We are still early in the year, but this can be a crucial time for players as they adjust back to a full season’s work. After a long offseason of training and preparation, it is now time for the players to put into action their hard work. Unfortunately for some players, it may take a while for their bodies to be fully ready for an everyday grind and for the speed of the game. As a result, injuries can pop up at any time, whether it’s by running the bases, swinging at a pitch, or throwing a ball.
Here are some of the injuries that you need to know about in order to help manage your rosters this early in the fantasy season.
There were high hopes for Chris Sale entering the 2022 season after he came back from Tommy John surgery last year and looked strong. He was being drafted as one of the top pitchers in the game, with the expectation that he would elevate himself back into an elite contributor. Those hopes and dreams were crushed late in March when Sale was diagnosed with a stress fracture in his right rib cage, and the Red Sox subsequently placed him on the 60-day IL.
A hurt rib cage is a generally sore spot for anyone, much less a pitcher, who stretches himself in winding up and delivering any pitch. The rib can become damaged through any sort of stress, and if it is excessive in the case of a pitcher, a fracture may happen. Given that the symptoms of a rib fracture could include shortness of breath, physical pain in the surrounding areas, difficulty breathing, and bruising or swelling, it’s easy to see how hard it would be for anyone to pitch. Sale has since said that he feels much better, with mobility and movement feeling easier, making his recovery a more optimistic one. Nevertheless, he has only just started a throwing program and has a ways to go before making his debut.
In the meantime, the Red Sox and their rotation seems to be in some disarray, specifically at the back end. While Nathan Eovaldi and Tanner Houck have both looked strong to start the season, the remaining three placeholders have a lot of questions going forward. First, there’s Nick Pivetta and Michael Wacha, both of whom have the propensity to be solid in spurts, but have never demonstrated enough consistency to be trusted contributors. There’s also Rich Hill, who has had productive seasons in the past, but is now at the tail end of his career and may not have the innings capacity to make it through the season.
One pitcher to watch is Garrett Whitlock, who surprisingly came into the league last year and dominated all year. It was unclear exactly what his role was going to be this season, as there was talk of him competing for the closer role, continuing his multi-inning role, or even slotting himself into the rotation. While he seems very versatile in whatever capacity, he’s shown nothing but dominance thus far in 2022, showcasing a four-pitch arsenal with success. His potential was on display in his first start against the Rays on April 23, when he fired four shutout innings and struck out seven batters.
Conclusion: With Sale on the IL for the time being, the Red Sox may find themselves getting pitching production wherever they can. With some names already in the rotation being unstable in their consistency, Whitlock may emerge as the pitcher we all hope and think he could be. While some of his early-season stats may not sustainable due to the fact that it is such a small sample, the fact remains that he is a very important part of the Red Sox pitching staff. He will get (sporadic) opportunities to start games, pitch multi-innings, and a chance to close out games. As sort of a Swiss Army Knife type of pitcher, Whitlock may find himself with over 100 innings pitched this year, making him somebody who should be close to universally rostered.
Last week, Jose Altuve suffered a hamstring strain while trying to beat out an infield hit, and he awkwardly stepped on the first base bag. He was immediately removed from the game and underwent an MRI, which revealed the strain, and thus, he was placed on the 10-day Injured List. While nothing in the MRI seemed to be overly serious, it’s still something that would need some time away from the game to heal. The Astros called up prospect J.J. Matijevic as a corresponding move, as he gives the team a left-handed option when Yuli Gurriel rests or plays as the designated hitter.
Altuve was off to a slow start to begin the season. Drafted for power up the middle, he is a four-category second baseman who can be trusted to produce everything but speed. In fact, Altuve has not recorded double-digit steals since 2018 and has made stealing bases almost non-existent in his game. Still, he is a valuable player in the fantasy baseball world and one who would be missed for any length of time.
In the meantime, the Astros find themselves in a bind over the next week or so. While Matijevic has had decent success in the minor leagues, he projects to play over at first base instead of second base. In Altuve’s absence, Houston currently has the option to use either Niko Goodrum or Aledmys Diaz and may alternate based on the handedness of the opposing pitcher. All that said, there seems to be one who has the potential to be much better than the other.
Last season, Diaz started the year as the team’s utility player and then became a fixture in the Astros’ lineup when Alex Bregman was injured. In his place, despite fighting through injuries of his own, he was more than productive and proved his worth to the team. He returned healthy to the team at the end of July (his 35th game) and received consistent playing time until the end of August (his 59th game). Within that stretch, he went on a tear, hitting .330 with four home runs and proving his worth when he’s on the field every day.
Conclusion: While the injury to Altuve is not ideal by any means, having someone as versatile as Diaz waiting in the wings should give Houston some comfort. While he may not be someone to add to your roster now, he may be someone to keep an eye on down the road in deeper leagues, should other and more serious injuries hamper the Astros down the road. He may just be the addition to fantasy rosters to help with the always-elusive batting average category.
Alex Kirilloff entered the year with lofty expectations after a disappointing 2021 season where he missed the last two months due to wrist surgery. While his overall numbers were mediocre, looking under the hood showed the potential for much more, since his expected stats and batted-ball profile showed a combination of bad luck despite an ability to make solid contact. It was thought that the surgery on his wrist would solve the problems in his hand and give him the next step to elevate his game in 2022, but apparently, that wasn’t the case. Earlier this month, it was revealed that Kirilloff was suffering from inflammation in the same wrist and that he would be placed on the 10-day IL. This is concerning.
Wrist injuries are not new to Kirilloff, as he suffered his first of this kind back in 2019 while getting ready to begin his season in Double-A for Pensacola. While he seemingly recovered from it fully, it would be re-aggravated during his time with the Twins last year, resulting in surgery. While it was considered a success at the time, he has since been given a cortisone shot in his wrist to help resolve the inflammation. Still, while he and the team are optimistic that this time around will be less time-consuming, it’s concerning nonetheless because the same injury continues to reappear. And while it may come down to how much pain Kirilloff can work through, it’s definitely something to consider in leagues going forward.
In his absence, the Twins recalled outfielder Trevor Larnach, who was one of their top prospects a year ago. While he started the season off very well, he just couldn’t adjust to the adjustments that were being made to him. He began to see fewer fastballs and more breaking pitches, which resulted in a massive spike in his strikeout rate and plummeting his batting average. Looking at these per-pitch statistics, it’s easy to see how effective pitchers were against him.
Since the injury to Kirilloff, Larnach has reduced his overall strikeout rate to just under 26%, despite not yet hitting a home run. If he can re-develop the patience that he displayed while in the minors, there’s a chance that he can be a productive Major League player for the Twins, should they need him down the road. That said, his playing time should decrease once Kirilloff returns to the lineup.
Another option for Minnesota has arguably been their best batter at the plate (when healthy) over the past three seasons: Luis Arraez. Armed with terrific patience and the ability to put the bat on the ball, Arraez is no stranger to putting the ball in play all over the field and for getting on base while playing small ball.
Not known for his power, he accumulated 281 hits over his first 245 games with Minnesota before this season, with 211 of those hits being singles. He has also shown the ability to be quite the versatile everyday player since he has played at every position in the infield and multiple positions in the outfield during his tenure with the Twins. He is definitely a quality Major League player who has proven his worth to his team.
Conclusion: While Kirilloff is expected to be back with the Twins in the near future, it is far from certain that he will remain healthy enough to play with consistency. He is definitely someone who needs to be rostered due to the potential upside, but owners should have a contingency plan in case the wrist injury reappears. Within the Twins’ organization, Larnach has very good power upside, while Arraez offers batting average help through positional eligibility.
The Texas Rangers were big spenders in the offseason, as they reconfigured their middle infield spots to the tune of $500 million over two players. While that helped the ineptitude of their offensive woes, it didn’t quite solve the difficulty of keeping runs off the board from their opponents, so they went out and signed Jon Gray to a four-year contract to be their frontline pitcher and hopefully anchor their rotation. Unfortunately for them, he has missed significant time already, and will continue to be sidelined as he recently suffered a left-knee sprain, causing him to go to the 10-day IL. It’s his second time on the IL this season, after just returning from a blister. It’s a disappointing way to start the year for the Rangers, who need him on the field.
In his absence, Texas recalled Glenn Otto, who, despite a gaudy 9.26 ERA last year, looked quite promising at times. He started the year with a five-inning shutout, where he struck out seven batters. As the year progressed, he started to struggle, but the intrigue isn’t necessarily in the final results, but more with regard to his second-best pitch: the slider. Generating a 33% whiff rate in 2021, this plus pitch has already shown an increase in horizontal movement and spin rate, albeit to the tune of a small sample of one start.
Conclusion: Glenn Otto is someone to watch going forward. His first start was a promising one, in which he pitched five shutout innings while maintaining solid velocity and an improved slider. Still, as a two-pitch pitcher, it is something that he will need in order to maintain his spot in the rotation even when Jon Gray returns. If this happens, the Rangers just may have someone else to help anchor a struggling rotation.
With World Series aspirations, the Toronto Blue Jays did a formidable job of finding a balance between their pitching and their hitting this year, which was something that was lacking last season. Early on in 2022, the Jays have found themselves without one of their best hitters, Teoscar Hernandez, after he suffered an oblique injury while swinging a bat in a game. He has missed more than the ten-day minimum and has just started hitting off of a tee. And while the Blue Jays have missed one of their star players, they have since been mixing and matching quite well to utilize their bench bats as productive alternatives. Still, there’s no replacing Hernandez, as his bat is quite a valuable one.
How does one replace one of the best bats in baseball? It’s hard to effectively do so, but the Jays have had some success with Raimel Tapia. The former Rockies’ outfielder was acquired in a trade with Colorado for slugger Randal Grichuk and came to the Jays, who needed a left-handed bat in their lineup. Known primarily for his speed potential, he thrived in Colorado as his home numbers proved he enjoyed the thin air of Coors Field. That said, he has already displayed his worth to the team with the bat and with his glove, which could lead to additional playing time should this positive start continue. Bradley Zimmer, another acquisition, has struggled to start the year, but has shown the ability in the past to be a nice power/speed option when given the time to play. Finally, Cavan Biggio has been given a chance to play, but has failed to produce much of anything. This may result in a demotion to Triple-A in order to try and get him back to the way he was when he succeeded in 2019 and 2020.
Conclusion: The Blue Jays’ strengths of having a complete lineup from top to bottom took a major hit with the Hernandez injury. He was a major part of their success last year and was supposed to have an even bigger role this year. While the aforementioned options offer some nice upside potential in deeper leagues, for now, they should remain on the waiver wire until they prove their worth with more consistent production. Of the three, Tapia seems the likeliest to play the most, due to his defensive abilities and speed potential. That being said, Zimmer did hit a home run off of Justin Verlander recently, showing what he could be with more playing time. If either somehow earns additional time on the field, they are definitely worth monitoring, since a return date for Hernandez is unknown at this time.
Featured image by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)