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Dustin Fowler has shot to be A’s CF months after gruesome injury

Gary Phillips

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Jun 29, 2017; Chicago, IL, USA; Players place their hands on New York Yankees right fielder Dustin Fowler (right) while being taken off the field after colliding with the wall in the first inning against the Chicago White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field. Mandatory Credit: Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports
Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

It was just seven months ago that Dustin Fowler endured one of the most gut-wrenching major league debuts of all time.

A member of the Yankees at the time, the then-22-year-old was playing right field at Chicago’s Guaranteed Rate Field on June 29. With two out in the first inning, Fowler raced after a foul ball down the line. Full speed ahead, his knee collided with an unpadded electrical box fastened to the right field line wall. At first, it looked as if Fowler had just suffered a bruise — or maybe a sprained ankle –as he hobbled away, but then he fell to the ground.

Unable to walk on his own, Fowler’s first big league game ended on a cart, along with his season. He had ruptured his patellar tendon and had to undergo immediate surgery. He didn’t even get his first major league at-bat.

“I’m always a guy that’s going to try and do everything I can to make the play. [I] got to it too aggressively,” Fowler said a few days after the injury. “I don’t really regret anything. I think I would give the same effort if I did it all over again.”

Fortunately, Fowler should have plenty of opportunities to show his aggressive approach again.

Now a member of the Oakland Athletics — New York dealt him in the Sonny Gray trade — he expects to be ready for spring training. Ranked the No. 88 prospect by Baseball America, there’s a strong chance he will end up being Oakland’s everyday center fielder.

His competition will include Jake Smolinski, Mark Canha, Chad Pinder and Boog Powell.

“Everything is coming along the way it should be,” Fowler told reporters of his recovery at Oakland’s FanFest. “I’m pretty happy with the way everything is going. I should be good to go.”

Prior to his injury, Fowler showed all the makings of a productive, albeit unselective, hitter and all-around strong gloveman. The lefty had a quick stroke, was prone to contact, could cover ground and possessed a decent arm. There were more than a few reasons why he was considered one of the top prospects in New York’s loaded farm system.

However, it is no guarantee he will return to being the same player the A’s bet they were getting. According to a lawsuit Fowler filed against the White Sox and Guaranteed Rate Field management, his internal and external injuries are “severe and permanent.” That’s a hard turn away from “Everything is coming along the way it should be.”

“That’s worse-case scenario,” Fowler told reporters of the lawsuit. “As of now, I should be 100 percent cleared to go, perfect, but this is just in case something comes up.”

Fowler wouldn’t get into further details of the suit, which claims negligence in regard to player safety for failing to pad the electrical box.

The good news is that nothing has come up yet. Fowler is slated to meet with Dr. Charles Bush-Joseph on Thursday in Chicago for a follow-up, according to The San Francisco Chronicle’s Susan Slusser. Bush-Joseph, who performed Fowler’s emergency surgery last June, is expected to clear him for spring training.

If all goes according to plan — Fowler is healthy and has a spring training that warrants a starting spot in Oakland’s outfield — he will finally get that first major league at-bat in the near future.

“I’m biting at the bit to get out there and play,” he said. “Every day the trainers say I’m right where I should be, I feel a little bit better. It was a bad injury, but I am very happy to be here.”

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Gary Phillips is the Managing Editor of USA Today Sports' Jets Wire, a contributor at Sporting News and a columnist at FanRag Sports. Phillips has experience with The Athletic, The Bergen Record, CNBC, NBC News, Bleacher Report, NJ.com, The Journal Inquirer and The Journal News. A journalism graduate of Seton Hall, Class of 2017, he was Editor-in-Chief of The Setonian, the university's award-winning student newspaper. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @GaryHPhillips.

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