During my most recent visit with Rotowire's Chris Liss and Jeff Erickson on Sirius XM Fantasy Radio, the duo asked me if all the injury information packed away in my brain effects my drafting decisions. My answer is an emphatic yes. When I hear a player's name my first thought isn't the number of home runs they have hit or what their WHIP was last season, I visualize their number of recent rips to the disabled list or how many times they have visited Dr. James Andrews. It's a blessing and a curse. For example, I missed out on Josh Hamilton's MVP season because his injury-riddle 2009 scared me off. However I haven't touched Grady Sizemore since 2009 and haven't had to deal with that headache.
This year is no different as numerous All-Stars and top-tier players have injury questions surrounding them, dictating my draft strategy. Here's a look inside my head and how I view some individuals.
Guys I'm Avoiding Like the Plague
Josh Johnson: Johnson's had a stellar spring. He's pitched 11.2 innings, striking out 11 and surrendering just three earned runs. Yet I just can't look past his last two seasons. His 2010 season was impressive but he abandoned fantasy owners just when they needed him most as back and shoulder injuries ended his season in September. He lasted nine starts last year before shoulder inflammation once again derailed his season. Details were never released and it doesn't appear the Marlins ever pinpointed the exact cause of the problems. His offseason was spent rehabbing the area and strengthening the surrounding musculature but I'm not convinced.
Grady Sizemore: This is a no-brainer. Since 2008, Sizemore has suffered through multiple knee injuries, including one that required microfracture surgery, two sports hernias, left elbow surgery, and is now recovering from back surgery. Too many problems and too many healthy outfielders to consider in his place.
Justin Morneau MIN OF: Not a big surprise here but Morneau's average draft position remains too high for my liking. According to Mock Draft Central his ADP is 159 and he's the 14th first basemen off the board. Remember this guy's list of injuries may trump Sizemore's. He suffered a back injury in 2009, a season-ending concussion in 2010, and then came last season where he suffered a second concussion and needed surgeries on his wrist, knee, and foot. I'd rather wait a round or two and select Gaby Sanchez than draft this former MVP.
Ryan Howard: I was bullish on Howard before an infection in his surgically-repaired Achilles tendon set him back several weeks. The initial injury occurred in his final at-bat during the 2011 postseason and could be linked to the multiple cortisone injections he needed for his chronic ankle issues. Howard's size scares me and the Philadelphia medical staff is notoriously conservative with their players. I'd consider taking him off this list if he played in the American League and was able to DH but for now I'm letting someone else take the gamble here.
Chase Utley: Utley's knee problems are degenerative, meaning as time progresses the cartilage within the knee will continue to break down. He rehabbed enough last year to make it through the second half and even stole 14 bases. However the knee is once again inflamed and he's visiting a specialist to determine the next step in recovery. He's already expected to start the year on the DL and on paper he seems like a decent candidate for microfracture surgery.
Chris Carpenter: I actually considered drafting Carpenter over the weekend after reports suggested the bulging disk in his neck was improving. However his symptoms returned after a recent throwing sessions and he has left the team. The former Cy Young winner is experiencing weakness in his upper extremity, indicating the problem is nerve-related. Nerves take an extremely long time to heal and Carpenter has a history of nerve problems. That's a dangerous combination.
Guys I'm Drafting But Only at a Discounted Rate
Shin-Soo Choo: Choo was an injury risk early in his career but strong performances in 2009 and 2010 made him a sought-after fantasy option. He hit 42 homers during that stretch while batting an even .300. An oblique strain and a thumb injury that required surgery limited him to 85 games last year but I think he's in line for a bounce back year. The thumb injury was fluky after he was hit by a pitch and his arrest for drunk driving clearly weighed on him emotionally. There's a ton of talented outfielders out there but Choo could be a solid addition if you miss out on the elite options.
Corey Hart: Hart is just two weeks removed from arthroscopic surgery on his right knee but is progressing nicely. He hasn't been active on the base path in three years so the surgery shouldn't affect him there and his batting average and OPS remain more than respectable. He missed most of Spring Training last season with an oblique injury so he's familiar with the process needed to return ready and able. He has an outside shot of playing on Opening Day and if he slips past his ADP of 91, I would take the risk.
Tommy Hanson: Hanson is the guy that may come back to get me this year. Everything about him screams don't draft me. He's a young pitcher who's been forced to alter his mechanics due to a torn rotator cuff. History suggests he could be in for another eventful year and that doesn't even factor in the concussion he suffered early in spring training. Yet I'm intrigued by his 2.89 ERA in his rookie campaign and his stellar start last year that included a 4-0 record and a 2.62 ERA during June. If he can remain effective and quickly adjust to his new pitching style, Hanson could be a mid-to-late round steal.
Jason Heyward: Another Braves youngster that showed such promise before an injury derailed his sophomore campaign. The shoulder injury remains clouded in mystery but I've yet to hear it's been an issue this spring. His power seems to have returned as he has hit two home runs in spring training, one off of Stephen Strasburg, the other a grand slam off Wandy Rodriguez. His struggles against lefties remain problematic but that's not injury-related.
Guys I Like and Am Drafting With Confidence
Buster Posey: The collision at the plate that left Posey with torn ligaments in his ankle and a broken fibula was a gruesome injury. Yet the timing of the injury and the subsequent surgery is key in this case. Posey suffered his injury in May, giving him nearly 10 months to focus on rehab and recovery before returning to action. The San Francisco medical staff has handled his recovery almost flawlessly, progressively bringing him along at a comfortable pace. He caught his first game of the spring without problems and his first hit was a home run. He'll get the occasional time off and spend some time at first base but Posey remains an elite option at catcher.
Josh Hamilton: In more ways than one Hamilton is his own worst enemy. Besides the personal demons that will always haunt him, his aggressive style of play is the primary reason for the multiple injuries that have hounded him throughout his career. The Rangers plan on protecting him by once again shifting him from center field to left field for the majority of games. Hamilton is entering the final year of his contract and appears motivated to return to his 2010 MVP form. Hamilton is in for a big year if he can minimize the risky plays he attempts.
Adam Wainwright and Stephen Strasburg: The reasoning here is simple. Tommy John surgery just isn't the career killer it once was. Both Wainwright and Strasburg are hoping to put in a full season of work after each undergoing the procedure needed to repair a torn ulnar collateral ligament (UCL). Wainwright is just one year removed from the surgery while Strasburg was able to make five appearances last season after undergoing the operation in September of 2010. Strasburg has struggled so far this spring but his arm has held up and he will get the first Opening Day start of his career. Wainwright has yet to surrender an earned run in three spring appearances and is slated to pitch in St Louis' home opener. Draft both players with confidence.