Coming into 2020, there’s not a ton of major injuries that we need to worry about in terms of keeping guys out to start the season. The biggest names that will definitely be on the shelf (and off your draft boards) are guys like Jameson Taillon, Jordan Hicks, and David Robertson. Those aren’t exactly guys that will alter draft strategies significantly going into the season. What we do have is a lot of players that will be drafted high, or be prime breakout candidates, who have some questions over how their offseason recoveries could affect their situations this year.
Christian Yelich – Coming off a freak kneecap fracture that cut off his MVP-level 2019 season, Yelich should be fully healthy for the beginning of spring training. The biggest question lingering is how this injury might affect him on the basepaths. Nothing surrounding his recovery should physically limit him from running. He’s still a no doubt, top three pick, but a bit of SB regression could be expected, with the Brewers, and maybe even Yelich himself, wanting to limit wear and tear.
Chris Sale – It’s never good to hear the words “Dr. James Andrews” when talking about an opinion on an elbow injury. Luckily for Sale, he avoided surgery. He instead opted for a PRP injection to promote healing in his elbow in September. All indications are that he’s on track to have a normal spring training. Even in a down season, he wasn’t a complete disaster last year (see Bauer, Trevor). Sale had 218 Ks in only 147 IP (13.35 K/9, only Cole was better). His FIP was a full run below his ERA, and he had pretty putrid win luck. Under the hood though, Sale did have some troubling trends, even when he was healthy. His barrel % and average exit velocity against were the highest of his career. His fastball lost over 1.5 MPH in velo and was getting smoked by opposition (.444 SLG). To combat this, he threw way more sliders than in 2018 (38.4% – 34.5%). The slider stresses the elbow and on and on we go on the carousel. I think you take Sale expecting similar numbers from last year, with more W luck and a slightly lower ERA. If he throws 180 innings, he’s probably the best pitching bargain available, but he also might throw 80 innings. This is one to watch closely in spring training.
Adalberto Mondesi – Mondesi had successful surgery to repair a damaged labrum in September, and is expected to be healthy for opening day after a 5-6 month recovery. He injured the same shoulder earlier in the year and reportedly was told by the Royals, at that time, to refrain from sliding head first on the bases. People were frantic this would severely limit his SB potential. Well, when he came back from that injury, he stole 12 bases in 15 attempts over just 20 games (3 more than anyone in the entire month of September). He should still be an easy bet for 40-50 steals, but it’s starting to look like you just need to bake in a couple DL stints for him during the season when evaluating where you want to take him.
Andrew McCutchen – “Pray for me, please” is what McCutchen tweeted on June 4th after going down with a knee injury that turned out to be an ACL tear. All signs point to a healthy return during spring training. McCutchen will slide right back into the starting LF spot in Philly (sorry Jay Bruce truthers), and a veteran manager like Joe Girardi will want a presence like McCutchen batting at the top of his order. In that spot last year, he was leading the league in runs scored, and on pace for a 28 HR season when he went down. McCutchen was already overrated as a SB threat, and as long as you discount that category properly, he should still be a solid second or third outfielder, contributing to multiple counting categories and a decent average.
Miguel Andujar – Things are getting crowded in the Bronx, and Andujar just might be the odd man out as we head into the 2020 season. Andujar missed virtually all of last season after electing to undergo surgery to repair a damaged labrum. He tried to gut things out after injuring himself in the third game of the season. However, he hit .088 after being activated from his initial DL stint. The biggest concern for Andujar might not be the recovery, or sapping of power that we’ve seen in the past from other labrum injuries (Matt Kemp come on down), but whether or not he can crack back into the lineup in a stacked Bronx Bomber offense. Newcomer Gio Urshela was the breakout star of the season in New York, and also has the advantage of playing much better defense than Andujar at 3B. The DH spot will be a rotating slot filled by Andujar, Giancarlo Stanton, Gary Sanchez, and Aaron Judge on days where the Yankees want to get those players rest from playing the field. Right now, it’s hard to be confident in more than 350-400 plate appearances for Andujar. It will be worth watching how he and Urshela are deployed in spring training, or if the Yankees can move him to a team where he’ll have a more defined role.
Byron Buxton – Thumb, groin, wrist, toe, head, and now shoulder. If the body part exists, Byron Buxton will undoubtedly eventually miss time with an injury to it. Buxton is dealing with the same injury that Mondesi is, and the same recovery period. He’s questionable for the start of spring training, but should be able to crack the opening day lineup barring any setbacks. Buxton was having his best season to date, with career highs in slugging and on base percentage, despite only playing 87 games. This, unfortunately, is becoming a trend (Buxton has only played more than 92 games once). It’s going to be hard to project Buxton for more than 120 games, and that, coupled with a major recovery, just stacks up the skepticism that he’s ever really going to put it all together again. However, a player like Buxton, with his pedigree and power/speed skills, will be hard to ignore at the draft table.
Scott Oberg – There was talk that Oberg’s career could be over when his season ended due to blood clots in his right elbow. Luckily, Oberg made a full recovery and the Rockies rewarded him with a new three-year deal this offseason. Given Colorado’s propensity to allow contract value to influence on-field usage, I’d say it’s a safe bet to assume Oberg enters spring training as the Rockies’ prospective closer. The Colorado closer job isn’t the most desirable for fantasy purposes, but it’s good to see Oberg bounce back from such a big scare.
Salvador Perez – Perez missed all of 2019 after undergoing Tommy John surgery last March. He’s set to be fully healthy for spring training and should step back into the starting catcher job in KC. In 2018, Perez led all catchers with 27 HR and 80 RBIs. Assuming he can get back to even 75% of his former self at the plate, that’s a useful C1 in most leagues. Kansas City’s new manager, Mike Matheny, has also laid out a plan for Perez to get “significant” time at first base this season (he forms a natural platoon with current Royals’ 1B, Ryan O’Hearn). That should help him get more PA without too much stress on the recently repaired elbow. He’s definitely worth a look once the top tier options come off the board.