JUPITER, Fla. -- Marlins sixth-ranked prospect Jake Eder walked to the mound and toed the rubber, taking a long look in at the imaginary catcher. On a recent Saturday morning at the Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium complex, Eder visualized a moment in his future. He does that often.
"I was in Yankee Stadium, locked up [Aaron] Judge on a fastball up and in," Eder told MLB.com. "It's always a strike."
Eder, who underwent Tommy John surgery last August, woke up from the procedure throwing pitches in his head. Those will soon become a reality, as he is scheduled to throw off a mound for the first time on July 1, nearly a year removed from his last start. This is the longest Eder has gone without playing since he took up baseball at the age of 9, and he is eager to pick up where he left off.
A fourth-round pick in the 2020 MLB Draft, Eder began his professional career at Double-A Pensacola in '21. He dominated through 15 starts, posting a 1.77 ERA and striking out 99 batters in 71 1/3 innings to earn a spot in the SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game and Top 100 prospect status. But Eder hit a speed bump when he blew out his left elbow, last pitching on Aug. 13.
According to MLB Pipeline's report, a pro scout with another organization called Eder the best pitching prospect in baseball after seeing him, as the lefty maintained a plus fastball and slider all summer. His fastball ranged from 93-96 mph and touched 98 mph, creating riding action up in the zone and commanding it better than ever. He tightened his low-80s slider, generating more horizontal break and locating it with more precision than he had in the past. Eder also made strides with his low-80s changeup, which features some fade and tumble. He was able to throw all three pitches for strikes.
"Before the injury, I worked to hit a high standard according to me every day, and since then, that standard has been elevated," Eder said.
For nearly a year, Eder has embarked on the arduous journey that is rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. For a starting pitcher, the timetable is usually 12-15 months. During the first six months, he worked with Eric Schoenberg at Diamond Physical Therapy in Jupiter before transitioning to the Marlins' facility down the road.
These days, Miami's rehab group picks up in the morning. Eder will warm up to throw, then hit a high-quality workout. He finishes up the day with an arm care routine and manual therapy to keep everything loose. The 23-year-old recently finished his distance progression as he readies for his return to the mound.
"It hasn't been hard because I've just been taking it one day at a time," Eder said. "I haven't looked ahead at all, and I haven't looked back. I basically had it mapped out from the day of my surgery till 2023 being on the mound. I've known exactly where I'm going, and that just allows me to forget about that and take it day by day and win each day basically."
Outside of rehabbing, Eder completed his college education. When the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the spring semester of his junior year at Vanderbilt, he had two semesters remaining to graduate with a degree in human organizational development -- a mix of business and communications. The university offered online courses, so Eder took advantage of it upon the urging of his mother. He wasn't alone in doing so. Eder remembers seeing former big leaguer Ryan Flaherty in one of his virtual classes.
This past fall, Eder needed just one more course to get his diploma: calculus. Even though he called it his least-favorite subject, he still got an A. Instead of attending a graduation ceremony, however, Eder stayed in South Florida to remain on schedule.
Eder's goals are to be full go for Spring Training and ready for a workload of 200 innings in 2023. When he visualizes the future, like he did moments after watching former Double-A teammate Max Meyer throw a sim game, it's usually next season. The organization hasn't stated whether he might see game action of some capacity before then.
"I'll be ready for whatever," Eder said. "Mentally, I'm ready now. Physically, it's catching up. Whatever they decide they want to do, I'll be ready for."