Don’t call it a comeback, I been here for years
I’m rockin’ my peers, puttin’ suckers in fear
…..
What made you forget that I was raw?
But now I gotta new tour
I’m going insane startin’ a hurricane, releasin’ pain
Lettin’ you know, you can’t gain or maintain
Unless you say my name

LL Cool J had it right, many moons ago, when he made his triumphant return to hip hop, after getting dissed by those within the industry. He and his grandmother were having a talk, and she recommended that he come back strong and literally “knock them out”, doing what he does best. So, LL worked hard, wrote these lyrics and came up with one of the most memorable songs in the history of the music industry.

Watching the video and listening to the song, one is able to see the passion and determination in his eyes, as he stands in the middle of the ring, slicing and dicing up those who doubted him and his abilities. The tone of his voice suggests too that he wants everyone to not only remember him for what he’s done, but to watch out for what is yet to come. It’s something that hypes up James Todd Smith, and brings the sizzle back to him and his future in the industry.

You’re probably wondering why in the hell are you reading about this on a fantasy baseball website. Well, I’ll tell you. Last season saw many players miss an entire year due to opting out of playing due to the Coronavirus, as well as due to injuries. There were many types of reasons, such as fear of the unknown, surgery to repair lingering injuries, and recovery of recurring ailments.

When I look back at the long list of players, there are two players that missed all of 2020 that stand out to me for sentimental reasons. They’re feel-good stories of redemption, resurgence and recovery. They’re also two players that, to me, are those that I will be rooting for regardless of ownership on any of my teams since what they’ve had to overcome is more than anything anyone ever should.

Note: ADP taken from NFC and is from January 1, 2021 until January 24, 2021.

 

Jameson Taillon, SP – New York Yankees

 

Jameson Taillon has seen his fair share of injuries over the years, not all of which have been pitching related. Here is a list of what he’s had to go through since debuting for the Pirates in 2014:

 

Tommy John Surgery – 2014
Sports Hernia – 2015
Testicular Cancer – 2017
Forearm Injury – 2019
2nd Tommy John Surgery – 2019

That is a devastating list of injuries that could derail the spirits of anyone. However, Taillon took the opposite approach. He immediately made the following statement:

 

 

Sure, saying it is one thing, but Taillon’s recovery is another story, as his actions, and those of the Pirates, are completely extraordinary. Back in March, for instance, Taillon was a part of the Pirates’ Spring Training preparation, something not always done by injured players, as they usually stay away from the healthy players to get better. Taillon, however, was there with the team:

 

“I’m not going to be on the field this year, but everything we’re building toward involves me with it. As a rehab guy, that’s really refreshing to hear,” Taillon said. “It gives me a purpose to work. It gives me a purpose to stay engaged with all these guys. Just because I’m not going to be up there doesn’t mean I’m not a part of this. I want to be as involved as possible. It feels good to still be viewed as important.” This time last year, Taillon was preparing for his first Opening Day start. Now, the 28-year-old is just trying to help however he can. “It’s not like I’m out there with a stopwatch and a fungo trying to be a coach,” he joked, but he’s staying involved. He’ll read scouting reports, watch bullpen sessions, talk to younger pitchers about what they’re working on and serve as a sounding board in his role as Pittsburgh’s representative to the MLB Players Association.

 

It was during this time that he began throwing from 105 feet as well, showing progress in his recovery. A few months later, he threw a total of 15 pitches off the mound and said that he felt phenomenal. In fact, his words were, that he hadn’t felt that good in the last four to five years. Not wanting to waste a year of his life and career, he had the right mentality yet again, as he knew a positive outlook helps in any recovery process.

He also used his time off to study the analytics of baseball and dig deeper into the effects of spin rate and how to manipulate pitches. He studies release points and really took a reflective look into his own self in order to figure out either what went wrong, or what he can do better. Interesting. Almost midway through July, he jumped up to 20 pitches, taking the next step into his comeback. After posting this video, he said that his surgically repaired elbow felt fine the next day.

 

 

Months after that, he progressed from this to starting to work on his off speed pitches as well, which, to me, is a good sign of healing. His velocity was at 91/92 around this time, but he felt confident in it returning to form. I recommend everyone listen to this podcast, because it was a fascinating dive into the mind of a self aware pitcher who understands the game and himself. He goes onto say that he realized when it was too late that in order to get the velocity he desired, he would put pressure on his elbow, thus causing his injuries. Instead, what he’s been undergoing now, is a transformation from that to generating velocity through his legs and hips, alongside timing and mechanics.

 

 

He has embraced the change to becoming a new pitcher and is encouraged by these alterations. Very interesting.

By the end of the Pirates’ 2020 season, Taillon felt just about ready to pitch in a game, which would have conservatively put him five months ahead of schedule under a normal timeline for his injury and situation. He went on record saying:

 

“The command’s probably ahead of where I thought it would be,” Taillon said. “I’m throwing three pitches for strikes, still working on a changeup. I think that’ll be my whole career. Stuff’s been really good. Fastball’s where I’m used to having it. Spin rate’s been going up a little bit. My vertical breaks been going up a little bit. Spin efficiency has gotten better throughout the rehab. So there’s a lot of bright spots. Breaking balls are spinning exactly how they were before, (with) the same velocity. So it’s been good feedback.”

 

So now, as we head into 2021, where does that leave Taillon?

Typically, it takes 16-18 months for anyone to recover from a singular Tommy John Surgery, let alone two. Having had that surgery in August of 2019, he should be ready along that projected timeline for the start if the 2021 season, but the question of how his body will hold up is a valid one. The list above of his injuries is a scary one, and something that can’t be ignored. That said, the changes that he made to his body, delivery, mechanics and analytics seem to be the driving force in my love and admiration for him.

When looking forward, it’s hard to use statistics from the past in order to predict a future, because so much has changed for his future. What we do know, however, is that when he was healthy (or even relatively healthy) in the past, he has posted a career 3.67 ERA and a 1.25 WHIP over 466.0 innings pitched with an average strikeout rate of 21.5% and a very good walk rate of 6.0% in four scattered seasons. Even then, that was through an altered delivery that looks to be a lot different heading into 2021.

On January 24, 2021, Taillon was traded to the New York Yankees for four prospects, all of which are listed within the Top 30 of the Yankees’ farm system. That’s a lot to pay for someone coming off of his second Tommy John Surgery. However, despite not picturing for quite a long time, the Yankees found it to be a good enough price in order to take a chance on this reborn pitcher. And the trade made sense for both teams. The Pirates are looking to shed payroll as they go into full-blown rebuild and look to figure out which pieces can be used for success in the future. The Yankees, on the other hand, were in need of pitching help, as they look to try and win a World Series this year while playing in a competitive division. I would like to think that New York did its due diligence in scouting, preparing, and believing in Taillon’s time off and growth. It leads me to believe that he is healthy and he has taken the steps necessary for a comeback. That said, anything can happen.

From a fantasy perspective, the first thing we need to do is look at where he’s being drafted. Looking at his ADP, he finds himself surrounded by some intriguing names:

 

 

 

 

Around this range, there a few names here that I could love to draft and take a chance on in 2021 because of the possibility of levelling up. Since January, his ADP has risen only a smidge, but it still remains around the same place from where it’s been for awhile. That is probably all about to change, since the recent trade. The fact of the matter is, players on good teams have a higher chance for success. Add that to him playing for the league’s most popular team, that means his draft price will undoubtedly go up. Remember that the Yankees play in an offensive friendly ballpark and division.

I would venture to say that his current ADP value now is right around where I would place him heading into 2021. At that point in a draft, you aren’t look for pitchers to anchor your rotation. Instead, you’re looking for pitchers with the anticipation of them outperforming their value, especially because their cost is much lower. Taillon fits the bill here, as he is someone who has done it before, but his comeback and changes to his overall repertoire give way to him succeeding.

There is risk involved here, especially if his draft price rises. My advice would be to get him around where he is now and you’ll be fine. If he rises within the 200’s, that’s too much risk. Keep an eye on him during Spring Training. If everything continues along the same trajectory, he could return SP 3-4 value for a fraction of the cost. Remember that he hasn’t shown the ability yet to make gains on his changes in games, nor has he been able to stay healthy. I believe, based on him reinventing himself, that he can stay healthy going forward. At the end of a draft, if you are confident in your starting pitching and would like to solidify your rotation with some upside and wins, Taillon would be a cheap way to do so. Either way, it’s a comeback that I’ll be watching and appreciating next season.

 

Trey Mancini, 1B/OF – Baltimore Orioles

 

Trey Mancini had an incredible year in 2019 for the Orioles, where he posted career highs in runs batted in, home runs, runs scored and walks. He became patient at the plate, chased fewer pitches outside of the strike zone, and mashed literally every type of pitch he saw that was not labelled as a curveball. For a team as putrid and uninspiring as the Orioles, he was a breath of fresh and air and hope for the future, until the unfortunate news of his diagnosis came out in the spring:

 

Feeling sluggish and hampered by flu-like symptoms early in Spring Training, Mancini wrote that multiple blood tests revealed he had low iron levels. Given his age and lack of other health problems, Mancini said doctors told him he probably had either celiac disease (an immune disease of the small intestine) or a stomach ulcer. Though there was a family history of colon cancer — Mancini’s father, Tony, was diagnosed with Stage 2 colon cancer in 2011 at age 58 — Mancini said he considered it only “a remote possibility” at the time.

 

After having the tumor removed in early March, a mere six days after his official diagnosis, Mancini was placed on the 60-day IL, officially ending his 2020 season. That being said, it ended a lot earlier than that, and it’s quite a harrowing tale to read. If you get a chance, I strongly recommend reading his version of his story told here, as he goes through, in detail, how his diagnosis and recovery plan came into fruition this season. For the purposes of this article, I will focus on the fantasy baseball side of his 2020 story.

However, before doing so, I can’t stress enough how brave and strong someone has to be able in order to fight off something as serious and potentially fatal as cancer. It is an incredible feat to not only overcome the physical ailments, but also the mental toll it takes to beat it, annihilate it and be better after it. On top of this, he is battling cancer in an era where the Coronavirus is running rampant in the world, limiting what he can do.

About a month ago, he posted this video, showing that he is back in the batting cages and getting himself back into game shape:

 

 

He’s been participating in full workouts this off-season while managing his breaks to ensure no added fatigue or wear and tear on his newly reformed body. He compared his transition back into the batting cages as if he were riding a bike….aka, you never forget how to do it. He’s even said that if and when Spring Training was to start, there’s no doubt that he would be ready to go. That’s amazing news. He’s been getting regular screenings, just like other immunocompromised players like Anthony Rizzo, Carlos Carrasco, and Jon Lester, all of which played in the 2020 season despite the evidence and threat of Coronavirus in the world. Awesome.

So now that we know that he will be around in 2021, and he will be ready to go come Spring Training, what can we expect? In 2019, his career year, he had a career-low strikeout rate of 21.1%, coupled with a career-high walk rate of 9.3%. What helped was the fact that he saw the ball better and recognized what was coming at him.

 

 

Despite seeing fewer pitches in the strike zone, he chased less and less and waited for his pitch. The end result was him absolutely mashing fastballs, and many other pitches as well.

 

 

The question of if this was the result of him mashing in the juiced ball season is relevant, however, despite the fact that he’s hit well against fastballs for the majority of his major league career. It’s the rise in batting average against sliders that’s the key here, as he definitely leveled up, going from a .189 batting average in 2018 to a .291 batting average in 2019. What aided this was an uptick in his Launch Angle (from 5.2 degrees (2018) to 7.8 degrees (2019)), and the subsequent fewer ground balls hit. As he got the ball into the air, he hit 38 doubles in 2019, the most of his career. Can he transform that into additional power and add a few more home runs?

His current ADP is now at 186.49 but rising. As the 20th first baseman off the board, he’s sandwiched in between the likes of Josh Bell and Christian Walker, both of which take a back seat to Mancini in 2021. Having outfield eligibility helps his case too as being someone worthy of a fantasy roster spot. Keep an eye on him in Spring Training. If he’s still elevating the ball and driving it all over the field, then I’d venture to say that he’s back, and I can officially call it a comeback.

He’s someone who, prior to his missed 2020 season, was on the right track to being a Top 10 fantasy first baseman. If you can get 30+ home runs in the middle of your draft with a batting average hovering around .280 for almost free, why wouldn’t you take a chance? He’s a perfect depth piece behind your current first baseman drafted, and can be either a valuable corner infielder or trade piece going forward. That said, his ADP has risen a lot since November, so the time to get a discount has pretty much passed. I’ve personally drafted him in almost every RotoFanatic Mock Draft we have had this offseason and am confident about starting him in most to all formats.