Teddy Stankiewicz

Red Sox Minor League Notebook: Pitching prospect Teddy Stankiewicz thriving despite rare birth defect

Ryan Hannable
August 06, 2015 - 5:00 am

Just looking at Teddy Stankiewicz and watching the right-hander pitch, you would never know he's different than 99.9 percent of people to ever throw a baseball, but he is. Stankiewicz was born without a right pectoral muscle. After being drafted by the Red Sox in the second-round of the 2013 draft, the Texas native was supposed to sign for $1.1 million, but during the routine physical portion of the signing process it was revealed he didn't have the muscle in his chest and thus the Red Sox knocked $200,000 off the signing bonus. "To be honest, I didn't really know it was going to happen because I figured it out kind of then too. I was like, 'Oh, crap,'" Stankiewicz said this week. "Actually for them to do that instead of just giving me something worse, I said to myself it's just a bonus and I still have an opportunity to do the real thing I wanted to do because essentially you want to get to the big leagues, not the minors." Growing up and playing sports the 6-foot-4 righty knew he was different than most other athletes because he couldn't do some of the same drills and exercises as well as they could, but it never affected his performance on the field so it was never something he thought to get checked out. "I never got it checked because it never hindered me playing baseball," he said. "It was a little bit harder for me and it's still hard for me because I can't do the same exercises in the weight room because it puts more strain on my right shoulder -- it hinders my right side," Stankiewicz added. "A lot of different muscles have to compensate for the loss of my pec. My shoulder is still really, really strong, it's just I can't do the same workout routine normal guys can. That's the only difference." The Red Sox' trainers were as surprised as he was as none of them had ever seen such a thing, but after more tests it revealed his arm was just as strong as a someone who has their right pec. It clearly hasn't had any impact on the mound as Stankiewicz has thrown in the mid-90s since his senior year of high school. "At first they were really shocked, but I think they understand that I was born with it and obviously there's been no injuries," he said. "My physical's all came back 100 percent, not even a slight anything from my elbow or my arm. For me and them, it's not a hindrance problem or anything like that and fortunately you don't need to a pec to throw a baseball." Since he doesn't have a pectoral muscle on his right side, his routine in the weight room is a little different from most other pitchers because he cannot do the same exercises. "It's all the same except I can't do bench press, I can't do anything like curls," he said. "I can't really do pushups because when I do pushups it leaves my right side venerable. There's a lot of things that are good for you that I can't do. I just have to make sure I am stabilizing the right muscles except the pectoral muscle. "I try and do pull ups, which I'm not actually that bad at. I do pull ups and then I will do table rows. I don't really ever touch bench to be honest, ever. I don't need it, to be honest." Doctors have told the 21-year-old that there will be no long-term impacts on his arm or body. In fact, it may benefit him as he never has to worry about an injury to that part of his body. "They said that it shouldn't hinder me doing anything because you actually don't even need a pec to throw a baseball," Stankiewicz said. "It actually restricts you because whenever you get sore in the pec area you're arm is not as flexible. For me, since I don't have it, my arm is flexible because I don't get sore there. Honestly, it's kind of a better situation because I don't get sore like most people do." Stankiewicz is currently in his third full season in the Red Sox' system -- rising a level each year. He started with short-season, Single-A Lowell in 2013 and posted a 2.29 ERA over nine starts. With Single-A Greenville in 2014 he went 11-8 with a 3.72 ERA and this year with High-A Salem he has battled some tough luck with a lack of run support and spotty defense, as he sports a 3-10 record with a 3.89 ERA over 20 starts. He did suffer a scare July 20 when he took a line drive off the back of his shoulder/head in the first inning. Although he didn't need to go to the hospital, he did leave the game. "It was scary," Stankiewicz recalled. "It hit off my shoulder and my head and we somehow still got a double-play out of it. It was pretty bad. My head hurt, arm hurt pretty bad too. The trainers did a great job. I actually just skipped my start like a normal skipped start because everyone did it and I was right back with my next outing and I felt 100 percent coming out of my next outing." Stankiewicz went to Seminole Junior College for one year after being drafted by the Mets out of high school in 2012, but didn't sign. Now with his three seasons with the Red Sox under his belt, he feels comfortable with who he is as a pitcher and is able to command all four of his pitches -- fastball, curveball, changeup and slider. "My slider has gotten a lot better and I am working on my changeup," he said. "My changeup is decent, but I am working on that and making sure my fastball command is still there. Just making sure everything is staying in sync. I am doing really well, just a few tweaks here and there." With all three top prospects who started the year with Triple-A Pawtucket -- Eduardo Rodriguez, Brian Johnson and Henry Owens -- making their major league debuts this season, Stankiewicz can see himself some time soon following suit. And with no real next wave of pitching prospects coming out of Portland this season, he is a player to keep an eye on as the next Red Sox prospect to pitch in the big leagues. "Oh yeah, 100 percent. I think I am going to be up there," he said. "Actually, I know I am going to be up there, it's just wherever it happens, it happens. I just have to keep working hard and just take it day-by-day and hope for the best." STARTING PITCHING TRICKLE-DOWN EFFECT Earlier this week left-hander Brian Johnson was placed on the minor league disabled list with elbow tightness and that has had an effect up and down the organization. It started in Pawtucket as starter-turned-reliever Matt Barnes is now back to being a starter. A 2011 first-round pick by the Red Sox, Barnes was a starter at the University of Connecticut and remained a starter until late last season when he was made a reliever and joined the big league club. This season the right-hander has struggled, as over 22 1/3 innings he has an ERA of 5.64 and allowed runs in six of his last seven outings before being sent back down to Triple-A around the All-Star break. Maybe going back to a starter will turn into a positive. The PawSox needed another starter with Henry Owens staying up with the big league club after his debut on Tuesday. Double-A Portland doesn't have many star prospects, but William Cuevas got the nod as he was the Sea Dogs' best pitcher. In 19 starts this year, the 23-year-old is 8-5 with a 3.40 ERA with 91 strikeouts over 95 1/3 innings. It will be interesting to see what kind of numbers he puts up in Pawtucket as he isn't regarded as a major prospect. Finally, to fill his spot in Portland, Aaron Wilkerson was promoted from High-A Salem. Wilkerson has an interesting story as just over a year ago he was playing Independent baseball. He signed with the Red Sox last July and pitched for short-season, Single-A Lowell going 5-1 with a 1.62 ERA over eight starts. This season he's pitched for Greenville, Salem and now Portland as he's 26 years old, so the Red Sox have him on a fast track to see what he's got. Wilkerson has performed at every level he's pitched at and whatever role he's been in, as he's thrown out of the bullpen as well. Between Greenville and Salem this year he is 7-2 with a 3.28 ERA in 22 games (13 starts). If he continues his success in Double-A, Wilkerson could be one of the leaders of the PawSox rotation next season as the current Sea Dogs squad lacks quality starters.