Adam Wainwright, Josh Johnson present high reward/risk in early fantasy baseball drafts

      January 24, 2012 @ 14:40:30 PDT

Wainwright's price sinking

As Nicholas Minnix pointed out last week with Atlanta Braves elite talent Tommy Hanson (shoulder), fantasy baseball drafters are easily scared away from players whose previous season was derailed by injuries.

The explanation surrounding Hanson's breakdown and his subsequent training/rehab to avoid a similar ailment should settle the fears of fantasy participants this year, but it most likely won't. Take advantage of this in your drafts.

This brings me to two more studly tossers that, before their unfortunate 2011 seasons, were unmistakably near the top of everybody's pitching draft boards: Adam Wainwright and Josh Johnson.

No surprise here: Wainwright and Johnson have fallen in early mock drafts; per 450 qualifying drafts at Mock Draft Central through today, Wainwright is going as the 101st overall pick, and Johnson is slightly ahead of him at 95.

Tommy John surgery is a major procedure, but luckily for Wainwright, he had it before the season even started last year, so he's had ample time to recover. He started throwing bullpen sessions in September and even added changeups to the routine before the end of the year. Wainwright felt so good - he was throwing at max effort in late-September - that he pleaded the team to add him to the postseason roster, which the Cards wisely shot down.

Setbacks and hurdles usually accompany a return from TJS, most notably in the velocity department. However, Wainwright should be able to get some of those issues ironed out during spring training. He already dealt with the breaking up of some scar tissue late last year, too. Velocity isn't a big part of his success, so that's a huge plus. In fact, the ligament-replacement surgery has given him a livelier feel and more extension on his pitches that has resulted in more sink on his fastball. An improved sinker to go along with his nasty snapdragon curve should make him more effective.

GM John Mozeliak and St. Louis want to be cautious, though; they want to set a limit anywhere from 150-180 innings on Wainwright in 2012. This is concerning, but the exact inning limit isn't set in stone, and Wainwright, 30, is a fierce competitor that will no doubt try to push that boundary if he's healthy and effective. It's worth noting that this righty threw for more than 10 years with a slight tear in his elbow before having TJS.

Many will be wary to touch him this year, but given his price, it could be very hard to pass him up. Remember, this is a guy who was a Cy Young candidate in 2010 after going 20-11 with a 2.42 ERA and 213 K's against just 56 walks.

If it weren't for shoulder discomfort, Johnson may have given Clayton Kershaw a run for his money as the National League Cy Young. Johnson went 3-1 with a 1.64 ERA in nine starts.

Shoulder injuries can be tricky, and many pitchers often do not come back as the same person following a surgery, which thankfully Johnson has not had to endure (knock on wood…). Although Johnson's ceiling at this point may be higher than Wainwright's, the injury risk seems greater. It remains disturbing that Johnson missed most of the season without dealing with any structural damage to his shoulder.

Something fishy here?

Is there anything more at work here? Could this just be the precursor to a more significant injury followed shortly thereafter by surgery in 2012?

Those are the questions you'll have to consider if you're left staring down this soon-to-be 28-year-old at a reduced cost in this year's draft.

Not in question: Johnson's ability when he's healthy. He has the talent and stuff to easily serve as your fantasy ace. But Johnson has only topped 200 innings (209) once in his six-year career, back in 2009, when he went 15-5 with a 3.23 ERA. Don't forget what he did at the start of last season before the shoulder inflammation, either.

He's scheduled to resume throwing this week, and Johnson is confident that he'll be 100 percent healthy for spring training. While that's good to hear, it probably won't settle the concerns and fears most people have of investing in this top-tier pitching arm.

It'll be hard for me, much like with Wainwright, to pass up Johnson based on how far he's fallen on draft boards; much of this also depends on what my roster looks like at the point I'd consider these two. I'm expecting one of these dudes, if not both, to outperform their current draft slot in 2012 - assuming, of course, they stay healthy.

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About Keith Hernandez

Keith, an editor with KFFL, joined the team as a Hot off the Wire analyst in 2008 and has been playing fantasy sports since 2005. He is involved in MLB, NFL and NASCAR content. He graduated from the University of California-San Diego in 2005 with a B.A. in Communications and was a four-year starter as a member of the baseball program.

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