Five high-risk, high-reward players with injury concerns in fantasy baseball drafts

Yahoo Sports

By Virginia ZakasInside Injuries

Special to Yahoo Sports

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A lot of the players you will see on this list were once considered the top of the line when it came to fantasy baseball. Unfortunately, injuries have left their mark on each player’s respective careers. As such, drafting them has to come with asterisks.

These players can possibly win you your league — if they could only stay healthy.

A.J. Pollock, OF, LA Dodgers

You can't ignore Pollock's injury history, but he's an intriguing outfielder with immense upside if he can just stay healthy. Over the last five seasons, Pollock has played in just 469 total games due to various injuries. On the flip side, he had a breakout year in 2015 (.315 average, 111 runs, 20 home runs, 76 RBI, 39 stolen bases) before the injuries struck again. Since his MLB debut in 2012, he has posted a .281 average and .338 OBP, demonstrating both speed and power along the way.

Before his 2018 thumb fracture, Pollock posted an impressive .293/.349/.620 slash line with 11 homers and nine steals in 40 games. He finished with .257/.316/.484, a huge drop off. While this injury shouldn't come with any lingering concerns in 2019, his body has been through a lot in his career. In 2017 it was a serious groin strain and quad tightness that hurt him. In 2016 he played just 12 games due to a right elbow fracture. It's always something, and there's no real reason to believe that he can avoid another trip to the DL in 2019.

Pollock is one of those guys that could carry your fantasy team if he can somehow avoid injuries, but it's a huge risk. If you draft him, be prepared for a lengthy absence at some point and hope that he can provide the power that he did in 2018 whenever he is healthy. He had career-best power numbers last season with 21 homers, 44.5% hard-hit rate and 38.4% fly-ball. If he can keep that up, he will be a steal.

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Francisco Lindor, SS, Cleveland

Time is running out for Lindor to be ready to go on Opening Day. He’s missed all of Spring Training recovering from a serious calf strain and has yet to be fully cleared. Lindor played a few innings in a minor league game, but he is not running at full speed. This is a huge test when recovering from a calf strain, and there is a high rate of re-injury. Just look at Josh Donaldson the last few seasons.

If Lindor wasn't going to cost you a first round pick, drafting him could pay off. Unfortunately, his price tag is just too high right now. If he falls to the second round, he is worth considering, but there is so much risk when recovering from a calf strain. It is one of the injuries most likely to recur, so even if he gets cleared to play sometime in April, he won't be out of the woods just yet. Lindor will only be worth a first round pick if he can play 140+ games and match his 2018 numbers (.277 average, 38 HRs, 92 RBIs, 129 runs). It's a huge gamble.

Josh Donaldson, 3B, Atlanta

Josh Donaldson knows better than anyone else how difficult it can be to recover from a calf strain. Over the last two seasons he has played in just 165 total games due to problems with both calves. After signing a 1-year prove it deal with the Braves, he is in the conversation as a buy-low candidate who could post All Star numbers.

Working against him are his age and his recent injury history, but before his calf flared up in 2017, he had played in 155+ games each year from 2013-2016. Donaldson has a .275 career average with a .507 career slugging %. He was also one of the best fantasy hitters in 2015 and 2016. If he can come close to matching those numbers again and can avoid yet another setback with his calf, he could carry your team to a championship. Consider Donaldson a boom-or-bust fantasy option; huge upside with immense risk.

Gary Sanchez, C, NY Yankees

There's no doubt that Sanchez has more upside than any other fantasy catcher, but he just can't stay healthy. Over the last three seasons he has played 53, 122 and 89 games due to injuries. In 2016 it was a right thumb fracture. In 2017 he was sidelined with groin tightness and a right biceps strain. In 2018 it was multiple serious groin strains, and then he underwent surgery on his shoulder following the season. His spring debut was delayed as he continue his rehab, but he is on track to be in the Opening Day lineup.

Gary Sanchez commands a high draft price — are you willing to pay it? (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
Gary Sanchez commands a high draft price — are you willing to pay it? (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

The real problem with drafting Sanchez is that you're going to have to grab him early (his ADP is hovering around the top 50), and that's a huge gamble for a guy with so many injuries in a short career. The catcher position is once again very thin, so it's tempting to target him early, but just know that it's a huge risk. Groin strains are highly recurrent, especially for a catcher as they put a lot of stress on that area. And even though his rehab from shoulder surgery has gone well, it's going to take a few more months for him to get his power back. Sanchez could get off to a slow start, and an injury could pop up at any moment. I can't question his upside, but I can caution that he comes with some serious red flags.

Stephen Strasburg, SP, Washington

Quite a few aces have gone down with injuries already this spring. Most of the starting pitching talk has centered around guys like Clayton Kershaw and Mike Foltynewicz, but let's not forget about Stephen Strasburg. Here's an incomplete list of some of his injuries since his MLB debut:

  • shoulder inflammation (2018)

  • cervical nerve impingement in neck (2018)

  • right elbow nerve impingement (2017)

  • right elbow soreness (2016)

  • upper back strain (2016)

  • oblique strain (2015)

  • upper back injury (2015)

  • neck tightness (2015)

  • torn UCL (2010)

Are you scared yet? ‘Cause you should be. Those are some serious injuries, and quite a few of them come with lingering concerns as they often recur or cause other related problems. He has had multiple problems with his pitching arm and his core (oblique/back/neck). Strasburg's ADP this season has surprised me, as I figured more people would be wary and avoid a guy with so many problems. After all, he averages just 145 innings over the last four years.

I'd argue that of all of the players on this list, Strasburg's risk far outweighs the reward. Sure, he was once a potential Cy Young pitcher and had the stuff to be one of the league's best pitchers, but his body is clearly breaking down. Still, some people won't ignore his career numbers - 3.14 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 28.52 K% and 94-52 record. They're strong, but there are so many warning signs here. Strasburg is more than likely going to continue to struggle with injuries — not return to being the Nationals second ace.

Other High Risk, High Reward Players: Clayton Kershaw, Mike Foltynewicz, J.D. Martinez, Vlad Guerrero Jr., Miguel Sano

For updates on all of these players, follow Inside Injuries on Twitter!

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