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March 24, 2009
Team Health Reports
Head Trainer: Roger Caplinger
Trend: Positive. What happens when you stay as healthy as almost any team in the game? In the Brewers' case, it helped lead to their first playoff appearance since 1982. Caplinger and his assistant athletic trainer, Dan Wright, did an excellent job of keeping Milwaukee's regulars on the field, including the feat of Ben Sheets making more appearances than he had since '04. Yovani Gallardo's knee injuries were the team's most significant medical issues, but his successful recovery not only allowed him to pitch again before the end of the year, it also erased many of the questions about his health heading into this season. When you look below and see how many players fall under the green category, it's proof that the Brewers understand the management of their players' health at all levels of their organization. They've had an amazing track record of keeping minor league players, especially pitchers, healthy; they recently went more than a year without a pitcher missing a start due to injury at Triple-A Nashville. The organization is also at the forefront of some of the more aggressive injury research being done in the game today. Their track record is a testament to not only Caplinger and Wright, but also to Doug Melvin, Gord Ash, and the rest of the Milwaukee front office.
The Shape of the Season:
The Big Question: Drew Olson of 540 AM ESPN in Milwaukee asks, "How concerned should the Brewers be about Ryan Braun's latest rib injury?"
First of all, when the team's biggest injury question involves a player who falls into the green category within this column, it's just another sign of how good the training staff is. As for Braun, Brewers fans surely got a scare when he suffered a strained ribcage muscle last week during the World Baseball Classic. It was a similar strain on the same side last August that contributed to his poor finish last season, and it's certainly worth asking if this is the type of problem that will become chronic and/or bother him throughout the year. The Brewers are a cautious team (more than most), so they won't let him play through anything they think could linger, and while it's fair to wonder if the injuries are related, there's not enough of a direct connection between the two occurrences for the system to automatically link them as one chronic injury. One thing working in Braun's favor this year is his experience in left field. His body won't have to adjust to a new position the way it did last year, so even with the muscle strain, he's really no more of a risk right now than he was at this time in '08.
Fantasy Tip: Outside of Braun and Prince Fielder, this isn't a team loaded with fantasy studs, but you can find some very useful pieces. Yovani Gallardo should join those two in the elite category this year. He'll likely slip in most drafts after missing most of last season, but don't let him slip in yours. If you can get him at a discounted price, great, but if you wait too long, he'll be gone and you'll regret it. I loved Corey Hart as much as the next guy last year, and I still think he has the potential to approach 30/30, but take a look at Mike Cameron; if you can stomach the lower batting average, he'll give you almost the same production as Hart for less than half the price. If you're one of the many Dave Bush loyalists out there still waiting for that breakout season, why not go for him one more time at the very end of your draft? If he can come out of the gate with one of his patented hot streaks, he'll make for some great trade bait.
2B Rickie Weeks: Weeks has yet to stay healthy for an entire season, and last year was no different. His latest issue was a left knee sprain that slowed him at midseason. He re-injured the knee in the playoffs, and ultimately underwent off-season surgery to remove torn cartilage. Weeks is just a tough player to figure out. Despite dealing with the knee and a thumb sprain, he performed better in the second half than he did while healthy early in the season, although a contributing factor was his splitting time with Ray Durham down the stretch. He profiles like B.J. Upton in some ways, including similar skill sets and some common injuries. The question is, will he ever stay healthy enough to fulfill his potential?
CF Mike Cameron: Cameron is a low yellow, and could arguably be green, but the system picks out a few red flags that make him look riskier than he is. These include the vicious outfield collision with Carlos Beltran several years ago, as well as his suspension last year. His age (36) is also becoming a factor. Cameron has dealt with enough minor injuries to carry some risk, but for a player his age, his production and durability remain consistent.
SP Manny Parra: His terrible track record of health in the minors has him walking the red/yellow line. He stays yellow thanks in large part to the job Caplinger and his staff have done keeping him pitching for the last two seasons. Parra is still trying to discover himself as a big-league starter, and now that he's a few years removed from his last serious injury, this season figures to be key in determining the type of pitcher he'll be moving forward.
1B Prince Fielder:
SS J.J. Hardy
3B Bill Hall: For the first time in a few years, Hall doesn't have to worry about a position switch this spring. That limits his injury risk, but he's already remained relatively healthy despite the multiple position switches, and that's something that normally involves a significant amount of increased risk. He's dealt with a calf strain this spring, but Hall's history suggests he'll be able to recover just fine.
C Jason Kendall: It's funny, but when most people think of Kendall, one of the first things that they remember is the gruesome ankle injury from earlier in his career. Now that you've got that picture back in your mind, you've just covered the entirety of Kendall's injury history. At a position where it's next to impossible to be older than thirty and not be red, Kendall is simply a 34-year-old freak of nature as far as durability.
LF Ryan Braun: See today's Big Question.
RF Corey Hart: Hart actually grades out very close to yellow, but it's probably just the system thinking his down numbers were the result of some sort of injury. There's nothing here to be concerned about, though it's worth noting that Hart wore down significantly near the end of his first season as an everyday player-it's not an issue now, but keep it in mind if Hart runs into any problems in '09.
OF Tony Gwynn Jr.
SP Yovani Gallardo: Two knee operations in less than three months last year would certainly be cause for concern, but his late-season comeback showed that his knees are healthy. If anything, it's the minor operation to repair cartilage in his left knee before last season that's worrisome, not the right ACL that occurred earlier. Because his injuries weren't arm-related, the system lowers his risk when it comes to his expected workload-last year would have been pivotal in that regard, but the time off actually improves his outlook. It's an odd quirk in the system with a small sample size to draw from, so he is by no means out of the woods, but it does explain why he's seen as green despite some concerns about his recent history.
SP David Bush
SP Jeff Suppan
SP Seth McClung: McClung's an odd case; he's bounced around from the bullpen to the rotation throughout his career, and he has a Tommy John surgery in his past (2003), but he's been relatively healthy since. His innings totals aren't that bad, largely due to his never having stayed effective long enough as a starter to create any concern over his workload. For now, that's enough to keep him green. If Trevor Hoffman isn't healthy by opening Day, McClung may factor into the closer's role, along with Carlos Villanueva.
CL Trevor Hoffman: Aging closers are rarely looked upon favorably when assessing injury risk, but Hoffman breaks the system with a very low number for someone his age. In fact, he and Mariano Rivera are essentially the lone available samples when it comes to establishing a baseline here. That said, this could be the year when the magic finally wears off, as he likely won't be ready for Opening Day due to an oblique strain. Between his age, and the propensity for such injuries to linger, the Brewers aren't going to rush him back. If the injuries snowball and he's done at 41, then so be it, but given his track record, it wouldn't be surprising to see Hoffman have another healthy season once he recovers.
RP Carlos Villanueva: His risk level will rise a little if he's used to close games in Hoffman's absence, but not enough to be a major concern.