Top prospect Adenhart to have elbow surgery

Big leagues likely to wait

pitcher now eyes UNC

May 22, 2004|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

Nick Adenhart, the Williamsport High pitcher who was expected to go within the first 10 picks in next month's amateur baseball draft, will undergo reconstructive ligament surgery on his right elbow after suffering an injury in his last start.

Adenhart left a May 11 game at South Hagerstown in the first inning because of pain in the elbow. Dr. James Andrews examined him Monday in Birmingham, Ala., and recommended the surgery, which will take place in June after Adenhart graduates.

"The only thing wrong with the elbow is this ligament," said Adenhart's stepfather, Duane Gigeous. "It's baffling that it just went because everything else is fine. He's never had any soreness, he's never had any problem whatsoever. It's like lightning striking. Why does it strike one tree and not another? That's unexplainable. But there's nobody to blame."

Adenhart, 17, is serving as the designated hitter for Williamsport in the Class A playoffs. He homered against Smithsburg on Thursday in his first at-bat since the diagnosis, and remained in the lineup last night against Boonesboro in the regional final.

Scouts have been trailing Adenhart all season after he went 6-1 with a 1.20 ERA as a junior. Intrigued by his command of a 95-mph fastball, curve and changeup, they watched him go 5-1 with a 0.91 ERA and 85 strikeouts in 38 1/3 innings this year.

The injury most likely will dissuade teams from taking Adenhart in the first round. He has a scholarship at the University of North Carolina and plans on pitching for the Tar Heels after redshirting his first season.

He'll be eligible for the draft again after three years.

"I've talked to him every day and he seems like he's doing fine," said Dean Albany, an Orioles scout who managed Adenhart on summer and fall league teams. "He went to one of the best doctors there is, and the way guys come back from this surgery ... he's going to come out of this just fine. In three years we'll be talking about the same kid. It's a small setback."

Baseball America rated Adenhart as the No. 1 high school player in the country this year, though it later moved LaGrange (Texas) High pitcher Homer Bailey ahead of him. He recently was named the Gatorade Player of the Year in Maryland for the second time.

"He's handling this like a champ," Gigeous said. "He'll go to North Carolina and play in the ACC for a couple years and get a college education. We don't view it as a tragedy. And I think when all is said and done, he'll be a better pitcher.

"For us and for Nick, there are a lot of silver linings in this cloud. The biggest message being sent is he shot for the stars, gave himself some options and landed on the moon. Everybody in the world would be celebrating him playing at North Carolina if it hadn't been for the other thing. And this is a character-builder. It's a dream delayed, not denied.

"We firmly believe he'll wear a major league uniform. The only difference is he'll have a college education."

Adenhart is insured by Lloyds of London "for a substantial amount," Gigeous said, but only for an injury that prevents him from ever playing again.

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