By now, of course, you’ve heard the news that Red Sox minor leaguer Ryan Westmoreland, the team’s top prospect according to Baseball America, has been diagnosed with a cavernous malformation in his brain and will undergo surgery next Tuesday.
MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo gave a brief explanation of the malady and how it applies to Westmoreland:
A cavernous malformation is a vascular issue which, according to an audio report on the Mayo Clinic Web site, is a group of “abnormal, thin-walled blood vessels.” Typically, cavernous malformations don’t cause symptoms and are often only discovered if doctors are looking for something else via a brain MRI exam.
If the malformation bleeds, it can cause stroke-like symptoms, seizures, numbness, vision changes or other neurological problems.
“Typically, a stroke might be more dramatic, while symptoms from a cavernous malformation come on more gradually,” Mayo Clinic neurosurgeon Dr. David Piepgras said in the audio report. “Most people who have cavernous malformations, we can’t tell them why they occur.”
While the severity of Westmoreland’s condition is unknown, it was serious enough to require surgery. The course of treatment is often just observation, with surgery becoming an option if symptoms persist.
For what it’s worth, noted sports injury writer Will Carroll is refraining from comment until he can talk to those who have a better handle on this type of illness.
Westmoreland, who turns 20-years-old on April 27, is a five-tool player who has struggled to stay healthy since the Red Sox made him their fifth-round pick in the 2008 draft. A Rhode Island native, he debuted with the Lowell Spinners in the New York-Penn League in 2009, hitting .296 with 7 homeruns, 35 RBI, and 19 stolen bases in 60 games before a broken collarbone finished his season.
I missed Westmoreland in Lowell, but was looking forward to seeing him when he got to Double-A Portland in the next year or two. While I obviously still hope to see him play someday, I’m more concerned with seeing him come through the surgery okay and resume a healthy life.
Westmoreland isn’t the first young Red Sox player to experience serious health issues (although I’m drawing a blank on recent years – UPDATE: Did I forget about Jon Lester? Why yes, yes I did). Rookie Jimmy Piersall was hospitalized in 1952, subjected to electroshock therapy, and ultimately diagnosed with bipolar disorder; three years later, second-year player Harry Agganis, a local boy who starred in football at Boston University, died of a pulmonary embolism at the age of 26; and 22-year-old Tony Conigliaro was hit in the face with a pitch in 1967, severely damaging what could have been a Hall of Fame career.
On the bright side, both Piersall and Conigliaro overcame their difficulties, returning to the field and performing well (Piersall made two All-Star teams and won two Gold Gloves; Conigliaro hit 36 homeruns and drove in 116 runs in 1970). I’m hoping for the same for Westmoreland.