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Late-Round Injury Stashes (2021 Fantasy Baseball)

by Brendan Tuma | @toomuchtuma | Featured Writer
Mar 10, 2021

I’m not always the biggest proponent of drafting injured players in fantasy sports. Typically, players who get injured during spring training are more likely than healthy players to get hurt again during the year. Of course, this doesn’t necessarily apply to players we’ve known would miss the start of the season for a while (such as the “Big 3” Tommy John arms), but it’s still debatable is using a draft pick on a player going directly to an IL slot is worth it or not. This year’s list is headlined by a trio of former aces working their way back from elbow surgery.

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Chris Sale (SP – BOS)

Some baseball analysts were predicting Sale’s injury woes years before they finally occurred. To Sale’s credit, though, he lasted far longer as a workhorse ace than anyone anticipated. The 2018 World Series champion strung together six straight campaigns of at least 174 innings pitched from 2012-17. Elbow trouble finally arrived and the lanky left-hander went under the knife in the spring of 2020.

We still don’t have a definitive timeline for the 31-year-old. Based off the history of others who have returned from Tommy John surgery, we can pencil Sale in for late-May or early-June. However, the Red Sox have been unusually vague about this. Pitching coach Dave Bush recently said that Sale would return “sometime during the season.

The last time we saw Sale was 2019 and while the 4.40 ERA wasn’t great, he still struck out a whopping 218 batters in just 147 1/3 innings pitched. We should obviously be tempering expectations, but I fully expect the 31-year-old to be a fantasy factor once he returns.

Luis Severino (SP – NYY)

It appears that Severino is a bit ahead of his recovery compared to Sale. Yankees manager Aaron Boone thinks the right-hander could begin throwing as early as this week. The expectation is that he’ll be pitching off a mound soon. Then again, GM Brian Cashman said over the winter that the return date was “mid summer.”

Now 27, Severino posted back-to-back dominant campaigns in 2017-18. He has shown he has ace-like upside when healthy, but it has two full seasons since we’ve seen it. That’s because he dealt with lat and shoulder injuries in ’19. The combination of these recent ailments makes Severino a slightly riskier bet than Sale, even if he returns sooner.

Noah Syndergaard (SP – NYM)

When life was simpler back in 2019, the only thing we wanted from Syndergaard was for him to stay healthy. He had always been effective when he pitched, but durability was a concern. That season “Thor” totaled a career-high 197 2/3 innings pitched. Fantastic, right? Unfortunately not as the rate stats suffered en route to a 4.28 ERA and a 1.23 WHIP. We finally got the volume but it wasn’t the high-end fantasy year we always dreamed of.

Syndergaard underwent Tommy John surgery last spring and is likely on a similar track to return alongside Sale and Severino. He threw sliders upon arriving to spring training in late-Feburary and should be back in the Mets’ rotation by midseason. As for which of the “Big 3” Tommy John pitchers to choose if stashing someone in your draft, it’s dealer’s choice as they all have roughly the same ETA. If it was me, I’d take whoever goes latest.

Nate Pearson (SP – TOR)

I covered Pearson in my recent “Prospect News Roundup” article, as the talented 24-year-old unfortunately suffered a Grade 1 groin strain last week. The good news is that this won’t derail his season, and Pearson is already throwing from 120 feet. It’s unlikely he’ll be ready for Opening Day, though, which throws some cold water on any enthusiasm fantasy managers could muster heading into the spring.

Pearson admittedly wasn’t impressive in 2020, posting a 6.00 ERA with a 16:13 K:BB ratio in 18 innings. Control was a big problem but he also dealt with an elbow injury. The youngster was fantastic in the minors in 2019 as he became one of the best pitching prospects in baseball behind a power fastball / plus-slider combo. It remains to be seen if Pearson has the durability to hold up as a starter. He’s someone to monitor in early-April if he goes undrafted in your league.

Franchy Cordero (OF – BOS)

The 26-year-old might not belong on this list since it was already a question as to whether or not he was fantasy relevant, but I needed to highlight him for fantasy managers playing in deeper leagues. The upside is undeniable. Cordero is a Statcast favorite with a tantalizing power/speed profile. Over the last four years, Cordero ranks ninth in average exit velocity among hitters with at least 300 plate appearances. He’s sandwiched between Giancarlo Stanton and Matt Chapman in this stat.

Yet for as much of a theoretical ceiling as Cordero possesses, he has a lot of swing-and-miss to his game and has missed a lot of development time due to injuries over the years. Currently on the COVID-19 injured list, Red Sox manager Alex Cora admitted this week that Cordero likely won’t be ready for Opening Day. It’s frustrating that he’s once again missing out on a chance to continue his development, but fantasy managers in deeper leagues should monitor the situation regardless.

Framber Valdez (SP – HOU)

The situation with Valdez is a confusing one. The up-and-coming southpaw was diagnosed with a fractured left ring finger last week, and then Jon Heyman of MLB Network reported he could be out for the season. I’m not doubting his report, but it’s admittedly odd that this type of injury would be a season-ender. Valdez stayed in the game following the incident as well. All we can do now is wait for more information to come out. I’m certainly not drafting Valdez at his offseason ADP, but if he can come back in a couple of months then he’ll still be fantasy relevant in 2021.

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Brendan Tuma is a correspondent at FantasyPros. To read more from Brendan, check out his archive and follow him @toomuchtuma.

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