If you ever wondered how Fantasy baseball analysts come up with content ideas in November of a slow-moving offseason during a pandemic, the answer is we don't. You do. I recently took to our Fantasy Baseball Today Facebook group (if you haven't joined yet, what are you waiting for) and asked what you all like to read about in the offseason. While many fantastic answers were provided, one stood out to me.
A few people asked for updates on injured players or players who opted out of the 2020 season because of COVID concerns. And voila, that's how we got here. The truth is I was actually interested in this exact topic myself, so let's take a break from Statcast and the analytics and have some fun. Below you'll find updates on Tommy John victims, a shirtless video of Noah Syndergaard, unorthodox training with Mitch Haniger and much more.
Noah Syndergaard, Mets
The man known as "Thor" is one of the unfortunate big three starting pitchers to undergo Tommy John surgery earlier this year. As we know by now, TJ typically requires 12-15 months of rehab before said pitcher can return to the mound. Well, somebody on Twitter recently asked Syndergaard how his rehab is going and when the Mets pitcher would be throwing. In classic shirtless Syndergaard fashion, he responded with this:
According to Andy Martino of SNY, Syndergaard could be back as early as Memorial Day, assuming we have a normal 2021 season that is. We know that when healthy, Syndergaard's upside is a high-end SP2 for Fantasy. In his career he owns a 3.31 ERA and a 1.16 WHIP while striking out 775 in 716 innings pitched. For what it's worth, Steamer projections on FanGraphs have Syndergaard projected for 114 innings in 2021. Like Luis Severino and Chris Sale, Syndergaard should be stashed in re-draft leagues with injury reserve spots and targeted in the mid-late rounds of keeper drafts.
Luis Severino, Yankees
What's the latest regarding the cross-town rival New York Yankees and Severino? This one is a bit more complicated. While Severino had Tommy John surgery earliest of the big three on Feb. 27, he could be the last to return. Why is that? If you recall, Severino also dealt with shoulder and lat issues in 2019 that limited him to just 20.1 innings between the regular and postseason. So what's the latest on Severino and when can we realistically expect him back? Yankees general manager Brian Cashman offered this, via James Wagner:
Luis Severino (Tommy John surgery) has been throwing from 90 feet and a reasonable return for him is around June or July, per Cashman.— James Wagner (@ByJamesWagner) October 14, 2020
Like Syndergaard, we know what Severino's upside can be; a high-end SP2 for Fantasy. In 530 career innings, Severino has pitched to a 3.46 ERA and a 1.15 WHIP with 589 strikeouts. I'll likely be a little more cautious with Severino in re-draft leagues, however. There's a good chance we don't see Severino until the second half of the 2021 season and he's thrown just 20.1 innings over the past two seasons.
Chris Sale, Red Sox
Last of the big three TJ victims is Sale, who is the biggest risk-reward candidate of the group. Why, you ask? Well first off, he's the oldest as he'll turn 32 years old in late March. Second, he was always somewhat viewed as a ticking time bomb because of his slight frame and unorthodox mechanics. As of now, Sale's timetable is similar to the others. Here's what Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom offered: "We're still looking at a mid-summer return, him fully stretched out as a starter. But everything continues – going along with that, arm is doing great, which is awesome."
Sale's upside is still as a top-10 pitcher in Fantasy. While the upside is great, the downside is also evident. The last time we saw Sale back in 2019, he wasn't himself. His fastball velocity was his lowest since 2016 and he allowed a career-high 36% hard contact rate. Who knows, maybe he was pitching through injury then. If you're interested, early NFBC ADP has Sale at 228, Severino at 298 and Syndergaard at 366.
Eduardo Rodriguez, Red Sox
We all know by now that Rodriguez unfortunately missed all of the 2020 season due to COVID-19 and myocarditis. While it was a terrible situation, there seems to be some light at the end of the tunnel. Rodriguez revealed to MLB Network Radio this past week that he's been cleared to begin throwing and expects to be 100% ready for the start of the 2021 season.
Rodriguez doesn't have nearly the same upside as any of the three names above, but that doesn't mean he's not serviceable for Fantasy. If you rostered Rodriguez in the second half of 2019, he probably helped you win your championship. Over his final 16 starts, Rodriguez pitched to a 2.95 ERA with 107 strikeouts over 100.2 innings. In 2021 we'll be looking for pitchers who have proven they can throw 200 innings in a season. Rodriguez proved just that in 2019.
Look, we all have "our guys" in Fantasy (shout out to Jose Abreu for winning the AL MVP). Taillon is one of those players for me. The former first-round pick from 2010 has now dealt with two Tommy John surgeries as well as testicular cancer. It's very easy to find yourself rooting for Taillon. What makes him different from the other TJ surgeries above is that Taillon had his back in August 2019. When spring training rolls around, he will be 18 months removed from surgery.
Taillon was actually throwing back in September, lobbying for a late 2020 return. The Pirates (wisely) denied his request. As reported by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Taillon is hitting his usual 94-95 MPH with the fastball and is even seeing new results from his slider. Taillon reveals that his slider was more of a cutter in the past but now it has more spin and movement. Giddy up! I'm excited but need to temper expectations. Past results on pitchers who have had two TJ surgeries are not great. Steamer has Taillon projected for 139 innings in 2021. I'll likely draft him late in every one of my drafts.
The highly coveted pitching prospect opted out of the 2020 season for "personal reasons". Obviously COVID was enough of a reason for any player to opt out, no questions asked. For Kopech, it is a little different. In this article written by our own Mike Axisa, he covered how Kopech has dealt with anxiety and depression in the past. You'll find quotes from former pitching coach Don Cooper offering a level of concern regarding Kopech.
Now I don't want to get all TMZ on everybody, but Kopech did file for a divorce from 'Riverdale' actress Vanessa Morgan back in June. Is it possible that this situation was weighing heavy on him, making it easier for him to forgo the 2020 season? All the while he was rehabbing from Tommy John surgery? Of course! Anxiety and depression are real. Regardless of what this guy does on a baseball field, I'm rooting for him to get back on track. As for Fantasy, the upside still remains but I would be very hesitant for 2021. He has not thrown a live pitch since September 2018. The true breakout for Kopech could be in 2022.
We found out during spring training last season that Mancini was battling stage three colon cancer and obviously missed the entire 2020 season. Mancini is working his way back and is expected to be ready for the 2021 season. He's already in the cage:
Everybody is different, but Carlos Carrasco gives us hope that Mancini can get back to being the player we saw back in 2019. Mancini broke out two seasons ago, hitting 35 home runs with an .899 OPS. He finished as a top-15 outfielder in both Roto and H2H points leagues. Mancini's early NFBC ADP is 231.4 but I would expect him to move up draft boards as we continue to receive positive news. Don't look now, but between Ryan Mountcastle, Renato Nunez, Mancini and the prospects on the way, it's an exciting time to be an Orioles fan.
Mitch Haniger, Mariners
The 2018 breakout seemingly can't catch a break. First, he suffered a ruptured testicle on a foul ball in 2019 that required surgery. Then in the offseason, Haniger suffered a herniated disc in his back and had two more surgeries on a torn muscle in his groin. As a result, he missed the entire 2020 season. Haniger continues to rehab with the hope of being ready for the 2021 season.
A player like Haniger might seem insignificant for Fantasy, but I would disagree. We're talking about a top-12 outfielder in both Roto and H2H points back in 2018. During that breakout season, Haniger batted .285 with 26 home runs, 90 runs, 93 RBI and eight steals. While the batting average dipped in 2019, the power upside remained. Like the Orioles, the Mariners have a very bright future, specifically in their lineup. Haniger likely won't get drafted in standard leagues in 2021, but remember his name as a waiver wire option with upside.