When to draft pitchers returning from Tommy John surgery

When to draft pitchers returning from Tommy John surgery

An elbow injury that requires Tommy John surgery is among the most serious that a baseball player can suffer. Pitchers can go from fantasy studs to completely off the radar faster than you can say "right forearm strain." Hurlers who take more than a year off due to the lengthy recovery process can disappear from the memories of fantasy owners, but those who want to win their 2015 leagues will need to get reacquainted with the following players.

Matt Harvey (Mets)
Expected return: Opening Day
Expected fantasy production: 10 wins, 190 K's, 3.07 ERA, 1.08 WHIP

In 2013, Harvey posted a sterling 2.27 ERA and a 0.93 WHIP, and he averaged more than a strikeout per inning. Had the right-hander been available for 2014 drafts, he almost certainly would have been listed as a mixed-league ace. The uncertainty that comes with the return from a serious injury, combined with a possible innings limit, should prevent Harvey from being one of the top-15 starters to come off 2015 draft boards. He is a decent option as a No. 2 starter, but those who are looking to minimize risk would be wise to make him their No. 3 hurler.

Jose Fernandez (Marlins)
Expected return: July
Expected fantasy production: 8 wins, 111 K's, 3.03 ERA, 1.07 WHIP

Prior to seeing his 2014 season end early, Fernandez was dominating the Senior Circuit to the tune of a 2.44 ERA and a 0.95 WHIP, with 70 whiffs in 51 1/3 innings. The youngster had made just eight starts, which means that he was on pace to exceed 280 K's over a full season. Fernandez's 2015 value is largely dependent on individual league roster rules. Those with DL spots can justify using a mid-round pick on the 22-year-old, and hoping for ace-level numbers in the second half. But those who need to use bench space on Fernandez for half of a season will want to wait until the later rounds, in order to better justify the long delay.

Kris Medlen (Royals)
Expected return: July
Expected fantasy production: 5 wins, 65 K's, 3.50 ERA, 1.22 WHIP

Medlen was a solid No. 3 mixed-league starter in 2013, when he notched 15 wins to go along with a 3.11 ERA and a 1.22 WHIP. The 29-year-old is leaving the pitchers' paradise of Turner Field, and he must adjust to the American League, so he could have more bumps in the road than other returning hurlers. That being said, Kauffman Stadium is a pitcher-friendly park in its own right, and Salvador Perez will give Medlen a quality battery mate. He is a nice stash option in leagues with multiple DL slots, if he can be selected in the late rounds. Those without DL spots will likely want to let Medlen fall to waivers, and then scoop him up when he nears the end of his comeback trail. Unlike Harvey and Fernandez, Medlen is more of a useful asset than a true difference maker.

Matt Moore (Rays)
Expected return: June
Expected fantasy production: 7 wins, 107 K's, 3.72 ERA, 1.32 WHIP

In 2011, Moore made fantasy owners salivate after he posted a 1.93 ERA with 210 whiffs in 155 innings in the Minors. But Major League success has not come as easily for the lefty, and poor control led to a WHIP of at least 1.30 in 2012 and 2013. Moore's penchant for issuing free passes makes him less worthy of a lengthy DL slot in shallow formats. It is not unheard of for pitchers to struggle with their control in their initial starts following Tommy John surgery, and any increase in an already high walk rate could lead to an ERA over 4.00.

Patrick Corbin (D-backs)
Expected return: June
Expected fantasy production: 6 wins, 92 K's, 3.63 ERA, 1.22 WHIP

Corbin was one of the biggest breakout performers of the 2013 season, when he posted a 3.41 ERA and a 1.17 WHIP. The 25-year-old missed all of last season, and he could be back sooner than many of the other recovering hurlers. However, because he has just one season of solid fantasy production to his credit, Corbin should not be a hot commodity in shallow leagues. Similar to Medlen, Corbin can be stashed by owners with multiple DL slots, but he will be more of an acceptable arm than a stud starter.

Ivan Nova (Yankees)
Expected return: May
Expected fantasy production: 6 wins, 85 K's, 3.90 ERA, 1.31 WHIP

Like Corbin, Nova was a breakout hurler in 2013 when he notched a 3.10 ERA. But the right-hander threw 139 1/3 innings that season, so he has yet to sustain a high level of effectiveness over a full campaign. Because Nova is expected to be in the rotation sooner than nearly every other pitcher on this list, he can be a sneaky final-round pick. However, fantasy owners should not expect better than pedestrian mixed-league contributions, so those with other DL options should feel fine to allow the 28-year-old to fall to waivers.

Bobby Parnell (Mets)
Expected return: April
Expected fantasy production: 14 saves, 34 K's, 3.43 ERA, 1.29 WHIP

Parnell emerged as a reliable stopper in 2013 when he logged a 2.16 ERA and a 1.00 WHIP, and saved 22 games. The right-hander threw just one regular season inning last season, and because he will not need to build up the same stamina as the recovering starters, he could be back with the Mets early in 2015. Jenrry Mejia saved 28 games for the Mets last season, but his 1.48 WHIP shows that he may be vulnerable to giving the ninth-inning gig back to Parnell. Because cheap saves are so valuable to fantasy owners, Parnell is definitely someone to monitor during Spring Training.

Others who are expected to return from Tommy John surgery this season, and their likely timetables: A.J. Griffin (A's, July), Jarrod Parker (A's, July), Martin Perez (Rangers, July), Brandon Beachy (free agent, July).

Fred Zinkie is a fantasy baseball writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.