Editor's note: Our Fantasy Baseball Index Cheat Sheet rankings are more aggressive than those of our competitors on many players who will start the year in the minors or on the injury list – most notably Carlos Carrasco, Miles Mikolas, Chris Sale (pictured), Daulton Varsho and Luke Voit. Many of these players will be available to draft later (or purchase for less) than our rankings suggest.
Our underlying stat projections aren’t discounted because there’s a chance that the player might not recover from injury as expected, or because he might not be called up from the minors as we expect. We project what we believe will happen, and our dollar values are directly dependent upon those projections. Readers who don’t know that could end up with all of those players on their teams – and a bunch of empty roster spots.
The players we detail below won’t be on Opening Day MLB rosters but will bring value to fantasy rosters.
Success in roto-scoring fantasy baseball ultimately comes down to team building and finding profitable opportunities. One way to find profit, albeit risky, is to draft or pickup up-and-coming prospects and injured players, and stash them in reserve (bench, injured list, or minors) until they are on the active MLB roster.
The strategy isn’t for the faint of heart. There is opportunity cost to using one of a precious few reserve slots on a player who isn’t immediately available to play, especially in a season when teams are expected to be more mindful of workloads following the 60-game campaign in 2020. Fantasy baseball league rules can also make all the difference, which is why a player like Chris Sale, whose timetable to return is somewhere around June, had an NFBC average draft position of 280 in NFBC Draft Champions leagues with 27 reserve spots but an ADP of 398 in the Main Event, where teams have a precious seven reserve spots and no injured list.
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Every league has its own unique situation, so it’s difficult to present recommendations for prospects and injured players that are uniform across all leagues. However, this post lists many players who are expected to be called up and/or miss at least one month of the 2021 MLB season, along with players who are worthy of being kept for 2022.
Of course estimated dates for call-ups and return from injury are fluid, and unexpected delays can certainly change the recommendation, but here’s what we expect as of Opening Day.
Injured Players are bold.
Prospects are in italics.
The following players are worth rostering and/or worthy of keeping on your radar in mixed leagues, assuming at least five reserve spots.
Nick Anderson, RP, TB: Partially torn UCL, but could earn saves in the second half.
Harrison Bader, OF, STL: Flexor strain in right forearm. Expected to miss at least four weeks, but speed still makes him valuable in 15+ team mixed leagues.
Carlos Carrasco, SP, NYM: Grade 1 strained hamstring. Could return to starting rotation in May. He was injured for much of spring, first with a minor elbow issue, but still ranks 20th in our 15-team mixed pitcher list based on a projection of 140 innings, while he’s been the 35th pitcher selected in 15-team NFBC drafts.
Wander Franco, SS, TB: Ranked as the No. 1 prospect in MLB by Baseball America and MLB.com. The Rays are notoriously conservative with prospects, and Franco hasn’t appeared above High-A. He could still be a possibility to see the majors in the second half.
Zac Gallen, SP, ARI: Hairline stress fracture in right forearm. Timeline is unknown, but he is able to play catch already. The uncertainty has made his ADP in NFBC leagues fluid, while we currently project Gallen for 120 innings, making him our 98th ranked pitcher.
Nico Hoerner, 2B, CHC: Has seen 208 plate appearances in the majors, but sent down after hitting .364-2-11 this spring. He should be brought back later this month.
Sam Huff, C, TEX: Grade 2 strained hamstring suffered in February. Could remain in the minors when he’s healthy, but should eventually replace Jose Trevino as Rangers starter behind the plate.
Jarred Kelenic, OF, SEA: Sat out part of Spring Training due to injury but went 6-for-20 with two home runs. Could be promoted as early as late April.
Alex Kirilloff, OF, MIN: Appeared in the playoffs last year but struggled this spring. Could claim the left field job if he gets on track in the first half of the season.
Miles Mikolas, SP, STL: Shoulder soreness but playing catch already. Could return to the starting rotation in May. We project Mikolas to be an excellent value as our 55th ranked pitcher in 15-team leagues compared his rank of 177 among pitchers in NFBC ADP, though it is worth noting he had elbow issues in 2020 and didn’t pitch, likely suppressing his draft value even more.
Brendan McKay, SP, TB: Labrum surgery last August. Could return around midseason.
Brendan Rodgers, 2B, COL: Strained hamstring. As of March 19, Rodgers was expected to miss at least a month.
Chris Sale, SP, BOS: Tommy John surgery last year. Could return as Boston’s ace in June. Sale currently ranks as our 58th best pitcher in 15-team mixed leagues, so he could net a very nice profit in the right situation given the previously mentioned ADP range and overall status as the 122nd pitcher selected.
Luis Severino, SP, NYY: Tommy John surgery last year. Threw a bullpen session in early March and could return by midseason. Severino is our 114th highest pitcher earner in 15-team teams, while he’s the 159th pitcher drafted in NFBC.
Noah Syndergaard, SP, NYM: Tommy John surgery last year. Could return in late May or early June. There’s still some value to be had here, as “Thor” is our 125th ranked pitcher compared to 131 on NFBC ADP.
Framber Valdez, SP, HOU: Fractured left ring finger in his first spring start but avoided surgery. No timetable has been stated publicly yet, but the news does sound encouraging.
Daulton Varsho, C/OF, ARI: Struggled in 115 plate appearances last season and during Spring Training, but Varsho hit .301-18-58 with 21 steals in 108 games at Double-A in 2019. A candidate to play regularly in the outfield after he gets on track. We still project Varsho to earn $12 in 15-team standard two-catcher 5x5 scoring leagues, but his draft stock plunged following his demotion.
Luke Voit, 1B, NYY: Partially torn meniscus in left knee. Will miss about a month. With a projection of 400 at-bats, Voit still ranks as our 134th hitter.
Bobby Witt Jr., SS, KC: Hit .289-3-7 in 40 plate appearances during Spring Training. Getting work at second base and the outfield, and could see the majors as early as midseason.
The following injured players are worth rostering and/or worth keeping on your radar in AL-only leagues, assuming at least two reserve or injured list spots. Minor leaguers aren’t listed, as most top prospects with expectation for playing time are worth rostering in single leagues.
Franklin Barreto, 2B, LAA: Elbow inflammation has him shutdown 4-6 weeks. Will have to fight for at-bats when he does return.
Zack Britton, RP, NYY: Surgery to remove bone chips from elbow. Targeting late May or June return, and should serve as primary setup man upon return.
Ji-Man Choi, 1B, TB: Arthroscopic knee surgery. Could return in May.
Hunter Harvey, RP, BAL: Strained oblique. Best case is a return in mid-May after being placed on the 60-day IL. Harvey could figure into saves picture, but his long injury history is a red flag.
Josh James, RP, HOU: Left hip surgery. Could return to the bullpen in late May or early June.
Clarke Schmidt, SP, NYY: Common extensor strain in right elbow. Timetable is unclear, but minor league history shows he’s worth tracking as a potential starter.
Danny Santana, 1B, BOS: Elbow surgery and foot infection. Could return as a utilityman by midseason.
The following players are worth rostering and/or worth keeping your radar in NL-only leagues, assuming at least two reserve or injured list spots. Minor leaguers aren’t listed, as most top prospects with expectation for playing time are worth rostering in single leagues.
Tyler Beede, SP, SF: Tommy John surgery last spring. Showed increased velocity in 2019 and could return by midseason.
Steven Brault, SP, PIT: Left lat strain. Could miss over two months, but a starting rotation candidate when he does return.
Kyle Freeland, SP, COL: Shoulder strain suffered late in Spring Training. Could avoid surgery and return this season.
Seth Lugo, RP, NYM: Elbow surgery to remove bone spur in February. Could return as a setup man in May.
The following injured players are worth rostering and/or worth keeping on your radar in keeper leagues, assuming at least five reserve spots and five keepers, but won’t make a significant impact this season.
Mike Clevinger, SP, SD: Tommy John surgery in November. Could return at the beginning of 2022.
Yonny Chirinos, SP, TB: Tommy John surgery last August. Could return at the start of 2022.
Dakota Hudson, SP, STL: Tommy John surgery last September. A fringe stash who mostly had value in deeper mixed leagues prior to his injury.
Eloy Jimenez, OF, CHW: Torn left pectoral muscle and will miss 5-6 months. A September return is possible, and he is definitely worthy of being kept for 2022.
Jose Leclerc, RP, TEX: Tommy John surgery in March, but could return as a closer candidate at some point in 2022.
Ken Giles, SP, SEA: Tommy John surgery last September and signed a two-year contract with Seattle in the offseason. He’s a strong candidate to close for the Mariners in 2022.
Justin Verlander, SP, HOU: Tommy John surgery last September. Hopes to pitch in relief late this year before free agency and will be 39 next season, but has enough upside to be kept.
Kirby Yates, RP, TOR: Tommy John surgery this spring after signing a one-year deal. Could be a candidate to close somewhere next season