Questions abound for big fantasy names returning from injury
By GREG AMBROSIUS
(AP) -- NORTHBROOK, Ill. (STATS) - It's almost comical to read some MLB player notes this time of year because every player is "coming into camp in the best shape of his life," "ready for a breakout season," or, better yet, "recovering faster than expected from last year's injury."
Somehow, nobody is hurt this time of the year and everyone has figured out where they went wrong a year ago.
Well, guess what? Fantasy owners aren't dumb enough to believe it. The same players commit the same mistakes and the same injury-riddled players suffer the same injuries. Save the offseason hype for the rapid fan brimming with unrealistic optimism.
That said, there are some intriguing questions concerning top stars who failed to meet expectations last season because of injuries and are now major question marks heading into fantasy drafts.
- Ryan Howard: Four months ago, the slugger tore his Achilles on the final out of the NLDS. According to a recent story, "Manager Charlie Manuel said Howard is 'ahead of schedule' but is still expected back sometime in May." First off, that's not really ahead of schedule. A heel injury like that takes eight to nine months to recover from and everyone knew he would be out until May. This is a very serious hurdle for a slugger who generates so much power from the push of his legs. He was hurt in mid-October, so don't expect him to be 100 percent even if he does get activated before the summer. NFBC owners agree as his Average Draft Position (ADP) was 119 before Manuel's statement, but in the last three drafts Howard has gone 123rd, 149th and 151st overall. Even at those levels, he's a huge risk.
- Joe Mauer: Mauer struggled badly with a left knee injury last year that ultimately led to something called bilateral leg weakness. He's working out hard this offseason and his weight is back up. He states that this is the best he's felt in years. That's fine, but he hit only nine home runs the year before and fantasy owners are tired of being burned by injured catchers. Caution is the word here, with Mauer's ADP in the NFBC being 85 as he went 90th, 90th and 75th in our last three drafts.
- Buster Posey: Posey suffered a broken ankle last May in a gruesome home plate collision and is progressing well now. He's been running 30- and 60-yard sprints several times a week and will begin baseball activities this month. It's been a long road back, but thankfully the last player note says "barring any setbacks, the 24-year-old is expected to be 100 percent by the start of spring training." Posey is a special talent whose ADP last year was 33. NFBC owners want to believe he can come back, but reality has set in for most of them, who saw even last year that a repeat of 2010 was going to be tough. His ADP is currently 75, but in the last five drafts he's gone 73rd, 50th, 87th, 61st and 68th. Expect that same type of confusion to continue until we see Posey back behind the plate and running freely.
- Jason Heyward: J-Hey could be a real bargain, as his ADP is 132 after being 45 last year. He was a mess from the time he showed up in bad shape last spring training and it continued through the season as he battled wrist and shoulder injuries. Now he says "I know I have to go to spring training in the best shape possible. If I do that, if I am healthy and there are no issues, then I can do what I need to do - show up and just play baseball." Easier said than done, but the potential is tremendous. Heyward has a lot of talent and, like Posey, his draft position is all over the board. In the last five NFBC drafts, he's gone 153rd, 122nd, 117th, 89th and 120th. You'll probably see him move up the draft boards once spring training game starts, so don't sleep on him for too long. He's only 22, but this is the time for him to man up, stay healthy and play through the nicks.
- Adam Wainwright: Wainwright missed all of last season after undergoing Tommy John surgery, but 11 months later, he's reportedly back to full strength and even throwing breaking balls again. He's expected to carry a full workload in spring training and be in the Cardinals' rotation on Opening Day. His ADP in 2011 was 62 and right now it's at 91. If he can bounce back like teammate Chris Carpenter did in 2009, he'll be a real bargain at that level.
- Alex Rodriguez: The news that A-Rod went to Germany in December for a unique blood thinning process to help his ailing knee and shoulder was disconcerting to the Yankees and to all baseball fans. The 36-year-old's body is starting to break down and he needs mad science to keep it going. His luster has faded to NFBC owners and he's now going around 56th overall, often landing in the fifth round of 15-team drafts. At a very weak position, A-Rod barely stands out anymore. The fading skills and age are huge warning signs.
- Adam Dunn: He can't blame injuries for his horrendous 2011 showing, but Dunn still says this year will be different: "I'm going into this year feeling as good as I've felt in a long time and just ready to get started and quit talking about it." Unfortunately, anybody who saw him with a bat in his hands last year likely isn't buying it, as he was absolutely atrocious at the plate. In the NFBC, he's going 207th overall, which can be seen as a risk-free spot or a waste of a 14th-round pick. It's your call.
Love springs eternal this time of year, but even love has its bounds. Instead, be sure to use common sense and not your heart when deciding whether to draft any of these players in 2012.
Greg Ambrosius is the founder of the National Fantasy Baseball Championship and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association Hall of Fame and the Fantasy Sports Trade Association's Hall of Fame. For more information on the NFBC, contact him at email@example.com mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org> or go to nfbc.stats.com.
Updated February 10, 2012