Nic Civale is a Doctor of Physical Therapy and former NCAA Division I Baseball player. He combines his knowledge of anatomy and physiology with that of baseball mechanics to provide expectations for injured players. Utilize The MLB Injury Report to make the most of your fantasy season.
AL Central – MLB Injury Report
Chicago White Sox
The White Sox go into 2022 very healthy; only Adam Engel, OF, went into the offseason needing significant rehab to recover from an injury. Engel had arthroscopic shoulder surgery performed, to ‘clean up’ the joint. This usually means the reshaping of the joint, fixing mild forms of arthritis (do not be scared by this), or bone spurs. If you are an Engel believer, don’t let this type of surgery scare you away. Yordan Alvarez had a comparable procedure done for his knees last year, which scared everyone off and unjustly lowered his fantasy value.
Shane Bieber, SP
I wasn’t initially going to write about Shane Bieber, because he doesn’t show up on any preseason injury lists. It seems, though, that many people across the industry are fading him due to health concerns. I’m not. Bieber suffered a shoulder strain during the 2021 season that held him out approximately three months. He did, however, return late in 2021 to show he was mound-ready prior to the end of the year.
Bieber dealt with a subscapularis strain. This is a muscle that exists underneath the entirety of the scapula, and sits between it, and the ribcage. It is important because the tendon of this muscle wraps through the arm pit, and its tendon attaches to the lateral humerus (upper arm bone). This muscle is used to internally rotate the shoulder. The motion of internal rotation appears most notably as the pitcher goes from lay-back position to releasing the ball. As the muscle contracts, the shoulder rotates on a swivel in the joint and creates the whip motion that fires the ball towards home plate.
What is usually the most aggravating part of most subscapularis injuries, though, is the stretching of the muscle. This occurs earlier in the throwing motion, when the pitcher begins to stride towards home plate and the arm rotates back into the lay-back position. This is when the subscapularis and its tendon undergo the greatest and quickest stretch. This is normally where the thrower notices the pain. I’ve dealt with subscapularis tendonitis myself, which is comparable to a strain. It is the type of injury where you could feel perfectly fine at 50% effort, but absolutely pain-stricken at 100%. The increased effort creates a greater stretch to the muscle and the onset of pain.
Ultimately, the healing of these muscle strains can be just as complete as any other muscle. Bieber returned to the mound in the last few weeks of the season. He didn’t have the same velocity, which worried people, but I don’t necessarily think his goal was to go out and pump 98 throughout the game. We, as an industry, seem to get so afraid of loss of spin rate or velocity in the first start back from injury.
But you have to think like the pitcher, and like the coaching staff. Bieber was returning to games that had no playoff implications. He was returning to try to get his ‘feel’ back and see some time on the mound to determine whether he was ready to approach the off-season full throttle. Ultimately, Bieber pitched two outings of 3.0 innings, each. He gave up only 1 earned run and 4 hits with 0 walks, total. Bieber is immensely discounted compared to the onset of the 2021 season, and I’m approaching this as a major advantage.
Do not take the generalized approach of, “shoulder injuries in pitchers are the most worrisome.” There are dozens and dozens of shoulder pathologies, and we simply cannot lump them all together. This is so much less problematic than a rotator cuff repair surgery, a labral tear, and many other injuries. I see this opportunity as similar to Yordan Alvarez’s situation going into last season. Everyone was scared because he had knee surgery when in actuality, they should not have been worried at all due to the nature of the surgery.
This is where you gain advantages throughout drafts. Take the Bieber discount, and enjoy.
Josh Naylor, OF
Naylor suffered a gruesome right ankle fracture and dislocation in June 2021. This injury was very unsettling to watch – and hear. He had collided with Ernie Clement, 2B in shallow right field. Naylor has been rehabbing since June and has progressed to jogging, throwing, swinging and some light baseball activities. He should compete for the starting job at 1B with Bobby Bradley this season.
Nick Sandlin, RP
Sandlin broke into the majors last year with excellent command and the ability to fool hitters. He throws from the sidearm/submarine slot and is extremely deceptive. Sandlin racked up 48 strikeouts in 33.2 innings pitched with an ERA of 2.94 and a WHIP of 1.13. This rate of 12.8 K/9 was the lowest rate of his three professional seasons. Sandlin was dealing with shoulder tightness in August, and the injury held him out through the rest of the season. There is no expectation of a delayed start for him. He is a very interesting option for Cleveland, as Terry Francona has utilized many submarine-style pitchers successfully in recent years out of his bullpen.
Tyler Freeman, SS
Freeman underwent a labral repair surgery in August 2021. He is listed as probable to start the season, but I interpret this as referring to the minor league season, which usually starts approximately a month later than MLB. He is not an immediate fantasy option but may find himself debuting this year. A highly touted prospect, many eyes will be on Freeman during his recovery process, as labral tears can be tricky to return to full form. This will likely have a greater impact on his throwing vs his hitting, making a move to second base in the future more likely than previously projected.
Nolan Jones, 3B
Jones underwent a significant ankle sprain in September 2021. Surgery was required to help stabilize the ligaments that help hold the joint in place. He is expected to be a full-go by spring training.
Tanner Burns, SP
Burns is one of Cleveland’s top pitching prospects, drafted 36th overall in the 2020 draft. He is the quintessential Guardians pitcher with good control from the right side. Burns was placed on the 7-day MiLB IL last year with right elbow soreness. This is scary to most people, but understand that pretty much every major league pitcher is going to deal with elbow soreness at some point in a season. It is not a direct path to Tommy John surgery or UCL damage. Additionally, Burns only remained sidelined for a couple of weeks and returned in August. Since his return, he held a 3.38 ERA with 29Ks in 26.2 IP. Burns is expected to enter 2022 without any limitations.
Both Jake Rogers, C and Spencer Turnbull, SP are expected back in roughly September of the 2022 season. They both suffered UCL damage and had Tommy John surgeries. Rogers had his in September, 2021, while Turnbull did in July. The Tigers will likely get a chance to see how each of them recovered in the final months of the season.
Kansas City Royals
Brady Singer, SP, Mike Minor, SP and Brad Keller, SP all should be ready to go when the 2022 season begins. These three starters landed on the IL last season with a ‘mid-arm injury,’ shoulder impingement and a strained lat in August, respectively. Each tried to make returns last year, which indicates the injuries are likely more minor-pun intended. So the expectation is they are fully healthy and ready to go. Brady Singer and Brad Keller go into the year with the greatest expected value, being only 25 and 26 years old respectively.
Many hope to see them make strides in their strikeout numbers and ratios. Mike Minor is going into his age-34 season but has had the most success in the past. Pitchers in their mid-30s coming off of a shoulder injury, however, aren’t typically players you should be putting a whole lot of trust in.
Kenta Maeda, SP
The 2020 standout had a disappointing 2021, that ended with even more misfortune. Maeda underwent Tommy Johns surgery in September. This version of the surgery includes an internal brace, which brings the expected recovery time down to about 9-12 months. He is eyeing a September return, so we may see 4-5 starts out of Maeda this year if all goes to plan.
Dylan Bundy, SP
Dylan Bundy missed the last few weeks of 2021 with a strained right shoulder. He was optimistic he could return late last year, but ultimately the risk was not worth the reward on a team without playoff hopes. Similarly, to Maeda, Bundy had a breakout 2020 season with a disappointing 2021.
Trevor Larnach, OF
Last year was a year where Larnach saw some time at the Major League level. There is growing excitement about his potential in the coming years. Last season, Larnach spent time on the IL with a hand injury, but he is anticipated to begin the season fully healthy. His most recent game action at the MLB level was August 15th.