Fantasy baseball 2013 draft preview: Injury-risk sleepers
According to reports, Curtis Granderson cringed when heard about Mark Teixeira's WBC misfortune early in March. Granderson knows his broken forearm, which will take 10 weeks to heal, is child's play compared to what Big Tex has to endure after feeling a "pop" in his wrist. Both injuries are bad, but at least a forearm break comes with a predictable recovery timetable.
Injuries are part of the game and therefore part of fantasy, and if a risk-taking owner plays them right, certain injuries can be beneficial. We don't rejoice when an injured player hits the ground -- but we note that player's plummeting draft position. For example, Granderson, formerly an early-round pick, will now be drafted in the middle rounds. Come late May, when he's back on the field, your fantasy live scoring page won't know the difference.
Big Tex? He's a wild card right now. He could be back by May and slugging again, or he could struggle to ever regain his form.
As part of our ongoing series on finding sleepers, we're examining the injured guys. The stigma of being injury prone drags down a player's value faster than any other single factor, but it can be rooted more in perception than reality. The key is deciding which players are worth the risk, and at what price.
Buster Posey made this list last year and went on to deliver an MVP season. And while we may not see a bounce-back season quite like that for a while, plenty of players will outperform the suppressed draft positions resulting from injury or the perception of being injury prone. Here are our top 10:
? Injury: ACL surgery ? Prognosis: Ready for DH-only action ? Risk: Low
Martinez is only an injury risk because he is 34 and coming off a lost season. Fantasy drafters tend to put a premium on the previous year's numbers, and V-Mart delivered a full line of goose eggs. As the Tigers' full-time DH to start this season -- he will get some games behind the plate in interleague play and emergency situations -- Martinez offers outstanding offensive potential at the thin catcher position. The elite offensive catchers tend to be over-drafted, but here is one who stands to be bit underrated because he's considered an injury risk. If Adrian Peterson has taught fantasy baseball anything, it's that ACL surgery is no longer career homicide.
Howard's suppressed draft position isn't as much a function of his 2011 injury as the .219 average he posted when he returned last yeas. Chalk that up to rust, which Howard is determined to shake off this spring. He's off to a great start, piling up the at-bats. It's a bit too easy to lose sight of the fact Howard racked up 56 RBI in a mere 71 games last year. Howard is a career .271 hitter and a potential 35-homer, 115-RBI monster who will be on the board far too late in drafts.
? Injury: Past ankle surgeries ? Prognosis: Healthy ? Risk: Low
If Howard was "rusty" after missing half a season, how do we characterize Morales after missing almost two seasons? Morales proved healthy a year ago, albeit not quite the same elite slugger he was before destroying his ankle in a home run celebration at home plate. We shouldn't blame him. Morales not only had to deal with kicking off the rust, but also had to cope with inconsistent at-bats. The Angels had to get Mark Trumbo into the lineup at DH, not to mention their veterans that needed time off from the field from time to time. Come the second half, Morales was finally slugging like his pre-injury self (14 homers and 40 RBI in 59 starts). After getting traded to the Mariners this winter, he'll stay in the lineup, either at first base or DH. The Mariners just don't have bats good enough to limit Morales' opportunities. Even in a tough hitter's park, Morales can return to 25 homers and 100-plus RBI as a mid-to-late-round pick in fantasy.
? Injury: Various, but the latest was offseason knee surgery ? Prognosis: Expected to be ready for Opening Day ? Risk: High
Quentin's history of injury woes has turned him into a player who should not be touched until the late rounds. Quentin was an elite slugger when he was in the lineup in the half-season he posted a year ago, though, so he should offer reasonable reward relative to risk as a late-round pick. Just imagine the possibilities if he finally proves capable of playing even 140 games. Few picks around Quentin's area can offer his kind of upside.
? Injury: Various, but the latest was an elbow ? Prognosis: Healthy ? Risk: Low
Like V-Mart, Gardner is coming off a lost season, which is blurring the fact he is 50-steal threat. He won't provide many homers or RBI, but rotisserie owners are always looking for ways to solve the steals category in the second half of the draft. Gardner offers huge upside there relative to draft position. As the geriatric Yankees are all crumbling around him, Gardner adds some youth (sort of) and athleticism to their lineup.
? Injury: Degenerative hip ? Prognosis: Playing through it ? Risk: Medium
Napoli's failed physical cost him a lot of money this winter, not to mention some lofty draft status in fantasy. But like V-Mart, Napoli is a catcher-eligible player getting everyday at-bats at a less demanding position like first base (the Red Sox hope to play Napoli there for 145 games this season -- a career high). The right-handed slugger has a swing that looks made for Fenway Park, where he's hit .306 with a .710 SLUG and a .397 OBP in his career. Moving away from catching duties should at least help the seemingly brittle Napoli stay healthy for a full season for the first time.
? Injury: January knee surgery ? Prognosis: Out until at least late April, perhaps late May ? Risk: Medium
Hart might be the first player on this list who gives you nothing for at least the first three weeks of the season, but he also might be the last of those names called on draft day. If you can handle the goose eggs, Hart stands to be a must-have outfielder once he is healthy enough to return. His knee surgery was a cleanup job, not reconstructive, so he could achieve his stated goal of returning April 20 as opposed to the cautious late-May return to which the Brewers are resigned. You'll need to get that extra month to really make this a great pick, but you won't be disappointed in his production come June regardless.
? Injury: Elbow surgery ? Prognosis: Doubtful for Opening Day, hoping for a mid-April return ? Risk: Medium
Countless players, mostly pitchers, have come back from Tommy John surgery well. What's more: Crawford's assets in fantasy lie with his legs more than his arm. Even though years of disappointment after signing that big contract have dragged his value down to arguably its lowest level yet, Crawford can still be a productive fantasy player, even if he will no longer be elite. There will be drafts where he falls completely through the cracks. Hopefully, he falls to you.
? Injury: Various leg issues with the latest being a groin ? Prognosis: Healthy ? Risk: High
If there is a player who is currently healthy but at high risk for injury, it is Tulo -- always, and perhaps forever. It's a shame we have to have Tulo so low on this list, but there's inevitably going to be drafters who take him before the risk makes him worth it, because he's had so many leg issues to trust picking him at his current ranking. The caveat there -- and the only reason he even makes this list -- is if everyone in your league avoids him through the first few rounds, and then an owner can jump all over him. A healthy Tulo is arguably a top 10 player in fantasy, if not a top five.
? Injury: Shoulder weakness ? Prognosis: Healthy ? Risk: Low
We had to have at least one pitcher in our top 10. The problem with injuries to pitchers -- especially shoulder injuries -- is that they tend to linger. Hanson's issue wasn't an injury as much as a decrease in strength and velocity. He claims this spring he is 100 percent and much stronger than a year ago due to his offseason workout regimen. If that's true, Hanson can provide huge value as a late-round pick. The Angels have a monster lineup getting him run support and likely wins, and Hanson was once billed as one of baseball's burgeoning young aces.
Injury-risk sleepers by position
The following players are not dealing with an injury, coming off injury or notoriously always injured. Rather, they are the players we subjectively believe are downgraded in rankings, projections or ADP because of the general injury stigma, but who can outperform those suppressed draft positions. If these talents fall in your draft, be prepared to pounce.