Marlins pitching prospect Dax Fulton is expected to miss the remainder of the 2023 season due to elbow surgery, Barry Jackson and Craig Mish of the Miami Herald report. The 21-year-old Fulton will undergo a repair but not full reconstruction (i.e. Tommy John surgery) of the ulnar collateral ligament in his pitching elbow. Internal brace and primary repair procedures that are less invasive than a full replacement/reconstruction of the UCL have gained popularity in recent years, though such operations still require lengthy recovery periods.
Fulton becomes the latest in a deep crop of Marlins pitching prospects to incur a major injury setback, although given the sheer volume of quality pitching in Miami’s system and the general attrition rate of pitching prospects, injuries throughout the group were inevitable. Sixto Sanchez has had multiple shoulder surgeries, while Max Meyer and Jake Eder both underwent Tommy John surgery last year.
Fulton isn’t necessarily as touted as that trio, though Keith Law of The Athletic ranked him among the game’s top 100 prospects heading into the season. The former No. 40 overall draft pick pitched to a combined 3.80 ERA in 118 1/3 frames between High-A and Double-A in 2022 and opened the 2023 season back at Double-A. With a strong showing in Pensacola, a promotion to Triple-A was likely — and an eventual 2023 look in the big leagues likely wasn’t entirely off the table.
Fulton already had Tommy John surgery in high school. A second surgery to address the ulnar collateral ligament in his left elbow before he’s even turned 22 years old is an ominous development, but the Marlins are currently hopeful that he’ll be ready for spring training 2024, per the Herald report.
The Marlins placed Fulton on the minor league injured list last month. Prior to landing on the shelf, he’d made six starts and a relief appearance in Double-A Pensacola, pitching to a 5.18 ERA with a 26.4% strikeout rate against a rough 12.8% walk rate. Scouting reports on Fulton tout his plus breaking ball, and Law credits him with a plus changeup as well. Fulton isn’t a flamethrower by today’s standards, topping out at 96-97 mph with his heater and averaging a few ticks shy of that max output.
If Fulton is indeed back to full strength next spring, he could still reach Triple-A next year and be on the doorstep of the big leagues, though with just 33 innings pitched this year, his workload will figure to be monitored. He’s not yet on the 40-man roster and won’t be eligible for selection in the Rule 5 Draft until the 2024-25 offseason, so the Marlins don’t yet need to worry about exhausting his minor league options. The focus for now will be on getting the promising lefty back to full strength and ready for the ’24 campaign.