Now that the majority of players have reported, the influx of positive COVID-19 tests appears to have tapered off, which means we can turn our attention back to on-the-field developments.
And as on-the-field developments go, one stands out as more concerning than the rest. Yes, Dusty Baker, now manager of the Astros, is back to his old habits, having this to say about the right field competition between Kyle Tucker, who had 38 homers and 35 steals between the majors and minors last year (and arguably a more impressive Triple-A season two years ago), and Josh Reddick, who has been about a one-win player each of the past two seasons:
"The future is probably Tucker's, but the now is probably Reddick's."
OK, not entirely unexpected. If you're going to treat it as a competition, then the incumbent is the incumbent, fine. What's troubling is that the criteria Baker has established for a changing of the guard would make it a virtual impossibility in a shortened season.
"I don't like to compare younger players with older players in spring training because the younger player wins every time because it takes him no time to get ready, but it's harder for them to keep it," Baker said. "The older players, it takes them longer to get ready but they usually keep it longer. You just can't take a guy's job away unless he loses it over time."
So it doesn't matter how much better Tucker is than Reddick in camp. That's to be expected, in the eyes of Baker. No, only the passage of time can reveal who the better right field option is — time none of us have, of course.
As much as it hurts, you have to downgrade Tucker in light of this news. Two months will be over in the blink of eye, especially for a baseball lifer like Baker, and I'm not confident he'll be moved off his position with enough time for it to be of any good to us.
Here are some other items of note from around the league:
- Buster Posey opted out Friday, in part because of concerns about two twin girls he and his wife are adopting who were born prematurely and will be in newborn intensive care for some time, according to Andrew Baggarly of The Athletic. Posey himself isn't much of a Fantasy asset anymore, but the Giants do have top catcher prospect Joey Bart waiting in the wings. There's no indication yet that he has a chance to break camp with the team, but the only other candidates right now are non-roster invitees. Could be just a matter of time.
- White Sox pitching prospect Michael Kopech, who is working his way back from Tommy John surgery, also opted out Friday.
- Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo announced Friday that Vladimir Guerrero would be moving to first base, effective immediately, though he might still occasionally play third base. Travis Shaw will take over as the Blue Jays' primary third baseman. Guerrero may not pick up first base eligibility until the third week of the season since he'll also be spending some time at DH, but his eventual addition to the first base crop will add some length to a position more in need of it than third base.
- Joey Gallo, Tommy Pham and Kole Calhoun were all cleared to return to return to their teams Friday after initially testing positive for COVID-19. Before them, we didn't have the first clue how long it would take to clear a player. All in all, it wasn't that long for those three. Of course, we don't know exactly when they contracted the virus, just when they tested positive. It's also worth reiterating that they were all asymptomatic.
- Scott Kingery detailed his recovery from COVID-19, his case being one with symptoms, and said he's only just now, a month into it, at a point physically where he can think about playing baseball again. "I felt like I laid on the couch for three weeks without moving," he said. "I was tired just going up the stairs." It doesn't mean his experience will be a typical one, but it's just a little more insight into what a positive test could mean. "I want people to know this is not a two-week thing if you get it," he said.
- Franmil Reyes, who had to separate himself from the team until he could be tested again after attending of Fourth of July celebration without a mask, was apologetic when he returned Wednesday. "You know what? They did the right thing they have to do to protect us," Reyes said. "You have a lot of teammates here that are ready to go, ready to give their 100 percent for the season, and it's really risky when people do the things I was doing on Saturday." It's an early indication that the team setting will create a new level of accountability for players that will perhaps keep infections to a minimum. My hope is the initial intake represents the worst round of positive tests that we see all season.
- Another example of players holding each other accountable: Andrew Heaney said the entire Angels team has agreed to adhere to certain set of standards even when they're away from the park. "If you're not at the field, if you're not in your car, if you're not in your house, you need to wear a mask," he said. "If you're getting food, get it to-go, get it delivered, don't go sit down and eat somewhere, don't go to bars, don't go to large gatherings." If players can find solidarity in additional measures that aren't even being mandated by MLB, again, their chances of staying healthy might be even better than if they were out on their own.
- Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak brought up Ryan Helsley's name first when asked about the Cardinals closer situation earlier this week, according to Mark Saxon of The Athletic, so Giovanny Gallegos' front-runner status may be fading while he's stuck in Mexico, unable to report. Between that, Jordan Hicks' impending return from Tommy John surgery and Carlos Martinez's possible shift back to the bullpen, this particular situation couldn't be messier right now.
- Did you catch that part about Carlos Martinez moving back to the bullpen? Yeah, he only just reported to camp, and the Cardinals will be extra diligent in assessing his readiness to handle a starter's workload after he was determined to be physically unfit for it last year. "He more than earned the opportunity with what he showed in spring training," manager Mike Shildt told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "Now it's just a matter of the calendar a little bit, and what that looks like and how we can move him forward."
- If you're worried about Blake Snell's elbow, note that he doesn't share your concerns. "After this last week and a half of throwing, I'm pretty past it," Snell said after striking out three in 1 2/3 innings during a simulated game Wednesday. "My arm feels really good. I'm not worried about it. I don't think about it. I don't think you guys should think about it either." Snell had loose bodies removed from the elbow last season and then required a cortisone shot in it this spring.
- Shohei Ohtani had a miserable showing in his first competitive setting since having Tommy John surgery late in 2018. He walked eight in three innings, throwing 15 of his 51 pitches for strikes. It doesn't necessarily mean anything — he got throttled in his first Spring Training back in 2018 and went on to win Rookie of the Year — but it's a reminder that a pitcher's return from Tommy John surgery isn't always straightforward. "His command was off," manager Joe Maddon said. "He wasn't just as sharp as he can be, obviously. I was told he kind of looked like that a few years ago. There's no reason to be concerned or alarmed. He's healthy."
- So you wonder if Corey Kluber can recapture his Cy Young form after losing a season to injury in his mid-30s? Making his second appearance at Globe Life Field Thursday, he struck out nine, walked one and allowed just two hits in six innings. According to Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News, he even had a couple innings when he continued pitching after the third out just to get his pitch count up to 80. "I felt it was his command, and the baseball was moving," manager Chris Woodward said. "The movement is really late. Honestly, I was thrilled to watch that. You see the reaction of a lot of our hitters. A lot of them had a really tough time against him."
- One hitter who didn't have a tough time against Kluber? Rougned Odor, whose solo home run in the fourth represented one of the team's two hits. After homering nine times in his final 26 games during the regular season, he went 11 for 31 with two home runs in spring training and is now 6 for 12 with two home runs in summer camp. "I don't like to talk about myself," Odor said, "but I'm just going to tell you this: I feel really good at the plate, and I feel like what I was doing at the end of last year, I've brought into this year." Odor hit just .205 last year but is still only 26 and was once a highly regarded Fantasy asset.
- Meanwhile, Danny Santana, who already has his share of skeptics in the Fantasy Baseball world, is 0 for 13 with 10 strikeouts so far. "I think he's just getting his timing back," manager Chris Woodward said. "I'm not overly concerned."
- Kluber isn't the first starting pitcher to make a six-inning appearance so far in Summer Camp. Lance Lynn struck out eight over six innings earlier in the week, throwing 83 pitches.
- Gerrit Cole went five innings in an intrasquad game Tuesday, striking out five. "He looks like he's in midseason form already," said Luke Voit, who faced him.
- Dodgers manager Dave Roberts noted three pitchers who he thinks will be ready to pitch seven innings the first time through the rotation: Clayton Kershaw, Alex Wood and Ross Stripling. It's interesting that he included Wood, who we assumed might find himself in a piggyback situation, and Stripling, who we can now assume is the replacement for David Price. It's also interesting that he excluded Walker Buehler, the highest drafted of all the Dodgers starting pitchers.
- If you're getting the sense that having pitchers build up to a typical workload won't be the hardship many of us presumed it would be when we heard they'd have only three weeks to prepare for the season, then yeah, you're interpreting the situation correctly. On the other hand, Braves manager Brian Snitker reiterated his preference for piggybacking starters, at least with rosters expanded to 30 for the first couple weeks, noting that the adrenaline level isn't the same in intrasquad games as in real games. It's not clear if he means for the entire rotation or just the back end, but you shouldn't necessarily count on pitchers like Mike Soroka, Max Fried and Mike Foltynewicz throwing five-plus innings the first time through.
- There has been some consternation over a new batter's eye in Dodger Stadium, which apparently contributed to Max Muncy taking a pitch off a finger earlier this week. "It was one of those things where I didn't really see the ball, adjusting to some of the changes we got out there," Muncy said. "Never saw it." Manager Dave Roberts called the situation "a little unsettling," but Cody Bellinger has since revealed that the team is already working to rectify the problem. "It's going to be all good," he said.
- Justin Verlander not only spent the shutdown recovering from groin surgery and a late strain but also shoring up the mechanics that contributed to those injuries in the first place, according to MLB.com. "One of my goals was to get my mechanics back to what they had been and get my velocity up to what it used to be, or better than last year, anyway," he said (and it's true his average fastball velocity was down slightly last year). He said that his arm slot had crept up about seven inches over the past few years. "That's a huge difference in height," Verlander said. "And, like I said, a bunch of other things, which I was anticipating, popped up along the way." It's hard to imagine something like this would be a game-changer for a guy who won a Cy Young last year, but file the information away in case the production changes.
- Lucas Giolito might have a new weapon, spending the shutdown refining the shape of his slider so he's not so reliant on his fastball and changeup. "Honestly, it's one of the biggest things I've been working on," he said. "All the other stuff, it's all about maintenance. I know what I need to do to be successful."
- Max Fried has been making strides with his changeup, according The Athletic, after relying mostly on his fastball and curveball last year. It's a pitch known for neutralizing opposite-handed batters, who hit .281 off Fried last year.
- Nathan Eovaldi, who introduced a curveball to his arsenal late last season, worked on his slider during the shutdown and featured it prominently Thursday in a successful intrasquad appearance in which he struck out four over four one-hit innings. "I feel like it's improved," he told MLB.com. "I was able to get swings and misses on it and get outs." Eovaldi has always thrown hard, but a lack of pitch variety has long held him back. If he has two breaking balls to work with now, it could maybe unlock his potential.
- Mitch Keller also used the shutdown as a chance for development, implementing Raspodo tracking technology to help him improve the spin on his fastball, according to MLB.com. He also worked on his changeup, hoping to round out his arsenal after introducing a slider that proved to be one of the best swing-and-miss pitches in the game last year.
- Luke Voit committed to a better diet and more cardio during the shutdown and ended up losing 13 pounds. It has caught the attention of the coaching staff, which is noteworthy as he tries to hold off new threats to his playing time, such as Miguel Andujar. "When we reported here last week, you could see it right away," bench coach Carlos Mendoza said. "The past few days, watching him move around first base, he's obviously lighter. He's moving a lot better. He's working on his range, moving side to side. We're seeing the results on the field, and hopefully it translates to the games."
- Want a deep sleeper at catcher? Rangers manager Chris Woodward is apparently still flirting with the idea of shifting Todd Frazier over to first base and making catcher-eligible Isiah Kiner-Falefa the team's primary third baseman. And it helps that Kiner-Falefa continues to rake, going 6 for 11 at the start of Summer Camp after batting .378 (14 for 37) with four homers in Spring Training. "Every day that's going by, he's making it more and more [possible]," Woodward said. "You see the changes in his body, the changes in his swing, and it's hard for me to not have him in the lineup."
- Those hoping pitching prospect MacKenzie Gore might force his way onto the Padres roster the way Chris Paddack did last spring might need to find a new hobby. The 21-year-old struggled over three innings in an intrasquad game Monday and "is viewed mostly as a depth option outside the rotation mix," according to AJ Cassavell of MLB.com. It doesn't mean Gore won't arrive this year, but it does mean there isn't a concrete plan for his arrival.
- After initially pegging him as the team's center fielder, the Marlins plan to move Jonathan Villar around the diamond now that the DH spot is in play. "We do see him a little more infield now," manager Don Mattingly said. "With the DH, he can go a little bit back and forth — with center field, second base, shortstop and DH — to be able to keep him fresh."
- Villar isn't the only player who will move around for the Marlins. Jon Berti is projected to play five or six times a week, according to beat writer Joe Frisaro of MLB.com. That's, um, virtually every day and is great news for people who've targeted Berti as a late steals source. The 30-year-old swiped 17 bags in just 73 games last year and has a long history as a base-stealer in the minors.
- The Mariners are planning to use a six-man rotation, which dampens the sleeper appeal of players like Yusei Kikuchi and Justus Sheffield. Other members include Marco Gonzales, Kendall Graveman, Taijuan Walker and Justin Dunn.
- Nationals prospect Carter Kieboom, who is still considered the favorite for the third base job vacated by Anthony Rendon, has wowed the team with the progress he has made on both sides of the ball since spring training ended. "He looks really good. He really does," manager Dave Martinez said. "I could tell that he took these last three months and really got some work done. His feet are working really well over there. His hitting, he's showing his stride a little bit with his hitting. A lot quicker with the baseball. I mean, the ball's coming off the bat. So far, I like what I see a lot." Rarely when they're already assured playing time do you see prospects as high-end as Kieboom go as late as he does.
- Playing time was the only limiting factor for Mitch Garver in what was a ridiculous breakout season last year, and he, for one, is counting on having more of it this year, telling Aaron Gleeman of The Athletic that he's aiming to catch 40-50 of the team's 60 games this year. That's not even factoring in the starts he might make at DH. He did mention, though, that he hasn't discussed playing time with the coaching staff yet.
- Rich Hill, who has zoomed up Fantasy rankings now that he's had a chance to recover from elbow surgery, threw four innings in a simulated start Monday and is expected to be stretched out to 5-6 innings for the start of the season. "I don't think it's possible for him to be in a better position than he is in right now," manager Rocco Baldelli said.
- After leaving him off the initial list, to the shock and dismay of many, the Orioles did finally add prospect Ryan Mountcastle to their 60-player pool Wednesday and also invited him to major-league camp, possibly to help with an outfield shortage that has left them with Austin Hays and DJ Stewart as their only full-time options out there. They're expected to have Anthony Santander and Dwight Smith back by opening day, which will still leave Mountcastle on the outside looking in, but he is expected to debut at some point this year, according to beat writer Joe Trezza of MLB.com.
- Forrest Whitley says the shutdown gave him a chance to recapture the mechanics that he struggled to find last year, which began with him being hailed as the top pitching prospect in baseball and ended with him putting together a 7.99 ERA across four levels. The coaching staff was impressed by his 25-pitch batting practice session Wednesday. "That's the best I've seen him," manager Dusty Baker said. "He told me he's been working. I was very impressed with him."
- Mitch Haniger is one injured player who isn't back to full health following the shutdown, having yet to begin baseball activities as he works his way back from core and back surgeries. It doesn't sound like the Mariners are even reserving a spot for him in their 60-player pool, so you should ignore him on Draft Day.