After not throwing a pitch in a game in over a year, Sam Wolff is getting close to returning to the mound.
The 24-year-old Wolff, a former New Mexico Lobos pitcher, missed all of the 2015 season after getting hurt during spring training. But he is getting healthy and is scheduled to pitch in the Arizona Fall League next month.
“Being able to get back and play games, regardless of where it is, I’m just excited to get back into that competitive game action,” Wolff said.
The Arizona Fall League begins Oct. 13. Wolff will play for the Surprise Saguaros as a representative of the Texas Rangers.
The AFL has six teams that are made up of prospects from all 30 major league teams. The league runs until Nov. 21.
“It’s a good way for him to get some innings without it being a lost season,” said Mitch Garver, also a former Lobo, Wolff’s occasional workout buddy and a fellow AFL participant.
After spending two years as a starting pitcher with UNM, Wolff was a sixth-round draft pick of the Texas Rangers in 2013. That year he made 21 relief appearances over two levels in the Rangers’ system, allowing two earned runs and striking out 44 in 30 innings. Despite his success out of the bullpen, he became a starting pitcher in 2014 and went 9-5 with an ERA of 3.37 in 121 innings.
After two solid seasons, Wolff went to spring training seemingly on the verge of a breakout season. Instead, Wolff – a right-handed pitcher – tore his left Achilles tendon and was placed on the 60-day disabled list in March.
“I’ve never had a lower body injury at all. It was just a freak accident,” Wolff said. “I have never dealt with anything like that before, but it hasn’t affected me power-wise. Luckily it was my plant foot and not my push-off leg. I think that’s made it a lot easier.
“But it was definitely tough. It was a tough pill to swallow at first, but at the same time I’ve really taken advantage this year to get healthy, get stronger.”
A healthier and stronger Wolff should strike fear into opposing batters. He consistently has thrown his fastball in the mid- to high-90s and has hit 100 mph. Asked whether the injury slowed that electric fastball, Wolff said: “We haven’t put a gun on it this year, but everything feels normal and just the way I left it.”
Wolff was cleared to return to the mound last week and will spend the next few weeks getting back into game shape at the Rangers’ spring training facility in Surprise.
Missing a season may have hurt his chances at rapidly rising through the Texas system but Wolff also knows the chance to pitch in the AFL could restore some of his luster as a prospect.
“No one ever wants to sit out a year, but at the same time I’ve been able to put myself in the best possible situation going into next year,” Wolff said. “Talking with my pitching coordinator and pitching coaches, I think this fall and getting some innings before next spring training will really help and get me on track for next season. … I want to get back in the groove of things and pick up where I left off. That’s my goal: to compete.”