Top 10 Potential Injury-Risk Sleepers
We have seen injury-riddled vets during better days. The potential has been realized before, but an injury-prone perception still weighs down their value and makes them potential bargains. Here are the top-injury risk sleepers to target on draft day. Career highs by category: .301 AVG, 9 HR, 60 RBI, 98 R, 70 SB Projections: .291 AVG, 12 HR, 75 RBI, 105 R, 50 SB Before his injury-ruined 2010, Ellsbury was the second-best fantasy outfielder in standard scoring leagues. No fooling. The good news is his injury was a freak accident -- not related to his valuable legs (it was his ribs) -- and it just didn't get enough time to heal. It has now. He might not get picked among the top 10 outfielders this spring. He should, though. He has the potential to be better than anyone at his position, because of the steals ... and, oh, the fact he is in his prime at age 27 helps, too.
Career highs by category: .306 AVG, 34 HR, 108 RBI, 86 R, 3 SB Projections: .285 AVG, 30 HR, 100 RBI, 90 R, 0 SB Morales' career highs all came in his one full season in the major leagues in '09. He lost most of last year to a broken ankle incurred in a fateful walkoff homer celebration. Apparently ankles snap when jumping wildly onto home plate amid a mass of humanity. The ankle can sap a player's speed for the rest of his life, but Morales makes his bones hitting bombs and driving in runs. If you assume mild improvement on his lone full season's numbers, he should smash those projections and perform like a top-five fantasy first baseman -- if not top-five hitter overall. That, despite the fact he will be go among the top 10 at his position on draft day.
Career highs by category: 12 Wins, 1.34 ERA, 95 Ks, 0.91 WHIP, 47 Saves Projections: 2 Wins, 2.75 ERA, 75 Ks, 1.11 WHIP, 32 Saves Nathan is this year's Wagner, who overcame the same elbow-ligament replacement surgery. Nathan won't be 12 months out of surgery until Opening Day -- unlike Wagner who was over 18 months removed -- but he is a few years younger at the time of surgery/return. That counts for something. The fact Nathan might not open the year as the Twins' closer should only help him fall further on draft day, if not out of the draft pool altogether. The Twins are a top contender with a deep pitching staff, all of which could combine to make Nathan the rags to No. 3 overall closer story Wagner was.
Career highs by category: .318 AVG, 33 HR, 78 RBI, 75 R, 20 SB Projections: .275 AVG, 32 HR, 105 RBI, 90 R, 20 SB If Nathan is this year's Wagner, Cruz could be this year's Hamilton. In stretches, Cruz was perhaps the most productive outfielder in fantasy. It certainly helps he is in that potent Rangers lineup and plays in a hitter's park. The issue is whether anyone will get a full season out of him. Like Weeks' breakthrough first "full" season a few years before free agency in '10, Cruz could be next in that regard. You should doubt he hits .300 for a full year, especially with that strikeout rate, but even a .270 average over 500-plus at-bats for the first time could mean 100-plus RBI -- maybe even 120 in that lineup/ballpark.
Career highs by category: .319 AVG, 31 HR, 86 RBI, 102 R, 31 SB Projections: .281 AVG, 22 HR, 75 RBI, 105 R, 23 SB Speaking of injury-risk sluggers in that optimal Texas environment ... despite being just 28, Kinsler has career highs that would make him a first-round pick if he could put them altogether. Injuries have plagued him throughout his career and kept him from reaching 500 at-bats for a third consecutive season. There were good signs a year ago, though. His average was up along with his walk rate. If his power returns and his health remains good, he could be ready for a monster year that could top all fantasy second basemen.
Career highs by category: 19 Wins, 2.28 ERA, 240 Ks, 1.04 WHIP Projections: 12 Wins, 3.36 ERA, 180 Ks, 1.19 WHIP You will notice more hitters than pitchers in this top 10. That is because pitching requires pristine health and one injury can lead to another. Peavy is the poster-boy for that. Peavy hasn't had a full season since his career high 223 1/3 innings and 240 strikeouts in '07. Reports are he is ahead of a timetable that put him on track for the start of the season. He could have a very good contender to pitch for. If he reaches 180 innings -- a pretty tall order -- he could perform like a top-10 fantasy ace again. He might not get picked in the top 45 starting pitchers this spring.
Career highs by category: .260 AVG, 16 HR, 60 RBI, 72 R, 14 SB Projections: .275 AVG, 20 HR, 80 RBI, 80 R, 5 SB Here is a real sleeper slugger of the group. If you have heard of Gordon, you know he isn't worth a ... um, uh ... pick. But let's humor ourselves for a minute and buy into the reports he has totally reconstructed a swing that has kept him from making good on that elite talent. It has been hard to imagine he came more highly touted than Ryan Braun and Evan Longoria among former third-base prospects. He won't get drafted in many formats as an outfielder now, but age 27 can do a lot for lost souls, err, swings. He could be the most popular waiver pick-up of the year.
Career highs by category: 13 Wins, 3.25 ERA, 239 Ks, 1.27 WHIP Projections: 14 Wins, 4.01 ERA, 180 Ks, 1.30 WHIP Kazmir has had just one 200-plus inning season in his injury-plagued career. He has had notorious issues with high pitch counts that might have led to those injury woes. The Angels have some things working in their favor for a rebound, though. Kazmir is entering his prime years at age 27 and he is playing for a rather large $13.5 million club-held option that comes with a more affordable $2.5 million buyout if he posts the stinker seasons he has in the past two. It is time for Kazmir to step forward ... as a pitcher that might rank in the top 80 starting pitchers in fantasy right now.
Career highs by category: .321 AVG, 34 HR, 130 RBI, 97 R, 3 SB Projections: .286 AVG, 30 HR, 100 RBI, 90 R, 0 SB There was a raging debate on whether Morneau could hit .300 again after alternating years above that threshold and going somewhere in the .270 range. Well, how about him hitting .345 before getting another concussion-inducing blow to the head? This is a year he is due to drop into the .270 range, and Morneau reportedly still wasn't 100 percent or swinging a bat before pitchers and catchers reported. It could affect him in spring training and perhaps even the season. In fact, he might never be the same if you consider post-concussion syndrome has ended some careers, like former Twin Corey Koskie. But, here is where risk and reward must be weighed. A healthy Morneau is an AL and fantasy MVP. A fuzzy one could be done for his career. Let's assume the best and he winds up closer to the former.
Career highs by category: .326 AVG, 17 HR, 83 RBI, 118 R, 20 SB Projections: .300 AVG, 18 HR, 80 RBI, 110 R, 18 SB Let's finish this list in the same place we started it -- with a 27-year-old former fantasy star that is coming off a freak (not chronic) season-ending injury for the Red Sox. All of Pedroia's career highs came in his surprising AL MVP campaign in '08. But he has been remarkably close to that career-best pace in the second half. His broken foot has gotten ample time to heal and shouldn't really affect his game much, if at all. Pedroia was slugging at a 25-homer pace before his injury, so an age-27 breakthrough of .330-25-100-120-20 might be possible (even if beyond most of our imaginations for the pint-sized originator of the "Laser Show").