Pirates director of sports medicine Todd Tomczyk met with the team’s beat this afternoon (relayed by Rob Biertempfel of the Athletic). According to Tomczyk, right-handers JT Brubaker and Mike Burrows are each headed for second opinions after suffering elbow injuries. Burrows landed on the minor league injured list today with a sprain of his UCL.
It’s not a surprising development in Brubaker’s case. Jason Mackey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette first reported last week that Brubaker was weighing whether to undergo Tommy John surgery. That he’s now headed for a second opinion wouldn’t appear to bode well for his chance of avoiding going under the knife, though the club hasn’t definitively stated whether surgery is likely.
Brubaker had been one of Pittsburgh’s more durable arms over the past few seasons. He finished second on the team in innings in 2022 and topped 120 frames in each of the last two years. Brubaker has never posted an ERA better than last year’s 4.69 mark, but he’d shown decent strikeout and walk numbers while handling right-handed hitters reasonably well. If healthy, there was never much doubt he’d have secured a spot towards the back of the starting five again to enter the year.
That was put on hold this spring. Brubaker reported discomfort in his forearm/elbow area and was immediately shut down. The Bucs quickly placed him on the 60-day injured list, ruling him out at least until the end of May. With surgery seemingly a strong consideration, it’s possible he won’t be a factor at all this season.
Burrows hasn’t yet reached the major league level. An 11th round pick in 2018, the Connecticut native has been one of the Bucs’ more interesting pitching prospects. Baseball America slotted him ninth among Pittsburgh farmhands last offseason, praising his fastball-slider combination and solid control. BA suggests he could be a back-of-the-rotation starter if his changeup develops, although he’d probably be better suited for a bullpen role if he can’t find an average or better third pitch.
Pittsburgh added Burrows to the 40-man roster over the offseason to keep him out of the Rule 5 draft. He started the year on optional assignment to Triple-A Indianapolis. After throwing five innings of one-run ball in his first outing, he was pulled in the second inning of his following appearance. Even if he can avoid surgery, the 23-year-old figures to be out for an extended period after imaging revealed some damage to the elbow ligament.
Burrows will continue to count against Pittsburgh’s 40-man roster while on the minor league injured list. If the Bucs wanted to clear a roster spot, they could recall him and place him on the major league 60-day IL. That’d require paying him at the prorated MLB minimum rate of $720K and allow him to accrue major league service.