Don't Call it a Comeback
The unknown numbness that once plagued the same index finger that flicked knee-buckling curveballs and disappearing sliders has vanished.
The uncomfortable, once unexplainable sensation that plagued his prized right hand is no more.
Kenyon Yovan's comeback is going to be epic. The setbacks he suffered during his junior season pitching for the University of Oregon will soon be well in the rearview. The childhood dreams Yovan has chased since his early adolescence: being selected high in the Major League Baseball draft, getting on the fast track through the minors and reaching the big leagues someday are intact and clear as ever.
First and foremost though, the former Westview great has a little unfinished business to attend to.
The Oregon right-hander was selected by the Los Angeles Angels with the No. 811 overall pick in the 27th round of the MLB Draft, but after consulting with his family and inner circle has elected to return to the Ducks for what will be his redshirt junior year in 2020. Yovan has never been one to put his personal goals before the team. He came to Eugene to win and win big. His hope is to take the Ducks further than they've ever been, to heights UO hasn't seen as a baseball program.
"We want to win the Pac (12 conference) and go to Omaha (site of the College World Series)," Yovan said. "That's where we have our sights. That's why I committed to Oregon. We haven't fulfilled that yet and that's one of the reasons I came back. I want to put my stamp on the University, come out here in my home state and perform in front of the home crowd and make Oregon baseball what it should be. We want to fans back in the seats, get them excited and turn the program around."
On Feb. 15, facing Texas Tech, Yovan suffered a hand injury in the second inning that was initially diagnosed as blood clots in his palm and caused numbness in one finger. Yovan was put through a series of tests and placed on blood thinners to relieve the clots. Two weeks later, his hand still didn't feel any better as medical teams struggled to find the source of Yovan's discomfort. The lack of a concrete prognosis was unsettling, to say the least. D1Baseball.com ranked Yovan as the 14th best collegiate prospect in the nation. Baseball America touted Yovan as the 25th best such college prospect. Ever since he was a young kid growing up in Gladstone and eventually starring as a two-way legend for Westview, all Yovan wanted to do was play baseball. Yovan was Oregon's closer when he earned freshman All-American honors in 2017 by going 1-1 with a 1.97 ERA with 15 saves in 22 appearances. He began his sophomore year in the bullpen before moving into the starting rotation and went 6-4 with a 2.98 ERA and five saves in 21 appearances, including 10 starts. Yovan dominated the collegiate level, displaying a versatile penchant for either pitching domain. Hurlers who can withstand the pressure of closing out a tight ball game or carry a team to complete game victories from the first pitch with equal aplomb are rarities. Yovan handled each task with ease, toggling between the bullpen and the starting rotation. Before his junior campaign began Yovan was named Preseason Second-Team All American by both Collegiate Baseball and D1 Baseball. Perfect Game named him the Preseason Pac-12 Pitcher of the Year.
Since professional scouts couldn't see Yovan pitch or get a great read on his medical situation at the time, however, it was hard to gauge where he stood with the professional ranks. But rather than worry about circumstances beyond his control, Yovan leaned into his faith and poured himself into his team.
"It was stressful for sure," Yovan said. "But I knew I was in good hands with the doctors and I just did everything I could to think positive thoughts, have positive vibes with my team. I was in the dugout with them when I could. I tried to keep my leadership role up as much as possible in practice, in the locker room, just trying to benefit the team for the upcoming years whether I was there or not."
It wasn't until Yovan underwent an MRI at the Kerlan-Jobe Institute in Los Angeles that doctors discovered what's called a pseudoaneurysm in Yovan's right shoulder, a soft tissue ball that was blocking blood from properly flowing through his arm to his hand. Yovan underwent successful surgery to remove the tissue ball in Dallas in early June. By then, the uncertainty around the injury and whether Yovan would return to UO or not depending on where he was picked caused Yovan to fall to the Angels in the 27th round. However, this is an injury that Yovan can recover from quickly. This wasn't Tommy John surgery or a tattered rotator cuff. Yovan's issues were immediately solvable, once they were finally pinpointed. His arm and shoulder, both of which help Yovan unleash 93 mile an hour fastball with movement and great location, are in great shape. Now, with his hand feeling better by the day, Yovan is six weeks into his two-month rehabilitation process and less than a month away from throwing again. Rather than play baseball in the Cape Cod League as he has the past two summers Yovan is diligently keeping his body conditioned and getting his arm ready down in Eugene. Once scouts get to see Yovan's pseudoaneurysm is a thing of the past, his draft stock is sure to soar back to its original position, if not higher. The short timetable back to full health will give Yovan plenty of time to pack on even more strength and stamina while preparing for his much-anticipated comeback tour.
"God has a plan, so I'm excited to see what happens," Yovan said. "I'm working my butt off trying to get healthy, trying to get stronger and come back a different guy. I have a chip on my shoulder, ready to prove something. I'm anxious, I just want to get out there, perform and play again."
The two-time all Pac-12 pitcher, who has starred both as a reliever and a starter for the Ducks, will play for new head coach Mark Wasikowski, who was an assistant coach when he started recruiting Yovan out of Westview. Wasikowski coached at Purdue University before UO relieved long-time manager George Horton of his duties. Yovan and Horton were close. His release, as well as most of the incumbent staff, expectedly hurt, as the two formed a tight bond on and off the field. But as far as replacements go, one would be hard-pressed to find a more suitable fill-in for what could be Yovan's last year in the green and gold. Wasikowski was the one who sold Yovan on a grander vision while laying out ways the big righty could achieve his own ambitions at UO. And while Yovan never played for his new skipper or the staff coming into Eugene, he knows Wasikowski's tried and true methods.
"He's going to be a hard ass, he's going to break you down, push you to your limits and show you how to get back up," Yovan said. "He's going to get the best out of your ability and push out the weaknesses you have. He's going to make you the best player he can be. Our entire team is ecstatic about him coming here. It's going to be a different vibe at PK Park (home of the Ducks) and more of a winning atmosphere there for sure."
The Ducks only lost three players off last season's squad with their full squad intact and refreshed, rejuvenated Yovan once against at the head of the pitching rotation.
"My goal is to go out there and put my team in position to win," Yovan said. "I don't want to lose a game. I want to be 'the guy' when they hand me the ball. It's my game to start, it's my game to finish. That's the mentality I need to have and get back to and know will help the team best when it comes to crunch time later in the season. They don't give you the ball to keep the game tied. You go out there, shut them down, keep a zero on the scoreboard and let your offense explode. My mentality is going to be stronger than ever. I'm going to be stronger than ever, 10 times better than before."
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