For Dodgers 2007 first-rounder Chris Withrow, it was over pretty much before it started.
The No. 20 overall pick in that Draft, he was the prototypical projectable right-hander coming out of a Texas high school with an incredibly high ceiling. He made a brief debut in the Gulf Coast League back in 2007 and was poised to really get going on his pro career in 2008.
That's when things started going wrong for Withrow. He was spring was delayed because of a bizarre injury -- a cut suffered while handling a snorkeling mask. When he was about ready to return, he was sidelined with a sore elbow that kept him out until August. Obviously, the Dodgers weren't going to take any chances with their first-rounder, but this wasn't a case of an organization being overly cautious. Withrow needed to shut it down for as long as he did to ensure his health, both short- and long-term.
"It doesn't matter what round he was taken in, or how old he is, if he's hurting and not feeling good, [you need to shut him down]," Dodgers farm director De Jon Watson said. "It's a tough game to play even when you're feeling good. You want him to be in the best possible condition to be able to compete. I trust our medical staff and base it on their recommendations. We'll sit down and talk about it and go from there."
So Withrow spent most of the year rehabbing in Inland Empire, home of the Dodgers' affiliate in the Class A Advanced California League. It may not be typical for a teenager on the disabled list to spend his time at that high of a level, but it worked on a number of fronts. First, there was the weather. Withrow could have gone to Great Lakes to work at a more suitable level, but cold Midwest temperatures and a sore elbow do not mix well. Second, Inland Empire's pitching coach is former big leaguer Charlie Hough and the Dodgers feel very comfortable with the former knuckleballer working with their top arms.
"Charlie is one of our best instructors," Watson said. "It's a benefit for both sides. It was a good league for him to be in."
Withrow did make four relief appearances near the end of the season with Inland Empire, allowing two runs on two hits and six walks over four innings. From there, he was in good enough shape to participate almost fully in instructional league play last fall.
"He was healthy enough to pitch in instructs. He missed a turn there, but the arm strength was there," Watson said.
Withrow has recently worked with the Dodgers' strength and conditioning coach, Brendan Huttman, on a program and his arm seems to be working just fine. When healthy, he's shown a fastball that can sit in the 92-94 mph range, with the hope that there's more there as he matures. He's got a good curve and a feel for a changeup. His dad pitched in the White Sox organization and served as his son's pitching coach in high school, so for a pitcher his age, he's got a clean and repeatable delivery.
And now he seems to be more or less back to where he was a year ago. He'll come to the Dodgers' new Spring Training facility in Glendale, Ariz., again ready to truly get his pro career underway, this time as a right-hander about to turn 20 years old.
"It's a question of how he comes in and how he competes," Watson said. "Coming into spring, if he's healthy and good to go -- like he was at instructs -- then he's got a chance to go to Great Lakes or Inland Empire."
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.