Lath Guyer has some really good bad luck.
As a freshman and preferred walk-on pitcher at Mercer, he threw one inning as a freshman before cutting his finger during a team community service activity and was redshirted.
He had 10 innings in the bag as a sophomore before elbow problems ended that season.
It was quite the beginning of a college baseball career.
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Guyer, who came to Mercer with a fastball in the very low 80s, underwent Tommy John surgery on his elbow and had it performed by Dr. James Andrews of Birmingham, one of the nation’s most prolific sports medicine doctors.
And now, Guyer begins his final home series tonight against Belmont with a healthy arm and anticipation of being picked in next month’s Major League Baseball first-year player draft for the second time.
“I’d love to get drafted,” the Clarke Central graduate said. “Hopefully we can have a great rest of the way out and make a regional and I can help the team win.”
Had Guyer not sliced a finger or felt twinges in his elbow, odds are he would have worked his way into a nice but fairly non-descript career at Mercer, and his baseball days would likely have ended after that final game with the Bears.
There’s almost no call in the pros for a right-hander throwing in the mid 80s.
“He was a guy that was just looking for a place to play, and we obliged him,” Mercer head coach Craig Gibson. “And we obliged him.”
Guyer would have to work hard just to get a chance to get meaningful innings at Mercer, but the surgery allowed Guyer to get stronger, become more mature and learn the game.
“Nobody works has hard as I did after Tommy John surgery,” Guyer said. “That’s how I got to the speed I got to. It’s all due to the rehab and therapy they put me through.
“It’s definitely a process that’s not fun to go through. But I learned to love the game a little bit more.”
The son of Mercer women’s golf Gary Guyer returned to the mound in 2008 and went 2-0 with a 4.54 ERA in 21 relief appearances. He struck out 34 in 37-2/3 innings with 19 walks, and opponents hit .289 against him.
More notably, his fastball had jumped to 93 mph and had more movement, which will catch the attention of a pro scout. Tampa Bay drafted him in the 48th round in 2008 after just one real season.
“The draft sort of surprised me,” Gibson said. “But his velocity was good enough to warrant getting drafted.”
Guyer came back in a new role and started 12 times with three relief stints en route to a 2-4 season with a 5.55 ERA. He struck out 76 in 71-1/3 innings with 33 walks, and opponents hit .272.
His role changed again this year, and he has been in every slot a pitching staff can have — starter, middle relief, setup and closer — and often in the same month.
Guyer has 22 appearances this season with two starts, a 1-4 record and a save, none of which detracts from Gibson’s willingness to give him the ball.
“Not at all,” Gibson said. “Just the maturity and poise that he brings. He’s been through the battles before. He’s a big part of our late-game strategy. From the seventh inning on, he’s on call.”
Guyer will pitch at some point in the Belmont series, perhaps more than once, as well as the conference tournament at Lipscomb. Good outings will only strengthen his draft stock while helping to overshadow his career stats: 6-8, 5.87 ERA, 156-1/3 innings, 156 strikeouts, 71 walks.
Andrews’ other patients include Peyton Manning, Charles Barkley, Bo Jackson, Andy Pettitte, Drew Brees and John Smoltz, to name a few of the hundreds of big names.
But he can expect some sort of call, card or e-mail if Guyer is drafted, signs and starts playing for money.
His elbow flared up in late March of 2006, but issues regarding insurance and surgery delayed treating the injury. Guyer met with associates of Andrews, who said the famed doctor needed to do the job.
Guyer’s insurance company approved only a visit, but he thought surgery was imminent and was hooked up to an IV for several hours.
“So finally Andrews comes in, and this is while our insurance said we were OK for a visit,” Guyer said. “Andrews finally said, ‘you know what? We’re just going to do the surgery, he needs to have it. Don’t worry about paying, this is something that the kid needs to have.’”
And the kid was Lath Guyer, owner of a so-so fastball that had climbed all of about three miles an hour consistently in two years.
“There was no draft prospect,” Guyer said. “Everything worked out. Andrews is definitely an amazing person. He works with the absolute best athletes in the world, and for him to say, ‘I’ve got a college pitcher who needs to have this surgery’ and he goes ahead and does it, it’s amazing.”
All that, and Guyer’s six years at Mercer are finally coming to an end. The ride and its impending successful conclusion bring a smile to his face.
“Not too many people get to play six years,” he said. “Everything worked out, and I’ve been here six years. Six great years. I wouldn’t change them for anything in the world.”