Tuesday, March 1, 2011
By Patrick Mooney
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. As good as Carlos Zambrano, the Cubs say when they look back on what Angel Guzman used to be.
That seems like a lifetime ago, but coming up through the system, the Cubs were high on two pitchers from Venezuela. One now has a guaranteed 91.5 million contract, while the other is working on a minor-league deal.
At the age of 29, Guzman does not view that as unfair, or wonder about what might have been. Eleven months after arthroscopic surgery on his right shoulder, he is focused on throwing batting practice on Wednesday, for the first time all over again.
I never paid attention to that at all when I was younger, Guzman said. I wouldnt change anything. I would do it the same way (as Im) doing it right now. Just keep it simple (be) a humble guy and just live in the reality.
Guzman was a pitcher the Cubs could dream about. Perceptions started changing in 2003, when Dr. James Andrews operated on Guzmans shoulder to repair a small tear in the back of his labrum. That was right around the time he should have been playing in the All-Star Futures Game.
My first look at him was like: Oh my God, said Cubs manager Mike Quade, who watched Guzman in camp and had him at Triple-A Iowa. And there were a lot of moments in his career in between the injury issues where thats what you saw. He was an exciting young prospect, for sure: Stuff, stature, a tall (kid with) good life (on his pitches). There were a lot of things to like.
Andrews, one of the most famous names in sports medicine, would also perform Guzmans Tommy John surgery in 2007, as well as the procedure last March. By then, everything was closing in on Guzman. He was already recovering from knee surgery, and dealing with the loss of his brother, who was murdered last year in Venezuela.
Its one of the cruelties of the game, Quade said. Hes a guy you root for, a long shot, (but) Ive played a few of those and cashed.
All this has given Guzman remarkable perspective. He spent all last season in Arizona, fighting the loneliness by working out in the brutal desert heat. Hes feeling better, but through experience knows that this will be a slow process.
Guzmans shown that he can do the job he posted a 2.95 ERA in 55 games out of the Cubs bullpen in 2009 but the Cubs cant count on him because of those medical records. His goal is to leave Mesa by May if everything goes the right way and head to a minor-league affiliate.
They want me to come back and every single guy in this clubhouse is showing me support, Guzman said. Its something that you really have to appreciate. (The Cubs) have been waiting for me for so long. Its something that really motivates you to become a better person, a better player, a better teammate.
Guzman became a free agent this offseason, and could have signed elsewhere, but returned to the organization hes been a part of since the Clinton administration.
The Cubs will keep giving him chances until he finally breaks down and really cant pitch anymore. And then theyll want to hire him to work in their player-development department. Because hed be a strong voice to talk straight with the Latin kids and the pitchers who think they already have it all figured out.
For Guzman, this gets tiresome, because with each injury its the same answers to the same questions. And against the odds, he tries to maintain the same positive outlook.
If youre really into the sport, it gets you, Guzman said, but (it makes you) stronger.
PatrickMooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. FollowPatrick on Twitter @CSNMooneyfor up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.