Preseason injury watch: Catcher
The 2013 fantasy baseball season is right around the corner. Aside from tracking which players have traded uniforms and ballparks, gauging the health of those with injury concerns is of paramount importance. Each position has a few key fantasy players -- we've addressed only those players in the Top 150 for now -- with question marks by their names entering the spring. Although teams limit the details of players' medical histories, there is still significant information to be gleaned from an understanding of the athlete's condition and status report updates as to his activity. As the regular season approaches, these situations will evolve because many players recovering from injury or surgery will progress their activity accordingly or, in some cases, encounter delays or setbacks.
Brian McCann, Atlanta Braves: McCann had experienced pain in his right shoulder for several years, but in 2012 the instability associated with a labral tear caused him additional pain and even affected his performance. He underwent surgery to repair the damage in October, and the early expectation was that he would have a delayed start to the season as he worked on a gradual progression of arm strength. So far, his progress has been solid. In fact, according to the Braves' official website, McCann says his shoulder feels "as free as it has been for a few years." McCann was feeling so good in January that he hinted he might be able to start the season on time.
As spring training progresses, it appears McCann might have jumped the gun a bit; he's questionable for the start of the season. But that's in part because the Braves are probably more concerned with his long-term status. He is hitting off a tee and making progress with his throwing distance, but it now appears his return will come closer to the middle of April, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, rather than the beginning of it. Most important, the issue that had been so problematic for McCann last year should now be resolved.
Victor Martinez, Detroit Tigers (will likely DH): Martinez suffered a knee injury while training during the offseason last year, and what an injury it turned out to be. Initial reports indicated a torn ACL, along with medial and lateral meniscus tears. He underwent an initial procedure in January 2012 to address the torn menisci, and reports emerged of microfracture surgery. The expectation at that time was that he would rehab the knee for several months, then undergo another procedure that April to address the ACL. He did not have ACL reconstruction after his surgeon determined it was unnecessary, according to MLive.com.
Initially, Martinez's rehab process appeared to be going well, but as the season progressed, it became apparent that his overall recovery would require more time. As his return date continued to be delayed, it became apparent by August that he would not don a uniform in 2012. Once the team made it official that Martinez would not return, he scaled back his activity and redrafted a time line targeting a 2013 return.
Naturally, the question is whether the additional time has paid off in terms of allowing for a full recovery or whether Martinez is still at risk. As the Tigers progress through spring training, the team is certainly optimistic regarding their expectations for Martinez. His everyday catching duties are behind him, and the plan is to use him primarily in a DH role. At least he won't have to squat for hours on a regular basis. But will he be able to run, slide and, most important, deliver power at the plate? The Tigers believe the answer is yes. According to The Detroit News, hitting coach Lloyd McClendon says he doesn't think Martinez has lost anything. "I see a lot of zip, a lot of pop in his swing," McClendon said. The proof will come when Martinez faces live pitching in game situations.
On the positive side, Martinez has clearly progressed beyond where he left off last season. As of February, he has been running, including turning corners around the bases. No pain. No limp. What remains uncertain is how well he will be able to function as a designated hitter; part of the uncertainty stems from not fully knowing the medical detail of his knee. How healthy is the weight-bearing surface of the knee? Is he stable after having suffered an ACL injury? Some answers may come directly from his performance at the plate. Martinez is a switch-hitter. The left leg will be tested more in terms of power contribution when he bats from the left side of the plate and has to drive his swing from the back leg. As he swings, the left knee will drop in and he will rotate through the entire lower extremity as he goes through his motion, transferring energy forward and up through the trunk and arms. Those movements will test the stability of his knee; any collapse or weakness will result in lost energy during his swing and decreased power as a result.
Martinez seems to feel good about his knee, and it's entirely possible that there will be little drop-off in his productivity compared to 2011. His knee benefits from having undergone intensive rehab accompanied by the extended rest from sitting out a season, but will it hold up to the everyday grind of the season? And can he deliver on the team's expectations? We'll just have to wait and see.
Alex Avila, Detroit Tigers: Avila has been contending with patellar tendinitis since late in the 2011 season. It cropped up again early in the 2012 season, and while it didn't cause him to miss extensive time, it might have been an underlying factor in some of the ups and downs in his performance. He also sustained a hamstring injury that sent him to the DL in June, perhaps an associated complication of dealing with a chronically painful knee. Avila received PRP (platelet-rich-plasma) treatment in his left knee in October and, according to the Detroit News, says he is feeling better than he has in a few years.
Of course, as a catcher, Avila places a great deal of load on his patellar tendons, especially when he must explode quickly out of the crouch position to make a defensive play. He also relies on his left leg to help drive his power when he swings. So while he is feeling good, by all accounts, heading into the spring, it's hard to know whether the issue is truly behind him until he gets deeper into the season and is repeating activity over time.
Nick Hundley, San Diego Padres: Hundley tore the meniscus in his right knee early in the season but played through it, which is not an easy task as a catcher. He was forced to shut it down early and underwent surgery in late August. The good news is that since the procedure, he has had ample recovery time and appears to be in good shape to start the 2012 season. Meniscus tears are not uncommon in catchers, and while there is variability in terms of the size and location of the tear and any associated damage to the joint surface, most do well in the early stages post-operatively. Hundley seems to be off to a strong start this spring, suggesting he will head into the regular season in similar fashion. How well his knee fares year to year as he continues to catch will be the thing to keep an eye on.
Wilson Ramos, Washington Nationals: Ramos endured a year he would probably rather forget. In the injury department, his season ended before it ever really got started when he did big damage to his right knee in May. He underwent meniscal surgery June 1, followed by ACL reconstruction in mid-July. The six-week break between procedures allowed Ramos to restore adequate knee motion following his first operation before having ACL surgery.
At only 25 years old, he certainly has the benefit of youth on his side. Ramos declared himself "95 percent" recovered in late February but still had additional tests to pass. He just passed a big one, sliding for the first time on March 2. According to the Washington Times, Ramos, who was understandably apprehensive about this particular drill, emerged smiling after putting his knee through the challenge. "No more scared," Ramos said afterward. He has been performing catching duties in practice and has been hitting the ball without any apparent limitations. The ultimate test remains: returning to game play. Ramos is expected to begin catching a few innings in games starting the first week of March.