5 Injury Bounce-Backs to Target in 2020 Drafts
In some of these early drafts we see going on, there is a lot of recency bias. You will see late-season performers boosted up ranks and draft boards. Conversely, you will see late-season duds or injured players fall pretty far in these same drafts. This is where there is a real chance at finding those diamonds in the rough. I have come up with 5 players coming off injuries in 2019 or who missed all of 2019 who are falling in drafts. These are players who are currently in sleeper territory that many may have just forgotten. These are not the only 5 injury bounce-backs on my list, but rather just my first 5. There are more to discuss but we will revisit that at a later time. With that said, let’s get to my favorite injury bounce-backs for 2020.
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5 Injury Bounce-Backs for 2020
Lance McCullers Jr., SP, Houston Astros
Good ol’ McCullers. It was just yesterday we were deciding between Lance McCullers Jr. or James Paxton in drafts. He was a solid top 15 to top 20 starting pitcher for many analysts entering 2018. He was off to a really solid start and then the elbow started barking. That was followed by the dreaded Tommy John surgery. From what I remember, he finally appeared to be on the track towards that breakout we were all long awaiting. After missing the whole 2019 season he should be back for the 2020 season. This time he comes at a significantly reduced price and can be drafted at the back end or final round of drafts.
In 2017 and 2018 he was flashing very solid numbers. The peripherals always suggested he had room to improve as well. In 2018 it was odd to see a backward trend in the K-rate. I say this because he had a career-high SwStr% of 13.5% and a career-high O-Swing% of 32.4%. Both of these marks were better than league average.
There are two big concerns with McCullers entering the 2020 season. Like many injury bounce-backs, my first concern is the innings limit he will likely have entering the 2020 season. He threw a career-high 128.1 innings in 2018. Coming off such an injury, I believe 120 innings may very well be his limit going into 2020. This could mean he starts in the bullpen and gets worked into the rotation later on or vise versa. The second concern I have is that he enters the bullpen and stays there. The Houston Astros have young arms coming up in the minors and may not need to push him and this could delegate McCullers to the pen.
Regardless, at his draft price, there is little risk and the reward could be an SP 3 with SP2 upside on a per game basis if he can return to the form he was showing prior to the injury in 2018. If there is ever a team I want to take a shot on a pitcher late in fantasy baseball drafts, it’s definitely the Astros.
Michael Kopech, SP, Chicago Whitesox
I was so excited for Michael Kopech in 2018. I had him stashed in a ton of spots that year. When he finally got the call I deployed him everywhere I could. The excitement was short-lived, unfortunately. Kopech would go down shortly with a torn UCL and required Tommy John surgery. Another victim of the dreaded TJ. After missing all of 2019 due to the surgery, he should be ready to go for 2020 and I believe he will be in the starting rotation.
There are always risks with pitchers coming off the first year of a TJ surgery, but just as I stated with McCullers, there is also little risk here in his draft price. Kopech offers as much upside as any of the injury bounce-backs on my list, and for where he is being drafted it cannot be ignored. Yes, he will be limited in 2020. That should not be the reason to avoid him on draft day. He is another high upside player with low cost. You could very well get him as your back end rotation arm for your fantasy teams and he comes with similar if not greater upside than McCullers.
Kopech offers huge strikeout upside and the potential for solid ratios. He threw 140.2 innings in 2018 prior to the injury. I’d expect roughly that same 120 innings cap for him in 2020 as the White Sox will likely want to protect one of their top prospects and a potential future ace.
I use the word “potential” a lot with Michael Kopech. That is because the sky really is the limit with him and he is available so late and shouldn’t be forgotten. He averaged double-digit K/9 all through the minors. Although the walk rate is concerning in the minors, in his short MLB stint the walks were cut down immensely. That came at the expense of the K-rate. It has also been reported his velocity is back to where it was prior to the surgery. Here is a little video of Kopech throwing in Instructs while he rehabs.
— Steve Givarz (@SteveGivarz) October 3, 2019
I think the stuff looks great and with the velocity back to where it is, I expect him to climb the ranks and draft boards entering the 2020 season.
Salvador Perez, C, Kansas City Royals
Another player who is coming of Tommy John on this list. This is a trend I do not like to see. The difference is that this is not a pitcher. This is a catcher and a very relevant one at that. Salvador Perez should not be overlooked entering 2020 fantasy baseball drafts. Just by having a pulse and some upside you are a relevant catcher in fantasy baseball, but Perez has been a top-five pick at the position in the past and coming off the injury you get that type of upside with a discount. Perez is more of an “out of sight, out of mind,” type of player.
I am sure as more analysts get their ranks together you will see his name a lot more. He offers top 5 catcher upside without the price tag right now. It is hard to really argue with that. He barely walks and always has a lackluster OBP, so I would avoid drafting him in points or OBP formats. In your standard roto or category leagues, he would be my target to fill my catcher spot.
A year off may have done him well. The Royals do not give Perez many days off. With that said, I expect him to come back fresh and ready to roll. Prior to missing 2019, Salvador Perez had four straight seasons of 20 plus home runs and 64 or more RBI. His career-worst batting average came in 2018, but it was paired with a career-best home run production. Ultimately he offers very solid production at the catcher position and is as safe as any of the injury bounce-backs on my list.
Andrew McCutchen, OF, Philadelphia Phillies
A fan favorite and former fantasy star Andrew McCutchen is being completely overlooked in these early drafts. Coming off a torn ACL and entering his age 34 season, I totally understand why people will be down on Cutch. I believe where he is going in drafts, however, there is some serious potential for profit there. Prior to the injury in 2019, he still flashed a plus speed tool. He had sprint speed in the 91st percentile. Not to mention the great walk rates and solid K-rates. He definitely isn’t the .300 hitter he once was, but in any OBP format or points formats, I’d gladly take him.
As recently as 2018, McCutchen produced 20 home runs and 14 steals. I believe that’s still very attainable. He will likely slot into the top of that Phillies lineup yet again next season. No one should complain about getting the 20 to 25 home runs with the 10 or so steals he offers as late as he is going. Not to mention the chance for 100 runs if he does remain atop that Phillies lineup combined with his on-base skills. He will come with a price tag that allows him to be your 5th outfielder or bench bat depending on the depth of your league. Although his best days are behind him, I believe there’s enough upside still remaining for Andrew McCutchen to be on your roster in most formats entering 2020.
Luke Weaver, SP, Arizona Diamondbacks
A bust in 2018 and then a waiver wire, post-hype darling in 2019, Luke Weaver reminded every fantasy analyst that prospect growth is not linear and to not just throw in the towel on a down year. He missed a lot of time in 2019 with right forearm tightness. This can sometimes lead to TJ. This time luckily it did not.
You can see there is a clear change in the production for Weaver from 2018 to 2019. He improved across the board. Higher K-rate. lower walk rate and overall better ratios. Two full runs better in ERA and roughly a run better in the peripherals across the board. Where there is a change in production, there has to be a reason right? I cannot preach much more about how I always seek tangible change so of course, I made sure to find some.
The change in pitch mix says it all. He began throwing more change-ups and more cutters as a whole while reducing four-seam usage. It appears that this change in pitch mix has proven to be effective. With the health concerns behind him, I expect Weaver to bounce back and be a solid draft day value.
Which injury bounce-backs are you watching for in 2020? Let us know in the comments below.
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