For Soroka, it's his first major-league outing in three years. When last we saw him near the start of the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, he was a defending Rookie of the Year runner-up tumbling off the mound in his haste to cover first base, tearing his Achilles tendon. He would tear it again before all was said and done.
While Soroka is returning from a twice-torn Achilles, Lewis is coming back from a twice-torn ACL. He actually did get a chance to play in between and looked great, batting .300 (12 for 40) with two homers in 12 games before his ill-fated collision with the center field fence exactly one year ago.
The most dramatic return of all, though, is that of Liam Hendriks, who was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma this winter and was given no timetable because, well, his baseball career seemed like an afterthought at that point. So for him to make it back, cancer-free, with two-thirds of the season still to go is a miracle of sorts. The back of the White Sox bullpen sure could use him, too.
So how should we prioritize these three comeback players in Fantasy? I laid out my thinking for Lewis and SorokaProspects Report and will of course go into more detail here as well. The quick answer, though, is Hendriks, Lewis and Soroka.
CHW Chi. White Sox • #31 • Age: 34
So we know Liam Hendriks will be back Monday. We don't know exactly when he'll step back into the closer role. We also don't know whether his cancer battle has impacted his athletic ability. He was shaky on his minor-league rehab assignment, such that the White Sox opted to pull the plug and have him throw three simulated games instead. His velocity reportedly ticked up in those simulated games, but we don't have any specifics. Still, if they're ready to activate him, optimism is warranted, and Hendriks was shaping up to be one of the first five relievers drafted before his diagnosis. While questions remain, he has a chance to be a better closer than you'd ever dream of finding on the waiver wire, making him worth adding even in the shallowest leagues.
NYM N.Y. Mets • #4 • Age: 21
Gary Sanchez has come and gone, and Francisco Alvarez is still standing (er, squatting), having seemingly secured the Mets starting catcher job once and for all. He's earned elite pitch framing readings and rave reviews from New York media outlets. More than anything, though, the 21-year-old has begun to live up to his potential at the plate, homering five times in his past eight games and batting .322 (19 for 59) with seven homers and a 1.166 OPS over his past 17. Really, his full-season numbers give him a look of a must-start catcher, and seeing as he was the No. 1 catcher prospect coming into the year, we should probably be regarding him higher than, say, Tyler Stephenson or William Contreras at this point.
Matt McLain SS
CIN Cincinnati • #9 • Age: 24
Matt McLain's first full week in the majors went about as well as it possibly could, with him collecting multiple hits in five of his last seven games. It's premature to say he's the real deal given his underwhelming exit velocity readings (as expected) and his high strikeout rate (not expected). But a start like this makes for justifiable enthusiasm after the way he performed in the minors, batting .348 with 12 homers, 10 steals and an 1.184 OPS. Shortstop can be a difficult position to fill off the waiver wire, so it's better not to think too hard about it and just snatch up McLain before someone else does.
Royce Lewis 3B
MIN Minnesota • #23 • Age: 24
Royce Lewis' return will come exactly one year after he tore his right ACL for the second time, but he showed no ill effects on his minor-league rehab assignment, delivering four home runs and (perhaps more notably) four stolen bases. Now, he's headed back to the big leagues, where he's expected to play third base primarily. When last we saw him last May, the former No. 1 overall pick looked the part, not only batting .300 (12 for 40) with two homers but also delivering premium exit velocities (90.7 mph average and 114.0 max) while striking out just 12.2 percent of the time. There's likely someone in every Fantasy league who could use a dose of upside at either shortstop or third base, so if that's you (or even if it's not), here's your chance to get it.
Mike Soroka SP
ATL Atlanta • #40 • Age: 26
Mike Soroka's return to the big leagues has been a long time coming, and how we've longed for his follow-up to an impressive rookie season that saw him go 13-4 with a 2.68 ERA, 1.11 WHIP and 7.3 K/9. But that was four years ago. Even heading into 2020, there were questions as to its legitimacy seeing as he got it done with a high ground-ball rate and low walk rate rather than piling up whiffs. All this time later, after twice tearing his Achilles tendon, who's to say if he's even the same guy? His minor-league numbers were underwhelming, and while his last start at Triple-A Gwinnett was his best (six two-hit innings with eight strikeouts), he had just six swinging strikes on 96 pitches. Adding him now is justifiable, but not essential.
ATL Atlanta • #20 • Age: 32
Ozuna's overall numbers are respectable enough, but you gain a new appreciation for them when you're reminded he was batting .085 (5 for 59) at the end of April. What it means is he's had a ridiculous May -- one in which he's hit .338 (27 for 80) with nine homers and a 1.117 OPS, settling in as the Braves' everyday DH even with Travis d'Arnaud back in the fold. Ozuna has been terrible the past two years, but he was the No. 1 outfielder during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season and has been driving the ball the other way much like he did then. He's had a career of extreme highs and lows, so at this point, you might as well pick him up and see where it goes.
ARI Arizona • #31 • Age: 26
A .143 (9 for 63) batting average in April earned Jake McCarthy a ticket back to Triple-A. He spent a month there performing more like we've come to expect from him (a .333 batting average, four homers, four steals) and is now back, having started three straight for the Diamondbacks, including once against a lefty. So far, he's 1 for 8 with a steal, but it's an insignificant sample, of course. More significant is that the Diamondbacks sent down a pretty good player to bring him back. Dominic Fletcher was batting over .300 and had displaced Corbin Carroll in center field (sending him to right). McCarthy got off to a slow start as a rookie, too, but ended up being a great source of stolen bases and batting average, so he's worth another look in five-outfielder Rotisserie leagues, at least.
DET Detroit • #39 • Age: 28
It's hard to make sense of what Zach McKinstry is doing now if you look at his minor-league track record, and so a healthy dose of skepticism is in order. But the Statcast readings basically back up what the 28-year-old has done to position himself as the Tigers' everyday third baseman and leadoff man. In fact, his .307 xBA and .502 xSLG are better than his actual .295 and .451 marks. These numbers are bolstered by superlative plate discipline (he has nearly as many walks as strikeouts and is reaching base at a .409 clip) and newfound base-stealing prowess (he's up to 10 after swiping three bags over the weekend). Add that he's eligible at three positions, and it's not a bad idea to give McKinstry a try, even if he would be an unlikely success story.