Phillies pitching prospects Adam Morgan and Shane Watson to miss most of 2014

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After several years of dealing with a barren farm system, the Phillies have slowly been able to restock the lower ranks with some talent with plenty of upside. Pitchers Adam Morgan and Shane Watson are among those giving Phillies fans something to look forward to as the duo ranked sixth- and eighth-best in the organization, respectively, according to MLB.com.

But the Phillies got a double-dose of bad news yesterday, as MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki reported:

[Morgan] suffered a left shoulder injury [in May], which ultimately required surgery this month. Phillies assistant general manager Benny Looper said Morgan might not be back until August, at the earliest. Fellow prospect Shane Watson is scheduled to have right shoulder surgery shortly. He also is expected to be out until August.

Morgan was selected by the Phillies in the third round of the 2011 draft. He has been solid in three seasons in the organization, but suffered a shoulder injury in mid-May last season, sidelining him for two months. Doctors prescribed rest rather than undergoing surgery immediately. The Phillies put him on a pitch count. While the results were decent following his return (2.67 ERA in eight Triple-A starts), his strikeout and walk rates were worse (20-14 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 30 1/3 innings) and he was giving up hits at a much higher rate as well (.347 BABIP). Morgan will turn 24 years old at the end of February.

Watson, a 20-year-old taken in the first round of the 2012 draft, made just 16 starts in what would have been his first full season in professional baseball. With Single-A Lakewood, Watson posted a 4.75 ERA in 72 innings. Following a start on July 4, Watson was given time off due to shoulder fatigue, but was eventually shut down for the season in August. Like Morgan, doctors prescribed rest rather than a surgical procedure. In both cases, the rest seemed to only delay the inevitable.

Neal Huntington thinks players should be allowed to re-enter games after concussion testing

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Pirates catcher Francisco Cervelli, who has suffered many concussions throughout his 12-year career, was hit on the back of the helmet on a Joc Pederson backswing Saturday against the Dodgers. Through Cervelli remained in the game initially, he took himself out of the game shortly thereafter and went on the seven-day concussion injured list on Sunday.

Perhaps inspired by Saturday’s event, Pirates GM Neal Huntington suggested that players should be allowed to re-enter games once they have passed concussion tests, the Associated Press reports. Huntington said, “Any player that had an obvious concussion risk incident should be allowed to be removed from the game, taken off the field, taken into the locker room, assessed by a doctor, assessed by a trainer, go through an extended period of time and then re-enter the game. Because right now, all of this has to happen on the field.”

Huntington added, “The player has to feel pressure as he’s standing there with 30,000 or 10,000 or 50,000 eyes on him. He has to feel pressure to make a decision whether (he’s) in or (he’s) out of this game. He knows if he takes himself out and he’s the catcher, there’s only one other catcher, and the game becomes a fiasco if that other catcher gets hurt.”

Huntington, who has been forward-thinking on a number of other issues, has it wrong here. The concussion protocols were created because players frequently hid or under-reported their injuries in order to remain in the game. Especially for younger or otherwise less-proven players, there is pressure to have to constantly perform in order to keep one’s job. Furthermore, there is an overarching sentiment across sports that taking time off due to injury makes one weak. Similarly, playing while injured is seen as tough and masculine. Creating protocols that take the decision-making out of players’ hands keeps them from making decisions that aren’t in their own best interests. Removing them would bring back that pressure for players to hide or minimize their ailments. If anything, MLB’s concussion protocols should become more stringent, not more relaxed.

The powers that be with Major League Baseball have no doubt followed the concussion scandal surrounding the National Football League. In January, the NFL settled for over $1 billion with retired players dealing with traumatic brain injuries, including dementia, Lou Gehrig’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease. For years, the league refused to acknowledge the link between playing football and CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy), which is a neurodegenerative disease that can lead to dementia and has many negative effects, such as increasing the risk of suicide. Since baseball isn’t often a contact sport, MLB doesn’t have to worry about brain injuries to this degree, but it still needs to take preventative measures in order to avoid billion-dollar lawsuits as well as avoiding P.R. damage. In December 2012, former major league outfielder Ryan Freel committed suicide. Freel, who claimed to have suffered as many as 10 concussions, suffered from CTE. MLB players can suffer brain injuries just like football players.

Huntington seems to be worried about not having enough rostered catchers in the event one or two catchers get injured. That is really an issue of roster management. Carrying only two catchers on the roster is a calculated risk, often justified. Huntington can ensure his team never has to be put in the position of not having a catcher in an emergency by rostering a third catcher. Rosters are expanding to 26 players next year, by the way.