6'3" 190 lbs. DOB: 8/6/86
Left-Handed Starting(?) Pitcher
Bats: Left | Throws: Left
Acquired: 2004 Draft, 5th Round, 135th Overall
Coming into 2008, McGee was arguably the Rays most exciting prospect. Sure, everyone wanted to see what Evan Longoria would do in the majors, and yeah, there was the David Price guy. But McGee... here was this left-hander throwing in the upper-90's, touching 99 a few times. Between Vero Beach and Montgomery a year prior(2007), McGee struck out 175 batters in 140 innings. There was no doubt he could bring it.
Then in 2009, something just looked... off. He wasn't dominating like he had in previous years. Certainly some of that's attributable to being in AA to start a season for the first time, but he was definitely laboring more than he used to. He still put up a not-bad(but not good) ERA in his first 15 starts(3.94), but one stat was way out of whack: the strikeouts. His K/9 went from 10.4 in 2005 to 11.5 in 2006 to 11.2 in 2007... and then plummeted to just 7.5 in 2008. After feeling some soreness in his forearm after a start in late June, the bomb finally dropped on July 1: Torn elbow ligament, Tommy John surgery the following week.
Coincidentally, today(Monday) is the day McGee throws off of a mound for the first time since then, although it's a just a 20-pitch fastball session. Still, his rehab seems to be on track and he says his goal is to return sometime in July, which would be about in line with the 12-month recovery timetable.
Of course, to expect the old McGee right away is to expect disappointment. If his velocity does eventually return to where it was, it won't happen this year. Even before the surgery, McGee struggled at times with his control and his breaking pitches. It's going to take a while for those to come back, too. Judging by some past Tommy John victims, McGee may not truly be back to full effectiveness until late 2010 or 2011. And of course there is the possibility that his velocity doesn't come back.
He threw mid-upper 90's before the injury, but it's pointless to speculate on what it may be in his return. He also throws a curveball and a changeup, each which showed some signs of development and should become at least average pitches in the future.
Popular opinion now on McGee has him becoming a bullpen arm and a potential closer in the future. Given his overpowering fastball, average offspeed stuff, and now the surgery, that may not be a bad option. But when he returns, let's assume July, the Rays will probably use him as a starter in Montgomery to get him the innings he needs to regain his form.
This isn't the best case scenario for McGee(that would be remaining a starter and developing into an ace like how it looked pre-injury), but it's a pretty optimistic one: starting games in Montgomery in July and August this season, then moving up to Durham for 2010. He'll begin there in the rotation, but assuming he's effective and there are no holes in the Rays rotation, at around mid-season they could move him to the bullpen. Given 2-3 weeks to adjust to working from the bullpen, the Rays call him up in August and he works in middle relief for the final two months. Then in 2011, he enters camp prepared to win the closer's job.
That's assuming an awful lot. For now, take it as a good sign that McGee's back throwing from a mound and is on pace for a return this summer. If he returns to his 2007 form over the next two years, watch out.