Max Pentecost: A Jays Prospect Shoulders Multiple Surgeries

On May 12, Max Pentecost played his first game in nearly two years. Drafted 11th overall in 2014 by the Blue Jays out of Kennesaw State, the right-handed-hitting catcher was just 25 games into his professional career when he was shelved with a shoulder problem. It took three surgeries to get him back on the field.

A lot of head-scratching was involved. Pentecost went under the knife for a second time last spring — the initial surgery having failed to alleviate the pain — and once again the results were insufficient. His throwing shoulder still ached, and no one could explain why.

The a-ha moment came when a member of Toronto’s medical staff attended a talk by Dr. Craig Morgan, an orthopedic surgeon who had operated on Curt Schilling’s shoulder. The symptoms Morgan described were markedly similar to what Pentecost had been experiencing. An MRI followed, and soon thereafter Pentecost was undergoing yet another surgical procedure, this one a subacromial decompression. Based on early results, it appears to have done the trick.

Hurdles remain. The 23-year-old former first-rounder is getting closer to full strength, but he’s yet to return behind the plate. The Blue Jays have limited him to DH duties, which means he has some catching up to do defensively. Offense hasn’t been a problem. In 267 plate appearances for the low-A Lansing Lugnuts. Pentecost has slashed a lusty .314/.375/.490 with seven home runs.

His next at-bats will come with Dunedin. Pentecost has already reported to Toronto’s High-A affiliate and will be activated once he’s fully recovered from a minor injury unrelated to his thrice-surgically-repaired shoulder.


Pentecost on his third shoulder surgery: “A lot has gone into it and I still don’t really know what was in there. We don’t know for certain if that was the original injury or if it was something caused by having pretty much a newly structured shoulder. But something was wrong and we got it fixed. So far it’s helped a lot, and hopefully my shoulder continues to get better.

“It is possible [that it was caused by one of the earlier surgeries]. At the same time, it’s something that’s not very common. Curt Schilling had it, and it’s something you almost have to specifically look for. It’s tissue around the bicep tendon. Previously, they looked at the bicep tendon and said it was fine. The tissue around it had torn and stretched, and that definitely could have caused more discomfort than normal.

“The surgery itself is pretty standard. The guy who did it, Dr. Morgan, kind of specializes in it. He was the first one to really look into it, to do research, and it turned out well. I had the surgery last October. The timetable [for recovery] is really about how I feel. After three surgeries, there’s a lot of trauma that’s gone in there. It’s a matter of getting it strong enough, getting back the motion I had, and learning how to use the new shoulder.

“Is there concern that it’s not going to come back 100%? Kind of, but that’s something I can’t really control. It’s something where God has a plan, and I’m going to roll with it. I’m going to enjoy the moments as they come up.”

On developing his catching skills: “That’s something I’m dealing with as best I can. It’s going to be tough getting back into the game situations behind the plate. What you see and react to… the reaction is going to be different. But I don’t think it will be too bad. I’ve done it for so long and a lot of it will come natural for me. There are certain areas that will take probably a little getting used to again.

“As an amateur, most of the pitches were called for me, although when I played summer ball I called my own pitches. I learned a lot there. Honestly, just sitting back and watching these games… I think I’ve learned more than if I’d actually been catching. You miss certain things not being behind the plate — what the batter is doing in the box, how he’s reacting to certain pitches — but at the same time, you see how pitchers prefer to go after a batter. What they’re comfortable with, what their best pitch is, what their strikeout pitch is. Things along that line.”

On hitting and being a DH: “I feel like just hitting is actually a little bit tougher. It’s been a different aspect of baseball for me, showing up each day knowing that all I’m going to do is hit. That’s difficult. I’m used to being into the game from the start, on both sides of the ball. Of course, I know that this is the best for me right now.

“Starting off, I really struggled. I wasn’t where I needed to be, but once you realize you need to make adjustments… sometimes your mental approach is the biggest one. You can talk to people, like rovers who have big-league experience, about how they approached different stuff, but it’s something you have to take upon yourself. You have to really bear down and make yourself better. I’m pretty comfortable at the plate now.

“I’ve been told that I have really good hands. Sometimes my stride foot is late and I’m able to catch up with the ball by getting my hands through. I always worked on that when I was younger and I guess it kind of stuck with me. I’ve never really considered myself a power hitter. I’ve always been more gap-to-gap — I like doubles more than home runs — but I will run into one every once in awhile.

“I don’t like giving up on anything. To me, these injuries are… I guess I would call them a battle. I want to prove that I can get past them, and I want to prove that I have the talent. It’s just going to be a little bumpier of a road because of them.”

David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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5 years ago

I wish him the very best of luck. Most prospects don’t end up reaching the major leagues, but it’s always sad when injuries prevent someone from getting the chance to earn that.