Injury comebacks worth watching this spring

Whether Matt Harvey has made a full recovery could make all the difference in the Mets' bid to return to the postseason. AP Photo/David J. Phillip

Spring training isn’t just about getting back in gear before the regular season. For ballclubs harboring hopes that they can reach the postseason, it’s a crucial time to evaluate players recovering from major injuries to show that they’re ready to contribute, and perhaps turn some pretenders into contenders.

Who are the biggest names making their way back from 2016 seasons marred by injury?

1. Matt Harvey, RHP, New York Mets

Injury: Thoracic outlet syndrome

Surgery: July 2016

If the Mets’ starting rotation is healthy from No. 1 through 4 on Opening Day, they will be the favorites to win the National League East. The most important health question for all their starters is Harvey, who is trying to come back from surgery to alleviate thoracic outlet syndrome. He was one of the best pitchers in baseball in 2015 when he went 13-8 with a 2.71 ERA, 3.05 FIP, while recording 188 strikeouts in 189⅓ innings. However, he was never healthy last year, which led to a 4-10 record and 4.86 ERA in 17 starts before being shut down and eventually operated on. Harvey is the most important player in Mets camp trying to come back from injury.

2. Michael Brantley, OF, Cleveland Indians

Injury: Chronic tendinitis in right shoulder (biceps tenodesis)

Surgery: August 2016

Indians manager Terry Francona said earlier this week that Brantley will not be ready to play when the Cactus League schedule begins on Feb. 25 against the Cincinnati Reds, and that is a huge red flag since it already has been five months since his most recent shoulder surgery. Brantley has worked hard on his rehabilitation, and the Indians are prepared to go slow to limit the chances of yet another setback.

The big question when Brantley is finally healthy is whether his power will still be there. He hit 20 home runs in 2014 and 15 home runs in 2015, and he collected 60-plus extra-base hits each year. If Brantley does come back healthy and slugging this year, combined with the addition of free agent Edwin Encarnacion, the Indians’ lineup could have even more punch than last season’s second-best offense in scoring in the American League.