in a single season since joining the Nats organization. He only pitched more than two innings in a single outing six times, none of which came after his June 16 start with Harrisburg.

The goal coming into the season was for him to pitch close to 100 innings, of which he fell woefully short. But even with a minor setback in late June and then missing all of August, he still pitched through the end of the season in mid-September.

2024 outlook: As with fellow top pitching prospect Cavalli, health is the main thing for Henry heading into next season. But unlike Cavalli and his Tommy John surgery, thoracic outlet syndrome surgery is a much more difficult procedure to come back from with no clear rehab process or timeline.

He is on the right track, however. Finishing the season healthy was a big milestone for Henry and lends more optimism toward next year.

It’s very unlikely he’ll meet MLB Pipeline’s estimated major league debut of 2024. But hopefully he can get closer and may surpass this year’s goal of pitching close to 100 innings.

The Nats drafted him knowing he had an upper-arm stress reaction and elbow concerns as a draft-eligible sophomore who had only pitched 19 innings in 2020 coming out of LSU. He was then also limited to just 47 innings over 11 games (10 starts) in 2021 with an elbow strain. And Henry hasn’t pitched more than 47 innings in a season since tossing 58 ⅓ during his first year with the Tigers in 2019.

If Henry can go wire-to-wire next year, he’ll prove he could be one of the few success stories after thoracic outlet syndrome surgery and then turn his attention to the results.

“The main goal mostly is just be able to go end to end throughout the season, be able to pitch the whole season,” he said. “And that's the main goal, obviously: Just to make it through the whole season and know that my body can hold up for a whole season.”

Henry is eligible for this year’s Rule 5 draft, so the Nationals would have to add him to the 40-man roster to protect him, or risk losing him and hope another team won’t select him based on his injury history.

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