You know the old baseball cliché about how hope springs eternal in spring training? Well, what they don't tell you is that is only true for about as long as it takes for pitchers and catchers to go from "reporting" to actually training — and then baseball players start doing baseball player things, like pitching, hitting, running … and getting hurt. Any time baseball players are playing baseball, there's a chance of injury, and coming off a four and a half month offseason, Spring training features plenty of opportunities for aches, sprains, breaks and the like.
Of course, sometimes it's just a minor issue, as in the case of Freddie Freeman, who dealt with some swelling in his surgically repaired elbow but is already back in the Braves lineup. Freeman has started to fall down draft boards as a result of the injury — I took him at 23rd (23rd!) overall in one recent draft — but it seems like an overreaction, and a potential opportunity for profit.
The problem with spring training injuries is this is a pivotal time for players to get up to speed. We saw Chris Sale and Walker Buehler limited in spring action last season (though not because of injuries), and both got off to pretty rough starts to their seasons. Yes, players are working out and training in the offseason, but for most of them, this is their first time seeing action in competitive games since last September.
There's also, obviously, the issue of a spring training injury lingering well past the start of the season, as happened with Carlos Martinez and Luis Severino a year ago. If you bought those players thinking they'd be back fairly early on, you ended up with a half season of a (very good!) reliever from Martinez, and 12 September innings from Severino.
So, how should you approach spring training injuries? Well, the good news is, most of you won't be drafting until much closer to the start of the regular season, just three weeks away now. Many of the questions about the likes of Sale, Blake Snell and Griffin Canning should be answered by then. We might not like what those answers turn out to be, but bad news is better than no news when you're drafting.
As a general rule, you should err on the side of caution when it comes to spring training injuries, but as with all things in Fantasy sports, it depends entirely on the value as well as the timing.
Take the case of Giancarlo Stanton. Stanton was already being dinged for injury concerns even before he was shut down last week for a calf injury — too much, in my opinion. Stanton has been a top-25 player basically whenever he was healthy but had fallen to No. 51 in FantasyPro's ADP even prior to the injury, despite showing no sign of skills slippage when he was healthy enough to play in 2019. However, since the injury, he's dropped to 75th in NFBC draft, and even noted Stanton skeptic Scott White expressed regret over not snatching Stanton when he fell to the ninth round in a recent Roto mock.
In Stanton's case we do have at least some idea of when to expect him back. While he's almost certainly going to miss Opening Day, but he isn't expected to be out much longer than that. "Expect" is carrying a lot of weight there given Stanton's injury history, but this doesn't look like the kind of injury that is likely to cost Stanton a significant amount of time, assuming he rehabs appropriately and doesn't rush back. In that case, there's still room for Stanton to play 145 games, and if he manages that, you're going to have a steal on your hands.
That isn't the case for everyone. At this point, we still don't have any idea when Sale might be back on the mound — it could be in late April of 2020 or 2021. That vacuum of information is the worst-case scenario for Fantasy players trying to draft, and it leads to a wide variance of results. Sale fell to 69th in ouryesterday but had an ADP of 113th overall in six NFBC drafts on Tuesday, with a dramatically wide spread — 35th to 226th in those six drafts.
And you can't say whether one or the other is the right call. In all likelihood, splitting the difference will just mean you're way off either way, so it's going to come down to the individual drafter's risk tolerance. It is worth noting, news came out Wednesday afternoon that Sale is not expected to have Tommy John surgery, which takes the worst-case scenario off the table for now. However, he is dealing with a flexor strain that could cost him a significant amount of time — at this point, we won't know until he tries to throw again.
I wouldn't touch Sale in the No. 70 overall range, because I have some questions about how effective he might be, given his velocity decrease and issues with hard-hit balls last season. But if he fell to around 130 overall, I think I might have to take the plunge. There's top-15 pitcher upside there even if he misses the entire month of April.
There are ways to profit from uncertainty if you're an especially bold drafter. Snell, for example, received a cortisone shot in his pitching elbow last week, which is precisely the opposite of what you want to hear for a player whose 2019 was derailed by elbow surgery. In the immediate aftermath of that injury, Snell's value tumbled — he went as late as 79th in one NFBC draft in the two days after the injury was announced. However, in the past few days, we've gotten better news on Snell, who played catch Tuesday and Wednesday without issue, and was back in game action Monday — he walked four in one inning, but still, he was out there.
If you took a shot on Snell at a discounted rate in the days after the injury, you may end up getting a nice bonus for your team. It never feels great to be the one taking a chance on a pitcher with an elbow issue before we know the severity of the injury — and if you did it with, say, Tyler Beede in the immediate aftermath of him leaving his start Tuesday with elbow tightness, you would have woken up dismayed to find he was diagnosed with a UCL and flexor tendon strain Wednesday.
It's not for the faint of heart, but Fantasy draft season is all about taking chances. You don't want to be reckless, but you also can't draft your entire team while playing scared, or you'll be in line for a big fat sixth-place finish.
If you find the right spot to gamble on an injury at this time of the year, it can pay out big.
So which sleepers should you snatch in your draft? And which undervalued first baseman can help you win a championship? Visit SportsLine now to get rankings for every single position, all from the model that called Kenta Maeda's huge breakout last season, and find out.