March 13, 2010
Pending brain surgery has put the career of Ryan Westmoreland, the top prospect in the Red Sox system, on indefinite hold.
The team announced Saturday that doctors diagnosed a cavernous malformation in Westmoreland's brain, which will be operated on in Phoenix on Tuesday.
Jon Heyman of Sports Illustrated broke the news on Twitter.
Westmoreland, who turns 20 in April, left camp in Fort Myers, Fla. on March 4 and was diagnosed the next day in Massachusetts.
Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein, whose team took Westmoreland in the fifth round of the 2008 draft, released a statement:
"The entire Red Sox organization stands in support of Ryan as he courageously deals with this issue," Epstein said. "Ryan is a remarkable kid and a talented player, and we understand that many will be concerned about his health. He is getting the best medical attention the world has to offer, and we will have more information soon.
"Until then, out of respect for Ryan's privacy and at the request of the Westmoreland family, we will not have any further comment."
Baseball America, which ranked Westmoreland the No. 1 prospect in Boston's organization after just one partial season in low Class A ball, also pegs him as the No. 21 overall prospect in the majors. He turned down a full ride at Vanderbilt to sign with the Red Sox.
Brain surgery and its complications can do more than wipe out a baseball career, of course.
Cavernous malformations could lead to seizure or brain hemorrhage, which can be fatal. The Mayo Clinic's Web site says the malformations are "groups of abnormally tiny, and larger, thin-walled blood vessels filled with blood that may slowly seep into surrounding tissue."
Westmoreland has encountered some bad luck with his health before. He missed the end of the '09 season because he broke his clavicle running into the outfield fence chasing a fly ball. At one time a college pitching prospect, he also had surgery to repair a partially torn labrum in 2008.
This ... is not like those medical issues.
Hopefully, "the best medical attention the world has to offer" will be enough. Not only to restore his health, but also his career. After all, baseball is probably what he has dreamed of doing.
His team reached the regional finals of the Little League World Series in 2002 (right). That summer, he was a bat boy for the Devil Rays, where he met a fellow Rhode Islander and someone who became starcrossed with his own health, Rocco Baldelli(notes). Westmoreland has drawn comparisons with him as well, and they've become good friends.
"He's a great player and just an overall wonderful person," Westmoreland said. "The comparisons to him are amazing, us both being from Rhode Island and him being where I want to eventually be. I am honored to even be talked about in the same breath as Rocco."
In his first pro season in 2009, Westmoreland batted .296 with seven home runs, 15 doubles, 38 walks and 19 stolen bases (without getting caught) in 223 at-bats for the Lowell, which plays in the Class A New York-Pennsylvania League.
He hit in his first 25 games and made the league's All-Star team.
Hopefully, there will be more All-Star games in Westmoreland's future.