2012 preseason injury watch: Catcher


As you prepare for your 2012 fantasy baseball season, injury stories from last season are undoubtedly a factor. A number of players either had their seasons end prematurely due to injury or limped into the offseason with health concerns. Now spring is around the corner and you need to know how concerned you should be. Since the top predictor of injury in one year is injury the year before, it's hard to feel confident about anyone who lost significant time in 2011. That said, some athletes appear to be on the verge of bursting back on the scene this spring while others cast shadows of uncertainty all around them. Here's what we're hearing about some of the players with major injury concerns surrounding their names.

We'll be splitting up the injury reports by position to make it a little easier to find information about the players drawing the most attention.

Joe Mauer, Minnesota Twins: It's almost impossible to know where to go with a preseason analysis on Mauer. Everything he and the Twins are saying right now should inspire confidence, but after Mauer's mysterious medical struggles last year, often referenced as "weakness" of one body part or another, it's difficult to presume it is all behind him. However, Mauer says he feels completely different now than at this time last year. In January, Twins general manager Terry Ryan told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, "I don't have any concerns about Mauer. From everybody that I've talked to, he's 100 percent and ready to go." Mauer went through a laundry list of ailments he insists he does not have with Phil Mackey of 1500ESPN.com. Amongst the illnesses Mauer denied were rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, Lyme disease, ALS (also known as Lou Gehrig's disease) and depression.

While it is a relief to know he is not suffering from something serious, lingering questions not only about whether Mauer is healthy now, but whether he can stay healthy across a lengthy baseball season are understandable. Consider that last year Mauer played just 82 games, with only 52 at catcher. Alarm bells began ringing when Mauer was placed on the DL in April with "bilateral leg weakness," a symptom often associated with a more grave medical condition. He did not return for more than two months, and his season ultimately ended prematurely with a bout of pneumonia. For an otherwise well-appearing 28-year-old male, it was indeed a strange course of events. And it's not just last season. In 2009, Mauer's start to the season was delayed due to inflammation in his sacroiliac joint (another uncommon ailment), although he returned to finish strong, earning the AL MVP award. In 2010, he started the year healthy, but was plagued by a series of minor injury issues, including inflammation in his left knee, the same one he had operated on in 2004 to address cartilage damage. A subsequent scope following the 2010 season is what precipitated his torturous 2011 year.

Mauer says he is now eating healthy and working out regularly and one can only hope that he sees the field more than last year. There is no reason not to take him at his word as far as his current health status but his history remains problematic, as do the demands of his position. It will be interesting to see if the Twins proactively rotate him out of the catching role intermittently in an effort to protect his health, particularly that of his knee. If Mauer is able to deliver then everyone will be happy but until we see him endure a season unscathed, it remains a big "if."

Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants: The image of Posey getting drilled at the plate with his leg twisted underneath him last year is etched into the minds of those who saw the injury happen (or one of the seemingly infinite replays that followed). In fact, Posey's injury was so dramatic it sparked philosophical discussion throughout the sport about whether catchers should invite or avoid collision as part of their job duties (most fantasy owners would universally scream "Avoid!"). Now imagine having to come back to the scene of the accident, as Posey will have to do, to return to your job. Posey must not think about how his leg and ankle were rearranged last time he was behind the plate, just one component of his lengthy rehabilitation, albeit perhaps one of the most difficult. As far as the physical rehab following his injury, Posey has steadily remained ahead of schedule, impressing the Giants' medical staff along the way. In May, Posey underwent surgery to insert screws and repair ligament damage, then underwent a follow-up procedure in July to remove the hardware. After regaining range of motion and strength in his ankle, along with restoring a normal gait, Posey progressed to light throwing and hitting off a tee by the fall. In January, he added sprints to his conditioning work and is gradually expected to add more baseball-specific components to his regimen.

Still, the ankle has not yet been tested by the demands of the position, something that won't happen until deeper into spring training. While the team is encouraged that Posey will start the season on time, the Giants will also adjust, as necessary, based on how his ankle responds as his workload increases. Extended time crouching behind the plate places a significant load on the ankle, so endurance will be a factor. There will also be more torsion through the ankle when Posey begins swinging a bat against live pitching. Finally, there is that issue of Posey getting comfortable with being in that vulnerable position in the event of a play at the plate. His youth and fitness certainly work in his favor, and so far there is every reason to believe he will make a successful return. He is on track for April, but it is not a lock, and the Giants may opt to use him at first base on a routine basis to offset the rigors of catching.

Jason Castro, Houston Astros: Castro has to believe his luck is about to change. After undergoing surgery last March to repair a torn ACL and medial meniscus in his right knee suffered during a spring training game, Castro suffered an injury to his left foot while playing in the Arizona Fall League. That injury also required surgery (removal of a sesamoid bone) which Castro underwent in early December, but by January, Castro was reported to be ahead of schedule. According to the Astros' official website, Castro was cleared in early February to start jogging and to increase his workout intensity. Still, given the demands of the catcher position, it is not yet clear whether Castro will be ready to catch at the start of the season. Even if he is prepared to see some action behind the plate, he may not be ready to take it on full-time.

Stephania Bell is a physical therapist who is a board-certified orthopedic clinical specialist and a certified strength and conditioning specialist. She is a clinician, author and teacher with extensive experience in the area of orthopedic manual therapy and sports medicine.