Braves prospect Patrick Weigel optimistic after altering post-Tommy John mechanics

KISSIMMEE, Fla.Patrick Weigel can pinpoint the exact timeframe when he began to feel like Patrick Weigel again: October 2018. Sixteen months removed from the Tommy John surgery that derailed his rise through the Atlanta Braves’ minor-league ranks, Weigel finally felt comfortable in his final two appearances for the organization’s fall instructional league team.

“I wouldn’t say I was hesitant (in Gulf Coast League outings), but it’s like trying to not do too much, I guess. You’re still kind of scared to fully let it go and get out there,” said Weigel, who did not allow a run in six GCL innings. “Those last two games at instructs it was like, ‘Alright, from my testing period I’ve got about eight innings under my belt, now it’s time to go out and just let it loose and see what I can do.’”

A 6-foot-6 right-hander who, at 22 years old, struck out more than a batter per inning with a 2.89 ERA for Double-A Mississippi before climbing to the Triple-A ranks — one step and 35 miles away from his professional dream — Weigel says an MRI revealed two tears in his ulnar collateral ligament, one from a previous sprain in 2014 that bothered him throughout his pro career and one that eventually shut him down. He rehabbed his elbow ligament at the same Florida facilities where he now has a locker in the Braves’ big-league camp. The first post-surgery months were the most painful, re-training his elbow to properly move through a full range of motion. After going home for a few months starting with Thanksgiving 2017, he started his throwing program last January to begin building up his arm.

Weigel describes the rest of the process as “smooth sailing,” as his MLB-caliber stuff slowly returned while rehabbing alongside the likes of fellow pitching prospects Mike Soroka, Caleb Dirks and Bradley Roney.

By the time he took the mound during instructs, he was throwing his first pain-free pitches in years.

Then the next phase kicked in.

“This offseason we were able to get into some film and kinda go back even to some of my college days, kind of go through just some inefficiencies. Clean up my arm action, start with my takeaway, getting on time at foot strike. It’s a completely different feeling ball out of the hand right now,” Weigel said. “I feel like it’s coming out way cleaner. I’m not nearly as sore anymore.”

Mechanical adjustments were necessary after pitching through pain for years.

Weigel returned to the Houston area, where he played college ball, to fix significant issues with how he threw a baseball — even though the previous version featured a 65-grade fastball capable of touching triple digits with quality breaking stuff. His right arm pulled too far back behind his body during his motion so when he went to throw to home plate it would flare out too far to the side. Weigel trained with weighted balls and connection balls — tools he predominantly used tucked between his forearm and bicep to develop muscle memory — to create a pitching motion that he hopes will ensure both success and arm health.

“The weighted balls were not so much the velocity videos which are en vogue right now, throwing into the net hard. Some guys at the facility do that,” said Weigel, referencing the types of training regimens being promoted at facilities like the data-obsessive Driveline Baseball in Seattle. “But the purpose for me was to be able to feel a different weight in my hand and make me aware of where the ball is in my delivery as I go towards home plate.”

The Braves have not outlined specific plans for the right-hander in 2019, though he says there are zero medical restrictions as he enters his second big-league camp in three years. Weigel was a relief pitcher in college before transitioning to starting games in pro ball. He’s prepared to embrace either role.

The only future plan he’s interested in is pain-free pitching.

“Honestly, at this point, this year I’m just trying to be healthy in whatever I do and just keep moving forward.”