It’s extremely difficult for an athlete to make his dream of becoming a professional baseball player come true. You have to battle through the ranks of high school, college and the minor leagues to even get a chance to play in the big leagues. And even if you get there, there’s no guarantee how long you’ll be there. It’s a very long and difficult process, but the rewards are as satisfying as it can get. A lot of guys spend years trying to cement their spot on a big league club and it’s unfortunate when something like an injury crushes their hopes and dreams. The sad thing is, a lot of times there’s absolutely nothing they can do about it. They just have to keep their heads up and work hard to rehab their injury and hope and pray they are able to play again. And even if they do find their way back to the baseball field, some guys never fully get back to the players they once were.

While injuries can affect any baseball player no matter the position, it seems like pitchers get the worst end of the deal. There is so much strain on their arm because of the velocity with which they throw and the unnatural movement of their arm when they pitch, that injuries are very common. And because of that, there have been a lot of good, young pitchers with potential that have their careers cut short due to injury problems.

This was the case for former Kansas City Royals pitcher Gil Meche, who recently made the decision to retire instead of getting shoulder surgery that would’ve ended his season. The Royals signed Meche to a five-year, $55 million deal before the 2007 season with the hope he would be a vital piece of the success the organization was trying to achieve. He was somewhat successful in his first two seasons with the Royals, but began to struggle in the middle of his third season. And although it cannot be totally proven, many people believe Meche’s downfall began back on June 16, 2009 when he threw a career-high 132 pitches in a shutout win against the Diamondbacks. Coincidentally, Meche was never the same after that outing and finished the 2009 season 6-10 with a 5.09 ERA. He struggled in 2010 as well finishing 0-5 while posting a 5.69 ERA.

While Meche is the most recent pitcher whose career was cut short due to injury, he’s not alone. Mark Prior was the second pick of the 2001 amateur draft and was cited as being the best young pitching prospect in the draft. The Cubs signed Prior to a record $10.5 million contract, and he looked to be well worth the money in his first full season as a starter. During that season he posted an 18-6 record with a 2.43 ERA and 245 strikeouts while earning a spot on the All-Star team and finishing third in the NL Cy Young voting. The following season is when Prior began to become plagued with injuries. He suffered an Achilles tendon injury followed by a fractured elbow and shoulder tear that required reconstructive surgery. Now the 30-year-old right-hander is just trying to salvage what was once a very promising career. This past December he signed a minor league deal with the Yankees and may finally get another chance at pitching in the big leagues.

Mark Mulder was drafted by the Athletics in the same position Prior was three years earlier and had similar hype attached to his name. He started out hot as well, compiling a 72-32 record from 2001-2004 while leading the A’s to four straight postseason appearances. Then in 2006 while a member of the Cardinals, he got off to a 5-1 start before suddenly dropping off. Mulder was diagnosed with a torn rotator cuff, which proved to be career ending, and he never won another game.

These are just a few examples of career-ending injuries that happened to guys way too soon. But when it comes down to it, injuries are a part of the game and there’s virtually nothing that can be done about it. Guys just have to hope they are one of the lucky ones that avoid major injuries and are able to finish their careers. Last year’s No. 1 draft pick, Stephen Strasburg is surely hoping he is one of the lucky ones. His rookie season featured some exceptional pitching, but also featured an arm injury that forced him to undergo off-season Tommy John surgery. Hopefully Strasburg can fully recover from his surgery and he doesn’t become another pitcher who is forced to retire before he’s ready.

Submitted by Steve Giles