VIERA, Fla., Feb. 21 -- At one point, when Ryan Wagner needed to depend on his arm, it delivered almost every time. His college career -- "he had just unbelievable stuff," University of Houston teammate Garrett Mock said -- convinced the Cincinnati Reds to draft Wagner in the first round, 14th overall. Forty-six days later, after only nine minor league innings, Wagner debuted in the big leagues.
But that was six years ago -- or better yet, one trade and one major injury ago. Since June 2007, when Wagner underwent surgery on a torn right labrum, the pitcher has encountered moments where he scarcely recognized his arm. He began his comeback last season, and his inability to pitch per usual made him "absolutely miserable." He couldn't extend his right arm, meaning he couldn't generate snap on his two-seamer or his slider. He never made it beyond Class AAA, and the Washington Nationals non-tendered him in December.