Want to rethink the top of your starting pitcher rankings?
While most starting pitchers arrived to camp more or less stretched out thanks to the work they did on their own during the shutdown, Walker Buehler, with the blessing of pitching coach Mark Prior, took that time off. Fittingly, he threw just one inning in his first appearance in camp Sunday and is expected to throw only two in his next appearance Friday.
Once the season starts, he may be looking at only 3-4 innings for his first couple starts. "Whatever he can give us with the extra pitchers on the staff will be sufficient," manager Dave Roberts said.
Short-term though it may be, that's a serious limitation for a pitcher who's typically drafted in Round 2. It leaves him with no chance for a win or quality start in what might amount to 25 percent of the season. Those 60 games will go by fast, y'all.
I think, considering, you have to think twice about taking Buehler ahead of pitchers like Jack Flaherty, Shane Bieber and Mike Clevinger. And I wouldn't fault anyone for downgrading him even further, particularly in points leagues. In categories leagues, you'll at least get the benefit of his ratios (which will hopefully still be dominant) during that buildup phase.
So what else is going on?
COVID-19 health updates
- Yasiel Puig tested positive for COVID-19 as part of physical, which means his deal with the Braves is off. With the indefinite timetable that accompanies such a diagnosis, often measuring in weeks, he probably won't get another offer until he tests negative twice. Perhaps that offer will again come from the Braves, with the good news Friday that Freddie Freeman is set to return from his own positive diagnosis, their need for him may not be as great anymore. At this point, Puig is only draftable in leagues that provide the requisite bench space.
- Austin Meadows has been away from Rays camp and revealed why Thursday: He indeed tested positive COVID-19. "I feel great," Meadows told MLB.com via text. "Just trying to get back out there with the boys." When exactly it'll happen is anybody's guess. It doesn't sound like there are any negative tests to report yet, which means his absence could still be measured in weeks. Or perhaps just days. That level of uncertainty leading into only a 60-game season justifies a moderate downgrade of perhaps a couple rounds.
- Eduardo Rodriguez, whose buildup also has to be in question at this point, sounds like he at least a loose timetable for his return. Manager Ron Roenicke recently told MLB Radio that Rodriguez will be back "fairly soon ... his tests have gone well and he's been throwing."
- With local government in Washington requiring that anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 quarantine for 14 days, the Nationals believe they'll be at a competitive advantage by playing their home games there and are exploring alternative sites, according to The Washington Post. It's difficult to speculate how it'll impact their players until we know what the venue will be, but with no home crowds either way, it's not quite the detriment it would otherwise be. It may not be the last case of a team having to move temporarily either.
- While it's dispiriting to hear stories like that one from the Nationals, it's all too easy to fixate on the negative in any suboptimal situation. Take heart, then, in these words from Nolan Arenado: "Every day, I've grown more confident that [the season is] going to happen," he said Sunday. "I think with testing, we've done a really good job as MLB, as a group, and guys understand what's gong on. Guys are wearing their masks. Guys want to play baseball." It does sound like the "how could this possibly work?" talk is beginning to die down as the season approaches, so fire up those draft rooms, everyone.
Non-COVID health updates
- Jacob deGrom revealed that his recent back scare was just a case of him waking up with soreness and then consenting to an MRI out of an abundance of caution. Since it came back negative, he's still aiming to pitch on Opening Day. "I feel good," said deGrom. Still, some Mets reporters, like Antony DiComo of MLB.com, were less than convinced everyone is on the same page with that plan. He noted that the team seemed to cut off deGrom's Zoom call abruptly and that manager Luis Rojas wasn't as forthright about the ace's status. For now, I'm not particularly interested in moving deGrom down my rankings, but it's a situation to monitor still.
- Aaron Judge, who has already spent months recovering from a stress fracture in his rib, had his return to action delayed by a stiff neck, putting Fantasy Baseballers back on edge. But he was finally in the lineup Wednesday and homered, putting him still on track for Opening Day. "Sometimes you just wake up on the wrong side of the bed; that's all I've really got for that," Judge said. "I'm not really too worried about it." Giancarlo Stanton, who is also known as much for his injuries as his power, also homered in that game.
- Willie Calhoun has been diagnosed with a Grade 1 hip flexor strain, making him unlikely for the start of the season. Manager Chris Woodward said Nick Solak would likely fill in for him in left field, giving the utility player a chance to show he's an integral part of the lineup and maybe earn playing time all over thereafter. "His at-bats have been consistent in quality," Woodward said of Solak. "I've been dying to find a way to get him regular at-bats. I'd lean towards that." Calhoun isn't expected to miss significant time, though, so don't let the "Mike Moustakas of the outfield" (my words) slip too far.
- Masahiro Tanaka was back to throwing off a mound Thursday and looked good, according to pitching coach Matt Blake. "It was a much higher intensity than we initially expected coming in, which was really encouraging," Blake said. "He was right around 88-91 [mph] in the bullpen, and I think it was good to see him be able to step on it and show all his pitches." The Yankees are hoping to slot him in for the sixth turn in the rotation, according to MLB.com.
- Anthony Rizzo, who has been contending with a sore back throughout camp, was diagnosed with rib head inflammation. The expectation for now is that he won't begin the year on the IL, but this could become a nagging issue. Rizzo was able to take part in batting practice Sunday and looked good, according to MLB.com. "I felt good — just didn't recover the way we'd like it to," Rizzo said. You just can't control the flare-ups." Personally, I'd be less likely to invest in Rizzo if alternatives like Josh Bell or Matt Olson were still on the board.
- Turns out Byron Buxton, who had to be carted off the field earlier this week, is merely day to day with mid-foot sprain. "Opening Day, I will be there," Buxton said. "Nothing's going to stop me." He doesn't require a big investment anyway, so his draft stock should be holding steady.
- Keston Hiura sat out Wednesday with a sore throwing arm, but the Brewers don't think it's a concern.
- David Dahl has been dealing with some "core soreness," but it doesn't sound like a big deal.
- Christian Walker's MRI Monday showed a Grade 1 strain in his right groin, which isn't expected to sideline him for the start of the season. "I heard it's not a common injury in baseball, but NFL guys when they see it, they're usually back on the field the following Sunday," Walker said. "[I'm] optimistic [because] over the last two or three days it's gotten noticeably less sore, so trending in the right direction and feeling pretty good about it."
- Cole Hamels seems almost certain to begin the year on the IL because of triceps tendinitis, according to MLB.com. It's not considered serious, but it has inhibited his ability to throw, setting him well behind in terms of building up innings.
- The Marlins put both Lewis Brinson and Matt Joyce on the IL Thursday. They didn't specify why, but both have yet to report for camp. Their continued absence would seem to clear a path for prospect Monte Harrison, who went 8 for 22 with six steals and three doubles back in spring training after hitting .270 with nine homers and 23 steals in 222 at-bats as a minor-leaguer last year. "I love the energy that he plays with," manager Don Mattingly said. "The confidence. He plays with that swag and that walk. He's a guy that you look forward to cracking in here, breaking the door down, and basically showing us what he can do."
- With closer candidate Yoshihisa Hirano going on the IL for unspecified reasons, the Mariners' ninth-inning outlook is as shaky as ever. Austin Adams, though, is someone who has impressed in camp. His 14.9 K/9 had him in the running to become the Mariners closer last year before he tore his ACL and needed season-ending surgery.
- Evan Longoria is probably out for the start of the season with an oblique strain, which potentially opens the door for Pablo Sandoval to get some at-bats. The Giants do have alternatives, though, like Donovan Solano and Wilmer Flores.
- Mariners outfielder Julio Rodriguez, widely considered one of the game's elite prospects, suffered a hairline fracture in his left wrist Wednesday. The 19-year-old probably won't have much of a chance to develop this year.
COVID positives now back at camp
- Freddie Freeman has indeed been cleared to return — just in time for the biggest draft weekend of 2020. Whether or not he'll be ready for Opening Day remains to be seen, but at least we know now his absence won't extend weeks into the season. He took part in a light workout Friday. "Right now, we'll see how he feels the next few days," president of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos said. "We'll have to take it day by day. We've got a week until Opening Day. He says he's been hitting. You can never put it past him."
- Jesus Luzardo was also cleared to return Friday. Unlike Freeman, he never had symptoms and adopted his own throwing program at home. He was good for 30 pitches out of the bullpen Friday and will throw again Sunday, according to MLB.com. Manager Bob Melvin still expects him to be in the rotation at some point, but it sounds like he'll work out of the bullpen while getting stretched out. That lowers his draft stock some, of course, but the upside still makes him worthy of a mid-round pick, especially since he'll likely still be usable as a multi-inning reliever.
- Tyler Glasnow, who recently revealed that he initially tested positive for COVID-19, arrived Tuesday and struck out four over 3 1/3 innings, throwing 49 pitches. It doesn't sound like he'll be limited in a significant way to begin the year. "Tyler is one of our guys," manager Kevin Cash said. "Credit to him for putting the work in and basically being able to throw four innings right out of the gate."
- Salvador Perez reported Wednesday after previously testing positive for COVID-19.
- Miguel Sano also rejoined his team this week after previously testing positive, but it's still unclear whether he'll be ready for the start of the season. "You can tell he's been certainly moving around and doing some things," manager Rocco Baldelli said. "He has not been sedentary. He was not off to the side with his feet up. His athleticism has not gone anywhere. So that's very, very encouraging."
- Yoan Moncada revealed Thursday that he was away for a positive COVID-19 test, but he's back with the team now and is trying to ramp up in time for the start of the season. "It looked like he hadn't skipped a beat from swinging the bat left-handed," manager Rick Renteria said. "Taking ground balls, he looked a little rusty, but when you've been down for a little bit, you have to try to slow it down."
- The Yankees expect to have DJ LeMahieu, also out from the start of Summer Camp with COVID-19, back this week, but it might be a stretch to have him ready in time for opening day.
- Charlie Blackmon, who was one of the earliest COVID-19 cases among MLB players, has been in camp for several days now but was recently placed on the IL. Thanks to the intrepid work of Fantasy Baseball Today host Frank Stampfl, though, we know it was a procedural move that won't impact his availability for Opening Day (which remains TBD, FYI).
- Anthony Santander, who finally reported to Orioles camp Tuesday, confirmed he was away from the team because of a positive COVID-19 test.
Other late arrivals to camp
- Juan Soto, Howie Kendrick, A.J. Pollock and Robinson Cano all recently joined their respective teams and sound like they'll be ready to go at the start of the year.
- Josh James, who only reported to camp earlier this week because of the birth of his daughter, nonetheless managed to throw 64 pitches in his first outing Thursday. Given how he kept his arm in shape, he's still expected to be a part of the rotation to begin the year, according to MLB.com. He peaked at 98 mph in this outing but is capable of throwing triple digits. "If I need it, then I know it's there. I don't want to try to overthrow because I lose the command," he said. "I felt great." James' considerable upside makes him one of my favorite late-round targets at starting pitcher this year.
Other noteworthy developments
- Corbin Burnes, who made headlines in spring training with a mid-90s slider, continued to impress Wednesday, striking out all seven of the batters he faced, his fastball touching 98 mph. He hasn't officially won a rotation spot yet, but how do the Brewers keep him out with all the buzz he's generating? Pay no attention to the 8.82 ERA he put up last year, mostly in relief. The upside is considerable, as his 1.67 ERA in his last full minor-league season shows.
- Former top prospect Bradley Zimmer, who has hardly played the past two seasons because of injuries, is officially back in the Indians' outfield plans, according to Mandy Bell of MLB.com. He homered twice off Mike Clevinger Wednesday and added another blast Thursday. "I'm not going to lie, I'm feeling really good," Zimmer said. "Probably coming into this, a lot of people honestly haven't really looked at me as an option. I've probably been overlooked. But in my mind, the quarantine and all that gave me more time to get ready to come out here and prove that I'm here for a reason." The team has offered no assurances as of yet, but the left field job is basically up for grabs. Another power/speed threat would be a welcome addition to the Fantasy outfield crop.
- We may have one in San Diego, where Edward Olivares suddenly has a path to playing time after the Padres traded Franchy Cordero to the Royals on Thursday. Olivares has earned rave reviews in camp after making a strong impression in spring training, and now, one of the outfield comes down to him and Josh Naylor. Olivares is by far the better defender of the two, but Naylor could play DH instead. Naylor faltered in his opportunity last year, though, and Olivares' speed is more interesting for Fantasy purposes anyway. The 24-year-old hit .283 with 18 homers, 35 steals and an .801 OPS in 488 at-bats at Double-A last year.
- Carlos Rodon, who's 14 months removed from Tommy John surgery, threw four innings Thursday and fully expects to be in the starting rotation, according to MLB.com. "Right now, I'm preparing as a starter," Rodón said. "I just went four innings, so I don't see the point of going to the bullpen after you've built up so many pitches. Right now, my role is a starter and that's what I'm going to do." It's not so clear the White Sox have an opening for him, though — it would likely come at the expense of Gio Gonzalez — but Rodon, a former top prospect, did show big strikeout potential before injuries first began to hold him back in 2017.
- Jose Peraza has caught the attention of Red Sox manager Ron Roenicke in camp and now appears to be in the driver's seat at second base, perhaps also bouncing around the infield as needed. He apparently changed his stance during the shutdown, introducing a leg kick and moving his hands back. "His swings are unbelievable how good they are," Roenicke said. "His load is completely different." Roenicke said the improvement from spring training is obvious, fueling much of the enthusiasm now. It's unclear whether more power could be in the offing for a player who has mostly been a slap hitter, but Peraza has a decent history as a base-stealer, if nothing else. Michael Chavis' playing time could suffer in response, it's worth nothing.
- Shohei Ohtani, who was always expected to handle every sixth turn in the Angels rotation, instead looks like he'll have a set day of the week when he starts: Sunday. It'll get his bat in the lineup more since Monday is frequently an off day for the entire team, but it leaves a thin margin for error in weekly leagues if he gets pushed back for whatever reason.
- Angels outfielder Jo Adell, who is one of those prospects who Fantasy Baseballers are hoping will still have a chance to come up and make an impact this year, "has things to work on, quite frankly," manager Joe Maddon told The Orange County Register. "Don't be deceived by a couple well-struck balls in [an intrasquad] game." Maddon praised Adell's ceiling and said he's a big part of the team's future. "But, again, there's really no rush," he said. "I've been around situations where guys have been rushed, and when you do that, you could lose a really good player." Approach Adell accordingly in drafts.
- Isiah Kiner-Falefa appears to have wrapped up the starting third base job for the Rangers, having ridden a swing change to a combined six home runs between the spring and the summer. "He's been our best guy, honestly," manager Chris Woodward said. It's notable for Fantasy Baseballers mainly because Kiner-Falefa is catcher eligible, and consistent playing time anywhere else on the diamond would give him an advantage at that position. Todd Frazier figures to move across the diamond to first base to accommodate Kiner-Falefa. I told him in spring training, when Kiner was doing well, this could become an option, if Kiner forces our hand," Woodward said. "We are kind of at that point right now."