Beltran back; still waiting on Roberts, Webb

There are some big questions going into the second half of the baseball season and a number of them have to do with players coming off injury.

Whether they have yet to play this season or had their first half cut short by a significant injury, the following players are guys that fantasy owners might have their collective eyes on for the second half. How confident can you be that they can provide a spark for your team?

You're going to have to take some risk with any of the players on this list, but that risk might just be worth the potential reward.

Carlos Beltran, OF, New York Mets: At long last, the return of Beltran has arrived. Beltran, who has not played in a game since last season, is scheduled to make his 2010 debut Thursday when the Mets face the San Francisco Giants. Beltran is expected to bat cleanup and play in the outfield.

As to what fantasy owners can expect, there haven't been any major revelations that would alter my expectations outlined here nearly a month ago. Beltran should definitely provide some power at the plate, but his knee is not perfect, which may impact his utilization on a daily basis. Fantasy owners will want to monitor how he responds to his return to big league play over the first couple weeks, both in terms of productivity and playing time.

Brian Roberts, 2B, Baltimore Orioles: He has been the subject of many a blog since aggravating a herniated disc in the first week of the season. Roberts, who had been dealing with back pain even before the season started, has endured various trials and tribulations along his rehab course. At one point the outlook was so gloomy that his availability for the entire season appeared in question.

But Roberts seems to have turned a corner. He recently played in a rookie league game and went 3-for-3. While it is too soon to be celebrating his return, the fact that he is back in a competitive environment where he is both swinging a bat (pretty well!) and playing defense is certainly encouraging. By now, everyone -- especially Roberts -- is familiar with the potential for symptom recurrence when it comes to low back pain. Consequently, the key to evaluating Roberts' potential for the second half will be to see how he fares after multiple games at the minor league level. Game situations provide the unique challenge of quick, directional movements necessary to make defensive plays, along with steals and slides on offense (remember that Roberts' condition was aggravated on a collision during a slide).

If he is able to demonstrate over the next several weeks that he can indeed do everything physically necessary to perform at his position without aggravating his symptoms, Roberts just might be able to rejoin his team. Fantasy owners should not expect that to happen before August, but it's worth monitoring his performance in upcoming rehab games for clues.

Brandon Webb, SP, Arizona Diamondbacks: Concerns about Webb have been well documented in this blog since before the season even started. Webb, who last pitched competitively on Opening Day in 2009, has been through more rounds of rehab than you can count on one hand, with a surgery in between.

After so many disappointments for Webb and fantasy owners, is there any reason for hope this year? Webb would certainly say so. While there's no doubt that his progress is slow and that any enthusiasm about his comeback should be tempered until it actually occurs, Webb does believe he will return to help his team this year, potentially for six to eight starts. He recently told the Arizona Republic that he is "encouraged by everything [he's] done."

What Webb has done includes bullpen sessions, definitely an improvement over last year when he could not throw from a mound without discomfort. The next challenge will be facing hitters, which should come soon now that the All-Star break has passed. Ultimately, he will require several rehab starts given his time away from the game, but if all goes smoothly from here, that could lead to a mid-to-late August return, just enough time to yield ... six to eight starts. It's still a target fraught with the potential for setbacks, but this is the furthest Webb has come in two years. It would be nice to see him cross the finish line.

Mike Gonzalez, RP, Baltimore Orioles: Gonzalez is perhaps the biggest mystery when it comes to creating second-half expectations. After missing the bulk of the first half with issues in his throwing (left) shoulder, his return is imminent but his impact remains uncertain.

Now, after multiple rehab appearances to give him time to regain his arm strength and velocity, it appears he will rejoin the Orioles soon. He may not resume a closer role immediately as the team likely will take a wait-and-see approach to ease him back into big league competition.

It's no secret that throwers have wear and tear issues in their arms, but Gonzalez has had his share of problems recently. It was Tommy John surgery in 2007, now it's rotator cuff and labral damage, not enough to warrant surgery (at least for now), but further confirmation that the health of his arm may not be what it once was. Gonzalez's rehab was not entirely smooth this year as he struggled at times to regain his velocity. His ability to throw strikes has improved recently, which is a good sign, but it remains to be seen how effective he will be in the majors.

More on second-half injury issues:

&#8226 Tim Kurkjian: Which injury situations can help decide pennant races?

&#8226 Adam Rubin: What Beltran's return means to Mets in the second half

Josh Beckett, SP, Boston Red Sox: Beckett has done enough in his rehab starts to convince the team that he's ready to return. Out since May with back spasms, Beckett seems to have been over the pain for a while, focusing more on regaining his form.

The Boston Globe reports that Beckett will make another rehab start Saturday, which could be his last before rejoining the rotation. Either way, fantasy owners can start planning to pencil him back into lineups by late July.

Edinson Volquez, SP, Cincinnati Reds:

Just last week we outlined here what the challenges would be for Volquez returning from Tommy John surgery. It looks as if he will be taking those challenges on very shortly as Volquez is expected back Saturday to face the Los Angeles Dodgers. He could provide a spark for your fantasy team, but expect some inconsistency along the way.