Without an exhibition schedule or box scores with stats, we don't have as much insight into what's happening in major-league camps right now, even just two weeks away from opening day. But thanks to the work of intrepid beat reporters, some questions have already arisen with major implications for Fantasy Baseball.
Most of them have to do with COVID-19, which I've addressed separately. You're probably wondering what to do about the players who've tested positive — i.e., how to approach them in drafts — and it's impossible to say right now. Most of the cases are asymptomatic, which means they presumably have time to rejoin the team before the start of the season, but when will subsequent tests actually reveal that they're in the clear? And what about a player with symptoms, like Freddie Freeman? He appears to be on the mend, so could he still return in time?
The easy answer is to push your draft back as much as possible and check back then. We need more information to do anything more than guess.
So let's stay in our comfort zone with baseball-related questions here. You can consider this piece the appendix to the 16 lingering playing time questions that I shared with you a week ago.
1) How deep will starting pitchers actually go?
I think Tigers pitching coach Rick Anderson best summed up the league-wide trend, even if he was only speaking for his own starting pitchers:
"It's been really, really amazing to me what these guys have done," Anderson told MLB.com. "I mean, every one of them stayed in shape and kept throwing and it's been really impressive. I was thinking I'd have to come and start from step one like a normal spring and move from that, but they've all come in, in great shape. It has been very impressive."
It sure has. By and large, pitchers have wowed us with the workloads they're promising and have already taken on. Gerrit Cole went five innings in his first sim game Tuesday. Lance Lynn went six, striking out eight on 83 pitches. Most every reported stat line so far shows the pitcher going at least three innings, so if you assume each will add an inning every time out, everyone should be equipped to go six by the time the real games start.
Max Scherzer has already vowed to be. Ditto Luis Castillo and Carlos Carrasco. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts says he's confident Clayton Kershaw, Alex Wood and Ross Stripling (two of which we don't at all regard as workhorses) could go seven their first time out. Jose Berrios says he'll throw a complete game, if they let him.
Of course, these sentiments, while widespread, aren't universal. Braves manager Brian Snitker reiterated the team's intention to piggyback pitchers, at least for the first couple weeks when rosters are expanded to 30, pointing out to MLB.com that the intensity isn't the same in intrasquad games and scrimmages. But even in that case, it's not so clear whether he means the entire starting rotation or just the back 2-3 spots.
Bottom line, though, is it looks like our worst fears won't be realized here. By and large, pitchers will be as stretched out as they'd normally be for the start of the season, so you shouldn't be fading them out of fear of them going only 3-4 innings.
2) How much time should we expect Mike Trout to miss?
He and his wife Jessica are expecting their first child in August, so naturally, you can expect Trout to take the typical three days for paternity leave. A family emergency provision would allow him to take as many as 10, though, and then you have to account for him going through intake again, possibly waiting another 2-3 days for a negative test result. So I think it's reasonable to expect Trout to miss about a week of action — and possibly more — for the birth of his child, which wouldn't be such a big deal in a 26-week season. But in a nine-week season? Yeah, I've downgraded him to the middle of the first round.
3) What role will Carlos Martinez have?
This again? Didn't he put the debate to rest with his performance in March?
"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."
See, Martinez was late reporting to camp because of delayed flight out of the Dominican Republic and delayed testing results, and since his readiness was the determining factor in his move to the bullpen last year, the Cardinals want to make extra sure he still has time to stretch out for a starting role.
I still think it's Martinez's job to lose, reading between the lines with Shildt and recognizing that he's clearly their second-best starting option after Jack Flaherty, but some Cardinals beat writers sound less convinced. This late arrival gives the Cardinals an easy excuse to go another direction, particularly if they're not satisfied with their options for the ninth inning.
4) Are we any closer to knowing the Cardinals closer?
Apparently, Martinez, who held the role from June on last year, is back in the mix, though it may be only a couple weeks before the man he replaced back then, Jordan Hicks, is fully recovered from Tommy John surgery. Presumed favorite Giovanny Gallegos has yet to report, for unspecified reasons, though it may simply be a travel delay out of Mexico. Having time to stretch out obviously isn't as much concern for a reliever, but Mark Saxon of The Athletic recently pointed out that president of baseball John Mozeliak mentioned Ryan Helsley first when discussing the team's closer opening.
5) Are the Blue Jays playing the service time game with Nate Pearson?
It sure sounds like it. They open themselves up to a grievance, of course, if they outright say it, but GM Ross Atkins used some of the usual coded language when discussing the top prospect's role heading into 2020, saying they'll do what's best for his development. Equipped with an 80-grade fastball and whifftastic slider, Pearson dazzled in spring training and won't have the same limitations he would have in a full-length season, but the Blue Jays could secure an extra year of service time by keeping him down a week. What's one turn in the rotation, right?
6) Should we be counting on Zack Wheeler?
Like Trout, Wheeler's wife is also pregnant, but she's due right about the time the season is set to begin, which means he might depart from the team before he even makes his first start. And the same delays that could impact Trout's return would also apply to him.
"It's going to set me back a start or two, more than likely," Wheeler told MLB.com.
Of course, he has also raised the possibility of not returning at all.
"When I first got here, I wasn't sure if I was going to continue or not," he said. "But I wanted to get here and see how everything was kind of flowing and what everybody was doing and if guys were being responsible and everything. We've got a good group of guys here that I believe are being responsible. I feel safe as of now."
I think the fairest approach is to assume Wheeler will miss a couple turns in the rotation, which is significant in a year when most pitchers will be making only 12 starts. I've moved him outside my top 35 at starting pitcher in response.
7) Should we be counting on Sean Doolittle?
A number of players, from Trout to Wheeler to Buster Posey, have expressed some uncertainty about playing this year, but none have done so louder or as frequently as Doolittle, whose wife is considered high-risk. His concerns are understandable, which is why we have to take the prospect of him sitting seriously. Daniel Hudson, who split saves with Doolittle down the stretch last year, would be the obvious choice to close if he does.
8) Will Jesus Luzardo be ready in time?
I addressed the COVID-19 cases at the top, but I do want to single out Luzardo since he's the only starting pitcher of the bunch. Starting pitchers obviously have more milestones to meet in preparation for a new season. His case is asymptomatic, and he seems eager to be cleared, but since the Athletics don't know exactly when they will be, they have to make contingency plans. Chris Bassitt would appear to be said plan, though as Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle points out, Luzardo should at least be able to work in tandem with Bassitt at the start of the year.
The 22-year-old is the second rookie drafted in most Fantasy Baseball leagues, going off the board 114th overall on average.
9) Is Trevor Bauer going to lap everyone else in innings?
Bauer, in typical Bauer fashion, has long lobbied to take every fourth turn rather than every fifth turn like everyone else, and this year's unique circumstances actually have the Reds considering it.
"I've got that as being 100 percent on the table, especially in the shortened season," pitching coach Derek Johnson told MLB.com. "I think it's a really cool weapon that we have that maybe a lot of other teams don't have."
It's too speculative right now to re-rank Bauer for it — Johnson did also express some reservations, it's worth noting — but if Bauer is able to make 15 starts while most every other pitcher is limited to 12, that's obviously a huge workload advantage that would be especially noteworthy in points leagues. It would also make him the odds-on favorite to lead the majors in strikeouts and probably wins.
Of course, there's the small matter of Bauer putting together a 4.48 ERA last year, and why would any team want more of that? But he made some changes to his pitch selection (specifically, backing off the curveball) that invited more fly balls in a terrible year for it and is fully capable of adjusting back. I wouldn't expect a 2.21 ERA, like in 2018, but mid-to-high-threes is certainly on the table.
10) Are the Mets committed to Edwin Diaz closing?
Apparently not, because manager Luis Rojas suggested he might go by committee in the ninth inning. For a rookie manager like him, we don't have a read yet on preferences and tendencies, not to mention how likely he is to float out ideas that won't actually amount to anything. Managers more generally will pay lip service to bullpen versatility only to settle into a routine, and presumably, that's what will happen here, too.
Still, it's telling that the Mets aren't just penciling Diaz into the spot, willing to let bygones be bygones after a disastrous 2019 in which he struggled to find his slider. Could their confidence in him be shaken?
11) Is Yoenis Cespedes poised for full-time at-bats again?
He's 34, hasn't played a meaningful game in almost two years and is coming back from surgeries on both heels and one ankle. So the presumption was that the Mets would reintroduce Cespedes slowly, keeping expectations low, possibly as a part-time DH. He has already been playing left field, though, in simulated games, and while manager Luis Rojas isn't willing to commit to him there on a full-time basis during the season, it's sounding like the Mets want his bat in the lineup as much as possible, whether it's left field or at DH.
"He looks like a monster," teammate Michael Conforto said over the weekend, summing up the rave reviews Cespedes has drawn in camp. At least in five-outfielder leagues, Cespedes may turn out to be a wise use of a late-round pick.
12) Is Josh James' rotation spot secure?
The 27-year-old who appeared to have locked up a rotation spot back in spring training but still hasn't reported to camp, delayed by a personal matter that reportedly isn't related to COVID-19, which has called into question whether he'll be stretched out in time for the start of the season. And with a surplus of alternatives that includes Framber Valdez, Bryan Abreu and Austin Pruitt, the Astros are well equipped to pivot should the need arise.
"We really haven't seen everybody, laid eyes on everybody," manager Dusty Baker said. "Time is of the essence. We're hoping that we do have time. If we don't, then we got to make adjustments for where we are. You've got things in pencil, but half the guys that are in pencil aren't even here yet. I hate to tell you we don't know, but in essence, we have to wait for everybody to get here and see what kind of shape they're in."
Like with Carlos Martinez, I think the job probably still goes to James if he can demonstrate his readiness upon arrival, and of course, that's what Fantasy Baseballers should be hoping for. You can read up on his potential in my Sleepers 2.0 column.