Everyone has a story. How they spent the summer shutdown and, for professional baseball players, attempted to train and stay attached to their clubs. Just in case a season on hold was put into motion.
Orioles pitching prospect Zach Pop can spin an interesting tale. Going back home to Canada and rehabbing his surgically repaired right elbow after the closing of the Twin Lakes Park facility in Sarasota. The higher dependence on video to allow the Orioles to track his progress.
Being outside the 60-man pool prohibits him from working out at the alternate camp site in Bowie. So Pop, who landed in the Orioles’ prospect rankings after the Manny Machado trade with the Dodgers in 2018, found a facility outside of Toronto and kept throwing.
“I went home to Canada and have just been rehabbing up here and kind of keeping in constant contact with the team,” he said this week in a phone conversation.
“I have to let them know how I did for the week, how my workouts went and my pitching, all that stuff. But I work out up here. One of those converted indoor soccer facilities.”
Pop said he’s “full-go” now since he resumed light throwing in mid-November. He had advanced from 45 to 60 to 75 feet and was throwing off a flat mound in March.
“I’m been fully healthy, lifting,” he said. “We were doing bullpens with no hitters. We had some guys stand in. Been up to 94 mph in a ‘pen situation, so that was pretty exciting to have that come back. And excited to see how that translates in a game when you get some adrenaline.
“Did 80-90 percent intensity in ‘pens. Couldn’t go higher than that. And just lifting. The main goal for us was just to be healthy and have a normal offseason and be really good next year.”
The Orioles will be careful with Pop, a native of Brampton, Ont., based on his Tommy John procedure in May 2019. But he expected to get into games this summer prior to the shutdown and cancelation of the minor league season. There’s no reason why he can’t get back in position to pitch at one of the higher affiliates and perhaps make his major league debut.
“From what I’m hearing, Pop is right on schedule with his rehab plan and currently throwing off the mound with good intensity,” said Matt Blood, director of player development. “Really worked to address mobility and body composition during his rehab from the outset and is feeling better than ever.”
Pop was shut down in spring training with “arm fatigue” prior to his surgery after a noticeable decline in velocity, his fastball dropping into the upper 80s. He made eight appearances at Double-A Bowie, allowing only one run and striking out 11 in 10 2/3 innings, but the Orioles placed him on the injured list May 1 after he struck out the only Richmond batter he faced to earn a hold.
The decision to undergo surgery was made 12 days later after renowned orthopedist Dr. James Andrews examined Pop in Pensacola, Fla.
“You never really know,” said Pop, who turns 24 later this month. “You tweak something early, but eventually the velocity kind of came back. We were in the cold and I think I was up to 96, 95 (mph) before the injury, so it wasn’t where I was before, but it wasn’t anything terrible. I was still getting a lot of people out and I was feeling good at the time. And when it happened, it kind of took me by surprise.
“I was pitching in a game at Erie and something didn’t feel right. There wasn’t a pop or there wasn’t anything like that, so it was kind of weird. I ended up pitching with it for probably another week, two weeks, before I finally went and had surgery.”
Followed by an extended and revised throwing program in lieu of being able to pitch in intrasquad games at the secondary site.
Prospects are reaching the top rungs of the organizational ladder and making their major league debuts. Ryan Mountcastle is the starting left fielder. Keegan Akin is in the rotation and starting again on Saturday against the Yankees. Dean Kremer is “knocking on the door,” according to executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias.
Pop’s turn is coming. A power arm for the back end of a redesigned bullpen.
“It’s definitely exciting,” he said. “It’s always fun to think about that next level, competing at a higher level and being able to bring something to the team and really help them out late in a ballgame or something like that. Especially with all the work that I’ve now put in through this rehab process, all the improvements that we’ve made.
“It’s really exciting to see guys start trickling up and thinking about next year and what could happen.”