New prototypes provide protection from liners, but will MLB hurlers wear them?
By Bill Slane
Special to MLB.com |
D-backs pitcher Evan Marshall was struck with a line drive in the side of his head during a Triple-A game last August, leaving Marshall with a fractured skull and an extended hospital stay.
Since then, Marshall has tried out several styles of caps and inserts designed to protect pitchers from those types of injuries. One design included green foam padding that lined the entire inside of his cap. The one that Marshall has settled on, though, is a piece of Kevlar blended with hard plastic attached inside to the right side of his hat.
"You don't have to get a bigger hat or anything," he said. "And it protects the important side. Nobody's ever gotten hit on their left side as a righty."
Major League Baseball has tested several designs of pitcher helmets, including one the league developed along with the MLB Players Association that debuted this Spring Training.
The designs are part of an effort by MLB to protect pitchers from potentially devastating injuries.
"To me, I think the future would be finding a product that people will wear that have no reason to wear it," Marshall said.
As of now, MLB has no requirements for pitchers to wear protective headgear. However, Marshall said several of his teammates have already put in orders for a Kevlar insert. This type of design is likely more acceptable to pitchers from both a practical and aesthetic view.
"The only prototype I've seen is pretty bulky," said Dodgers prospect Chase De Jong. "And for me, I do have an over-the-head delivery, so I think it might be a little cumbersome."
Marshall said some of the bigger designs he's tried have even obstructed his view. Not by a lot, but enough to be noticeable while pitching.
Since reliever Alex Torres first wore a prototype design of the padded hat in 2014, there were a lot of jokes made about the looks. There are still pitchers in the Major Leagues who won't want to wear that type of design based solely on looks.
"It's a good idea that MLB is trying to protect the pitchers," said veteran Giants right-hander Johnny Cueto. "One of us could get hit and get killed. But there's going to be some pitchers that aren't going to want to use them, because they look like they're a bobblehead."
Torres was a trailblazer for that style of protection, paving the way for pitchers to start talking about keeping themselves safe on the mound.
"People still make fun of him," Marshall said. "And I applaud him, because he took his safety over his appearance, which is pretty impressive as a person to do. Swallow your pride and take care of yourself."
D-backs pitcher Archie Bradley was hit in the face by a line drive in 2015. Despite that injury, he hasn't put much thought into padded hats.
"Maybe if I'd been hit in the head, it would change the way I feel about it a little more," he said. "But I think what they're doing is in the right direction -- trying to get the best product out there to keep us safe and protect us."
While MLB is trying to do everything it can to protect its pitchers with these prototype designs, there will still always be an inherent danger to the position.
"You know what you're signing up for. It's a hazard. It's a risk," Bradley said. "At the end of the day, you know what you're getting yourself into. You put yourself 60 feet, 6 inches away [from the batter], it's just part of it."
Bill Slane is a senior majoring in journalism at Arizona State University. This story is part of a Cactus League partnership between MLB.com and ASU's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.