CORVALLIS — As Oregon State prepares to host an NCAA tournament regional, many questions remain unanswered for Drew Rasmussen.
What exactly went wrong at the end of last baseball season?
Why did he suffer another ulnar collateral ligament injury in his right elbow, requiring a second Tommy John surgery in 17 months?
Will an organization take a chance on him during next month’s Major League Baseball draft?
Nearly a year after throwing his last pitch at the College World series, Rasmussen is still light on answers. He also doesn’t appear to be actively in search of them.
“I really don’t know where it all went wrong,” an upbeat Rasmussen said. “But sometimes it just does, and unfortunately that’s life. You can either grow and get better with things, or you dwell and let them eat at you.”
Rasmussen’s commendable approach to a difficult situation comes as little surprise to those around OSU’s baseball program.
Voted a team captain for the 2017 season, Rasmussen sat out the first two-plus months while working his way back from Tommy John surgery. He had the procedure in March 2016 and returned to the field 13 months later.
The hard-throwing right-hander was dominant down the stretch, going 3-0 with a 1.00 ERA in 27 innings as OSU won the Pac-12 and qualified for the CWS. Along the way, the Tampa Bay Rays drafted Rasmussen with the 31st overall pick.
When OSU’s season came to an end, Rasmussen headed to Florida in late June with the hopes of signing a contract. He was poised to realize a childhood dream of playing professional baseball.
Little did he know, his repaired right elbow was no longer healthy.
“I thought I threw really well in Omaha, and when I went back to Tampa and failed my MRI, that was the first time I thought anything was wrong,” Rasmussen said. “I felt great after my last Omaha outing. When I got back I played some catch with Max (Engelbrekt), Jake (Thompson) … and felt fine then.”
After failing an arthrogram and MRI, Rasmussen and Tampa Bay were unable to work out a contract.
The Rays arranged for Rasmussen to fly home for the Fourth of July holiday. When he left Florida without a deal, Rasmussen correctly assumed that it was over.
“I had a pretty good idea because unfortunately there is a business side to this game,” he said. “Tampa is a bit of a lower revenue team so they need to hit on their early-round picks. They can’t take chances.
“They were great as an organization. They took really good care of me and helped me get a second opinion. But I knew almost immediately when they flew me home that it wasn’t happening.”
Aware that he’d miss the entire 2018 season, Rasmussen took his time to select an orthopedic surgeon. He chose Dr. Keith Meister of Arlington, Texas, and had the second Tommy John surgery performed late last August.
Roughly 17 months after his first procedure, Rasmussen was starting over, again.
“It definitely took me a couple weeks to get over it,” Rasmussen admitted. “At no point was it depression, but it was definitely frustration. To rehab from it once and basically get it again immediately, it was very frustrating at first but I had a pretty good support system in my parents, my girlfriend and coaches. That took a lot of pressure and anxieties off of me.”
Rasmussen, now a fourth-year junior, is also being deliberate with the rehab process.
Following his first procedure, Rasmussen did everything he could to get back on the field as quickly as possible. A March operation opened the door for a return midway through the following year.
Recovery time for Tommy John surgery varies, but is often between 12 and 16 months. The timing of Rasmussen’s second procedure eliminated the chance of pitching in 2018.
“I had no shot to play this year so everything we did the first time, we’ve kind of doubled it,” Rasmussen said. “The first time around I was playing catch at four and a half months, now I’m going to wait until nine or 10 months. There is no rush to this process. I am a pretty impatient person so it seems like it has taken forever, but it also seems to be worth it.”
Rasmussen is back in the weight room and focusing on conditioning and nutrition. He plans to start throwing in about a month, a couple weeks after learning his fate in the draft.
Listed at 6-foot-2 and 225 pounds on last year’s roster, Rasmussen is a fascinating prospect for a variety of reasons. The size and arm talent jump off the page, but few players have been drafted after undergoing a second Tommy John surgery.
Rasmussen was taken in the 2014 draft (39th round) out of Mt. Spokane High in Washington before going 31st overall last June. Baseball America has Rasmussen ranked inside the top 200 prospects for the 2018 draft, but national writer Teddy Cahill said “he’s been difficult to get a feel for.”
It’s easy to see why scouts are tantalized by Rasmussen.
As a freshman in 2015, Rasmussen forced his way into the starting rotation and threw the first — and only — perfect game in OSU history. He went 4-1 with a 3.41 ERA in six starts as a true sophomore before undergoing surgery.
Rasmussen was electric after returning to the mound last spring, making four starts and four bullpen appearances. In his third start against Abilene Christian, Rasmussen took a comebacker off his right arm that caused some temporary triceps tightness. He started the next week against Yale — arguably his worst outing of last year — and pitched exclusively in relief at the CWS.
“I didn’t really feel anything,” Rasmussen said. “The tightness all went away in Omaha, and I thought I threw the ball well there.”
Rasmussen, a finance major, will walk at OSU’s graduation in June. He was honored last Friday during the team’s Senior Day festivities.
While not on the roster, Rasmussen is often seen at practices and rarely misses a home game. Coach Pat Casey described Rasmussen’s leadership as “invaluable.”
“He’s a great kid,” added Luke Heimlich. “He’s pushed me since my freshman year, in the weight room, on the field, off the field. He’s just a great guy to have around.”
Rasmussen’s future — both immediate and long term — remains a mystery.
Cahill said Rasmussen will “definitely” be selected by an MLB team next month. A classic high risk, high reward prospect, Rasmussen could potentially be the steal of the draft.
If a suitable offer doesn’t come, he would also have the option of returning to school for his redshirt senior season.
“I haven’t put a lot of thought into that,” Rasmussen said. “I just want to get through June.
“I don’t really know what’s going to happen. I’m just excited to find out more than anything.”