Cardinals relief pitcher Jordan Hicks became the latest to opt out of the 2020 MLB season Monday, citing a pre-existing condition (Type 1 diabetes). He was expected to begin on the IL anyway as he works his way back from Tommy John surgery but was a candidate to step into the closer role at some point. It remains a murky situation for the Cardinals and for Fantasy baseball players, especially with Giovanny Gallegos having yet to report to camp. Ryan Helsley may now be the odds-on favorite for saves.
Of course, the Cardinals could still turn back to Carlos Martinez in the closer instead of transitioning him to the rotation as planned, but he did his part Saturday to show he's prepared to handle a starter's workload, striking four of the seven batters he faced in an intrasquad game. The Cardinals wanted to size him up physically before committing to him in any role, especially after he was deemed physically unfit to start last year.
"I thought he looked sharp, especially the offspeed stuff, which is safe to say he's definitely been working on his stuff while he's been away," catcher Matt Wieters said. "The offspeed stuff normally takes a while to come back."
Here are some other items of note from around the league:
- Byron Buxton was carted off with a foot injury Monday, but a surface examination didn't reveal anything significant, leaving the Twins "cautiously optimistic." It was a non-contact injury for the oft-injured outfield. "He didn't do anything wrong out there today," manager Rocco Baldelli said. "It was just a misstep in the outfield, and that's really the only way I would describe it."
- Cody Bellinger, fresh off an MVP season, nonetheless altered his swing mechanics during the shutdown, apparently dissatisfied with hitting .263 in the second half. "We haven't seen the results yet, not that results matter right now. It's a feel thing," manager Dave Roberts said. "For me, as long as he has confidence in it, conferring and talking through things with the hitting guys, I'm optimistic." The changes are intended to "improve rhythm, timing and correct launch position," according to MLB.com, but they make us outsiders nervous after the season Bellinger just had. The reigning AL Cy Young winner, Justin Verlander, is changing his mechanics, too.
- Aroldis Chapman has tested positive for COVID-19 and has "mild symptoms." He'll need to be without symptoms for 72 hours and then test negative twice before returning, so it's possible he misses a couple weeks of the regular season. Fortunately, manager Aaron Boone did us the courtesy of naming a replacement: former Orioles closer Zack Britton. "Britton has been an elite closer in this game for a long time, and he's still a great pitcher, so he naturally could fill that role," Boone said. We can't say with any certainty how long Britton will fill the role, but since you'll need to secure saves at every turn in a 60-game season, he becomes must-draft.
- Three of the Nationals' biggest bats -- Juan Soto, Victor Robles and Howie Kendrick -- still haven't been cleared to join their teammates, and time is running out "Right now, we're taking days one day at a time," manager Dave Martinez said. "I've got to put eyes on these guys and see where they're at. I know Soto was actually working out pretty good in the Dominican back home. So was Robles. We talked to the strength and conditioning guys. They think they're in really good shape."
- Josh James joined the Astros on Monday, revealing he was late to report because of the birth of his daughter. He says he's built up to throw 75-80 pitches, though, because he was working out five times a week in Florida. "I feel like I'm in a really good spot with my delivery, the way my body feels, the amount of work I put in. I think I'll be ready." A trendy sleeper pick, he still has a good chance of claiming a rotation spot if the Astros are satisfied with where he is physically, especially with Jose Urquidy going on the IL.
- Urquidy wasn't the most notable Astro to be placed on the 10-day IL Monday for undisclosed reasons. Yordan Alvarez joined him there. The team is still hoping the two will be ready to go for the season, but obviously, time is running out. If Alvarez is sidelined into the regular season, it could open the door for Kyle Tucker to play more regularly even after manager Dusty Baker all but ruled him out for the starting right field job.
- Manager Terry Francona more or less decided he wants shortstop Francisco Lindor hitting third this year, opening up the leadoff spot for Cesar Hernandez. "That's my sneaking suspicion," Francona said. It's good news for Hernandez, who has decent on-base skills and moderate base-stealing ability, but there's a real chance it hurts Lindor. In this scenario, slow-footed Carlos Santana would bat second, walking as often as he usually does. If he's clogging the bases ahead of Lindor, what happens to Lindor's steals chances?
- Shohei Ohtani, who walked eight in his first intrasquad outing last week, wasn't much better Sunday. He walked four in 3 1/3 innings, throwing just 26 of 60 pitches for strikes. "I feel good overall," he said. "I'm not overly concerned about the four walks. A lot of walks I was ahead in the count and I wasn't able to locate. I need to work on my mechanics with my secondary stuff. That's what I'll be focusing on." Ohtani took last year off from pitching as he recovered from Tommy John surgery. He's expected to start every sixth day for the Angles this year.
- Cardinals beat reporter Anne Rogers of MLB.com suggests that the left field battle is really just between Tyler O'Neill and Lane Thomas, leaving top prospect Dylan Carlson out of it. In her words, the Cardinals "want to see what those two have before moving to their outfield depth." Of course, maybe it's just an excuse for them to send Carlson down a week and secure an extra year of service time, but it nonetheless makes him difficult to target for a season that's only 60 games. He's an upside play, sure, but will that upside have a chance to shine through for your Fantasy team?
- Kenley Jansen finally joined the Dodgers on Sunday and confirmed that he was indeed away because of a bout with COVID-19. Jansen thinks he'll be able to get up to speed quickly because of his workout program during the lockdown. "I feel great," he said. "It's just two weeks that I couldn't do anything." His status for Opening Day doesn't appear to be in doubt as of now. "He looks like he's in great shape," manager Dave Roberts said.
- Christian Walker strained his groin Monday, which could put his Opening Day status in jeopardy. "It's hard to say right now," manager Torey Lovullo said. "If you're asking me, I'm very optimistic. But obviously he's in the care of the medical team." With Jake Lamb looking like he'll handle the DH role for the Diamondbacks, a Walker injury could be Kevin Cron's ticket to playing time. Cron hit .331 with 38 homers and a 1.226 OPS in just 305 at-bats at Triple-A Reno last year.
- Blue Jays starting pitcher Chase Anderson has a strained oblique, and though there isn't a timetable for his return, his first turn through the rotation is in doubt. Could this be top prospect Nate Pearson's path to a rotation spot? Unlikely since keeping him down a week could secure the Blue Jays an extra year of service time, but he'll be up soon afterward whether Anderson is healthy or not.
- The Orioles have only two full-time outfielders in camp right now, but it's likely not going to help prospect Ryan Mountcastle's chances of making the major-league roster precisely because they need to see more of him in the outfield first. "I think he's close," manager Brandon Hyde said Monday. "I think he still needs some reps, defensively. We've moved him around quite a bit, trying to get him comfortable in left field. He looks a lot better." The Orioles do expect Mountcastle to arrive later in the summer, though.
- The Red Sox's second base battle between Jose Peraza and Michael Chavis likely won't have a clear winner. "I don't really want to say that somebody is the starter and somebody's not," manager Ron Roenicke said. Chavis can also steal at-bats from Mitch Moreland at first base, particularly against left-handed pitchers. "If Chavis is doing offensively what we saw at times last year, then he's going to play a lot," Roenicke said. "So, I think, between the two guys, we feel really confident in what they can do." Chavis' power potential makes him the more interesting candidate for Fantasy Baseball purposes, but Peraza has been a viable base-stealer in the past.
- The Giants have already said top prospect Joey Bart isn't a serious candidate to replace Buster Posey as their opening day catcher, but every other catcher possibility for the Giants is a non-roster invitee. One who may be worth a second look, though, is Chadwick Tromp. He homered twice in an intrasquad game Sunday and also has a double and triple since camp began. "I think everybody is really excited about Chadwick Tromp and the advancements he's made with his swing," Kapler said. "A lot of positive conversation around camp with the impression that he's been making, not just at the plate, but also in the bullpen and taking charge down there." The former Reds farmhand hasn't played much the past two years, having undergone shoulder surgery in 2018, but hit .280 with nine homers and a .965 OPS in 125 minor-league at-bats after returning last year.
- Ross Stripling struck out seven Sunday in 5 2/3 innings, further distinguishing himself as the obvious choice to claim David Price's spot in the rotation. That he's already built up to six innings is a mild surprise, too, suggesting he'll be treated more like a full-fledged starter than someone to piggyback with Dustin May or Tony Gonsolin. Clayton Kershaw and Alex Wood have also pitched into the sixth inning already for the Dodgers.
- Aaron Nola, who was late to camp because of a contact tracing situation, threw 47 pitches Monday and could be ready to start the team's first game of the season, according to MLB.com. "If he isn't opening day, he would definitely be the first time through the rotation," manager Joe Girardi said. "As long as everything goes physically OK, we kind of feel that he's going to be all right."
- Scott Kingery, who's back with the Phillies after a difficult recovery from COVID-19, was experiencing some shortness of breath while taking part in baseball activities over the weekend. "I haven't really gone full force and really tested out what it's going to be like and how my lungs are going to feel," he said. The team is still unsure about his status for opening day. "We can't rush him," manager Joe Girardi said.
- Not only did the shutdown give Athletics outfielder Stephen Piscotty a chance to recover from a rib and end a "perpetual cycle of hurt," as he called it, but it also allowed him to work with hitting coach Darren Bush to correct a flaw in his swing. "We were focused on my head position and keeping it still, not lunging forward. It's really helped me see the ball really well," Piscotty said. "That's one thing I worked on every single day that I hit." Piscotty has had an up-and-down career so far — thanks in part to that "cycle of hurt" — but don't overlook that he hit .267 with 27 homers, 41 doubles, 88 RBI and an .821 OPS in 2018.
- A.J. Puk had a sore shoulder in spring training but used the shutdown to get healthy and clean up his mechanics. "Just cleaning up my direction a little bit. My arm angle is a little bit higher right now than what it was. Trying to get more directional instead of pulling off." The big lefty with the big fastball is expected to fill a spot in the Athletics rotation in his first full season back from Tommy John surgery. "I probably would have been on an innings restriction," Puk said. "Now, it's only 60 games, maybe 12 starts and hopefully some playoff starts. I'm looking forward to starting it."
- Mariners top prospect Jarred Kelenic, who's all of 20 years old, homered twice in an intrasquad game Monday. He's a long shot to make the Mariners roster, but according to MLB.com beat writer Greg Johns, GM Jerry Dipoto "hasn't slammed the door" on the idea. Keep an open mind, but I wouldn't say he's worth a re-draft pick just yet.
- Isiah Kiner-Falefa, who's battling for the starting third base job, had a home run and three-run double on Monday and is 10-for-24 with two home runs in nine summer camp games, according to MLB.com. This comes after he hit four home runs in 37 at-bats in Spring Training. It's notable because he's catcher-eligible in Fantasy, and if these gains as a hitter are legit, the playing time advantage he'd have other catcher-eligible players could set him apart.