Former Georgia Southern pitcher Jarret Leverett, who was selected in the 15th round of the Major League Baseball Draft by the Minnesota Twins, on Wednesday said he will return to Statesboro and have surgery to repair a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his left elbow.
Leverett, a 6-foot-3, 190-pound left-hander from Eatonton, was drafted by Minnesota on June 5. He signed a contract but was released in late June after the Twins’ doctors discovered he has a torn UCL.
Leverett, who is six credits shy of earning a bachelor’s degree, said he will attend classes at GSU during the fall semester and be a fixture at J.I. Clements Stadium and Iron Works as he works to rehabilitate his elbow.
“It was definitely an emotional roller coaster within two weeks (of being drafted),” said Leverett, who was chosen along with teammates Victor Roache (first round, Milwaukee Brewers), Chris Beck (second round, Chicago White Sox) and Eric Phillips (sixth round, Toronto Blue Jays).
“I was happy as I’ve ever been with being signed and drafted because that’s all I’ve ever wanted to do is get an opportunity to play pro ball. And then, bam!” Leverett said.
After Leverett was drafted, he reported to the Twins’ facility in Fort Myers, Fla., to attend a mini-camp.
“I was going to stay down there for a week before I got shipped off to go play High-Rookie ball,” he said. “That’s where they send all their college players, to play rookie ball in Tennessee. It was the first day, right before practice, and they had to do a standard little thing where they stretch you and move you around, and I just told them, ‘Hey, my arm is bothering me. I think it just might be some tendinitis or something.’ And then they sent me to the doctor and I had an MRI down in Florida.
“And then when they got the results, they weren’t real sure exactly what it was so they flew me to Minneapolis to go see the team doctors, and then I had another MRI up there. That’s when they saw that I had a bone spur that, basically, cut my UCL like a piece of rope. It tore it.
“The (Twins’) doctors kept asking me if I had ever felt a pop because most people, when they tear their UCL, they hear a pop happen. I kept telling them that I never experienced that, and that’s when they figured out that I had a bone spur, and the bone spur tore my UCL.”
Leverett, who said he had never been injured during his four-year career at Middle Georgia College in Cochran and at GSU prior to that point, was devastated. He said he experienced soreness in his left elbow May 25, when GSU was in Greenville, S.C., competing in the Southern Conference Tournament, but he did not suspect anything serious.
“If I had to guess, it gradually happened,” he said. “I felt fine all year long. And then when we got to the conference tournament, I warmed up when we were playing Elon in the first game. Didn’t come in the game, but then the next night versus The Citadel, I threw 64 pitches. And I woke up on Friday morning, on our off day, and I noticed that it was a little more sore than it usually is.
“I kept throwing. I wanted to throw. Coach (Rodney) Hennon let me know that they were going to put me out there. I kept pitching and I knew something was kind of wrong in the championship game versus Samford. I didn’t really throw a whole lot of warm-up pitches. I was hurting. But I just wanted to go out there and pitch because they were needing me.”
Leverett on Wednesday was at a beach near Myrtle Beach, S.C., enjoying Independence Day with his girlfriend and her family.
“I’m hoping when I get back from the beach that Dr. (Don) Aaron, our team doctor at Georgia Southern, is going to perform my Tommy John surgery,” Leverett said. “And then I will begin my rehab process in Statesboro and finish up my degree this fall. The plan is just to rehab, basically, for the next year. I’ll be around Statesboro rehabbing and trying to get back to full strength. The Twins told me if they see I’m back at full strength that they will look to re-sign me. So that’s the plan as of now.
“I’m hoping to get a phone call from Dr. Aaron this week so I can line it up. I want to go ahead and get the surgery right now and deal with the worst part of the rehab in the summertime.”
Leverett was 4-2 last season with a 2.81 earned-run average. He struck out 58 batters, walked 17 and allowed 35 hits.
When Leverett is not rehabilitating from his injury, he said he will be taking two two-hour classes and one three-hour class.
“I actually walked (in a graduation ceremony) this past spring,” he said. “(GSU) let me walk because if I didn’t get drafted I was going to finish up my degree this summer, so they went ahead and let me walk.”
Leverett said GSU will pay for his surgery.
“My family was really worried about where I was going to be at, mentally,” Leverett said of his injury. “A lot of guys can’t handle that kind of news. But there’s a lot of guys in my situation that don’t even have a semester of college completed. I was able to handle the situation a lot better because I was like, ‘I’ve got six hours of school left. I can go back. I can finish this up.’ I didn’t know if Georgia Southern was going to pay for my surgery or not. It’s kind of an expensive surgery, and if Georgia Southern wasn’t going to pay for it, I don’t know if I was even going to go through with the surgery. … After talking with Coach Hennon, he said they were more than happy to pay for the surgery.
“You never think it’s going to happen to you. I was definitely one of those guys. I was like, ‘Aah, it’s unfortunate what happened to that kid.’ I never ever thought I would ever have to have Tommy John surgery because I always ice after I pitch and I do the running that I need to do, and then bam! That’s what happens.”
“But I definitely know that there’s a purpose and a reason for it. I’m going to stay positive. If I never get to pitch again in pro ball then, hey, I get my arm fixed for free. Georgia Southern is paying for it. They were nice enough to do that for me.”
Leverett is no stranger to Tommy John surgery. During his sophomore season at Middle Georgia College, he said four of his teammates had the surgery.
“I got to see the rehab (process),” he said. “A lot of guys mess up by taking the rehab lightly. I don’t know why you wouldn’t take it seriously. I’m only going to take seven hours in the fall, which means I will have a lot of free time, so I’ll be wanting to rehab.”
Leverett said having his dream of playing professional baseball snatched away when he was so close to making it come true has made him more determined.
“That’s why I’m not completely giving up on trying to chase my opportunity and my dream, because I was throwing well right before I got hurt and I’d like to see how my arm, what kind of shape it’s going to be in when I come back,” he said. “The reason why so many pitchers come back (from Tommy John surgery) stronger is because during the rehab process you are doing so many shoulder exercises that your shoulder gets stronger. And once you get the UCL fixed, if you don’t rush it, you should never ever have any more problems out of your elbow.”
Noell Barnidge may be reached at (912) 489-9408.