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Forget Me Not: Four baseball prospects coming back from injury to remember

Injuries have pushed these players off of our radars, but it would be wise to track them early in 2018.

Photo by Brace Hemmelgarn/Minnesota Twins/Getty Images

Injuries suck and when it’s your players who sustain them, it sucks even more. The silver lining is that they usually crater a player’s value if it’s something serious and creates buy-low opportunities or sometimes you can just add them later after they’re cut from a roster.

Below are four prospects that have suffered through injury woes at some point in the last year and their value is almost nonexistent. Now—before the minor league season gets going—is the time to buy or pick them up on the cheap. Some were former top 50 prospects while others have the skills to get there.

Chris Paddack, SP (SD)

Paddack is a 22-year-old righty traded to San Diego from Miami in the Fernando Rodney trade in 2016. At the time of the trade he was breaking out in Low-A thanks to a plus-plus changeup and a plus fastball with control and command of both. He finished that season with 42.1 innings, 71 strikeouts, four earned runs and just five walks. He even had a 15-inning stretch without allowing a hit. Why did he pitch so few innings though? After three starts in the Padres’ organization he suffered an elbow injury and underwent Tommy John surgery.

Fast-forward to now and he’s already on a mound throwing again, still flashing that elite changeup and still sitting in the low 90s, his pre-surgery velocity. In addition, he was making strides with his curveball before surgery, giving him a chance at a legitimate three-pitch mix. The Padres are loaded with pitchers and are going to be careful with him. He should open the season in High-A and more than likely remain there for the majority of the season as he works to build innings. Don’t expect him to pitch more than 100 innings, either. Of the names on this list, this is the one you can wait on the most but he possesses easy SP3 upside with a chance for a touch more.

Alex Kirilloff, OF (MIN)

Pitchers aren’t the only ones who get Tommy John surgery as Kirilloff needed the procedure after he injured it on a throw. The former 15th overall pick is now a year removed from surgery, healed and ready to jump into Low-A for his first taste of full-season ball. Before going down, Kirilloff showed exactly why many considered he had an advanced bat and a strong feel to hit; in his first pro summer, he skipped the GCL and went into the Appalachian League where he earned MVP honors after slashing .306/.341/.454 with seven home runs and just a 14 K% .

He’s not as off the radar as Paddack, nor should he be given his pedigree, but he’ll be 20 for all of 2018 and should be a fairly quick mover thanks to his skills. Kirilloff projects as a 15 to 20 home run hitter with a strong average but there’s a chance he can unlock his plus raw power because of his innate feel to hit.

Kyle Funkhouser, SP (DET)

I wrote about Funkhouser and two other pitchers last August in an article predicting he could be top 100 prospect in less than a year. Funkhouser was once considered a top 10 prospect in the 2015 draft. After losing some stuff, he slid in the draft and couldn’t come to an agreement with the Dodgers. He returned to Louisville, got worse and was finally drafted in the fourth round of 2016 by the Tigers.

In his time with Detroit he’s allayed all fears of his stuff with a mid-90s heater and his plus slider that earned him so many rave reviews in college. However elbow soreness forced the organization to shut him down in 2017 to ensure he was healthy and ready this year. What encourages me so much about him is the strong control he shows to go with strong strikeout stuff and an ability to induce ground balls. In 62.2 innings last year split evenly between Low-A and High-A, he had a 2.44 ERA (2.59 FIP), 1.15 WHIP, 54 GB% and a big 32 K%. He has a fringy curveball that may not become a true third pitch and a mediocre changeup to help keep hitters honest, though they aren’t weapons like his fastball and slider. He should open the year in High-A and eventually make it to Double-A. He’s not young (24-years-old) so it’ll be interesting to see how the Tigers balance aggressive assignments while simultaneously being cautious with his workload. Much like Paddack, the skills are there but the quantity might not be.

James Kaprielian, SP (OAK)

Outside of Kirilloff, Kaprielian might be the most recognizable name here after he was part of a big package headed to Oakland in the Sonny Gray trade with the Yankees last July. The 16th overall pick in 2015, Kaprielian has big stuff...but just 29.1 professional innings under his belt. He missed most of 2016 with a strained flexor tendon and then all of 2017 with Tommy John surgery. If you know the TJ timeline, then you know he won’t debut until summer 2018, though he’s already throwing. The risks here are extreme but I still believe in his SP2 stuff.

When healthy, Kaprielian had a plus fastball that sat 94-97, a plus curveball, an above-average changeup and an above-average slider... with control of it all. That’s deadly and it’s not hard to envision why some scouts said he had top-of-the-rotation upside. We need to see if he still has his stuff after surgery before we get ahead of ourselves, but of the three pitchers on this list, he certainly has the highest upside.