A day after an MRI turned up a torn meniscus for Kole Calhoun, requiring surgery, a COVID-19 test turned up positive for fellow Diamondbacks outfielder Tim Locastro, who will be away from the team for at least 10 days.
It's of course unfortunate news for both of them, but it's as big of an opening as Daulton Varsho could ask for. The catcher/outfielder hybrid, who struggled to the tune of a .188 batting average and .653 OPS last year, is of great interest to Fantasy Baseballers for the five-category potential he offers as a catcher-eligible player. The left-handed hitter batted .301 with 18 homers, 21 steals and an .899 OPS in 396 at-bats at Double-A in 2019.
Now, maybe the Diamondbacks would prefer he get more minor-league experience anyway and instead turn to converted first baseman Pavin Smith or utility player Josh VanMeter to fill the opening, but it sounds like Varsho will be given an honest chance, which only bolsters his sleeper appeal.
"We want to make sure we give everybody a look that we feel can step into that situation," manager Torey Lovullo said. "We feel good about that list of guys. Somebody will emerge, somebody's going to have to emerge. That's the beauty of baseball, that next-man-up mentality. I'm looking for somebody to jump up and take that opportunity and say they're ready for it."
We focus on Framber Valdez injury and Scott's favorite sleepers on the Fantasy Baseball Today in 5 podcast embedded below, and make sure you subscribe at Apple, Spotify or anywhere else you get your podcasts for more of our comprehensive draft prep coverage:
Some other tidbits from around spring training:
- A report late Wednesday had Jackie Bradley signing a two-year deal with the Brewers, which presumably ends Avisail Garcia's run as a full-time outfielder. The smaller park could help him come closer to living up to the .283 batting average and .814 OPS he delivered in the shortened 2020, but keep in mind he hit .234 with a .727 OPS in the three years prior.
- Astros left-hander Framber Valdez fractured the ring finger on his pitching hand fielding a comebacker Tuesday. Even though it happened in the first inning, he was able to come back out and pitch the second, only discovering the injury afterward. The Astros have yet to divulge much more, but it seems likely he could miss at least the first month of the season. A report from Jon Heyman early Thursday suggested season-ending surgery was on the table, so you'll want to exercise extreme caution if you're drafting right now.
- Hoping to avoid any kind of surgical intervention for the biceps/elbow injury he suffered late last year, Dinelson Lamet threw 15 pitches in a simulated game Tuesday, none of them sliders. According to beat writer AJ Cassavell of MLB.com, the team asked him to hold off on his best pitch even though he's been throwing it in side sessions. The primary goal is of course to protect the elbow, and as cautiously as the Padres are playing it, opening day isn't a certainty. "We're going to be smart in general," GM A.J. Preller said. "We have a lot of depth. April 1 is not the important date." For what it's worth, Lamet came out of the session feeling good.
- Giants first baseman Brandon Belt's status for opening day is apparently in question because of what's being called a non-COVID illness. "Belt is feeling a little bit better," manager Gabe Kapler said. "He was definitely wiped out from the non-COVID illness. He continues to improve, but he's still lacking some energy." Belt has yet to take part in baseball activities.
- Brewers reliever Devin Williams, who won NL Rookie of the Year with a 0.33 ERA, 0.63 WHIP and 17.7 K/9, will be getting off to a late start this spring after missing last season's playoff series against the Dodgers with a shoulder injury. "You're not going to see Devin in a game until after that second off-day [on March 17]," manager Craig Counsell said. "That puts him in a good place to start the season, but when we start you that late, you have to have good days." Williams is about the one non-closer worth drafting in traditional Fantasy leagues, but the tight timetable adds some risk.
- Yankees right-hander Corey Kluber, who has pitched a total of 36 2/3 innings since the end of the 2018 season, made quick work of the two innings he got in his spring debut Wednesday, striking out three while allowing no baserunners on 22 pitches. His velocity was down a little, which probably isn't so surprising given that he's about to turn 35, but he was plenty effective. "I thought his pitches were really good," acting manager Carlos Mendoza said. "The movement on the cutter, the slider, he threw a couple of changes. That fastball had life." Kluber was coming off three consecutive top three Cy Young finishes before his health troubles began in 2019, so he offers considerable upside for a mid-round cost.
- Indians reliever James Karinchak, who's considered the favorite for the closing gig after striking out 17.7 batters per nine innings as a rookie last year, showed why he's not a shoo-in for the role in his spring debut Wednesday. He missed the strike zone on nine consecutive pitches, walking two. He then allowed three stolen bases and an unearned run before striking out two to end the inning. "He got so caught up [in nine straight balls] that he didn't control the running game," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "That's not a good combination to keep them off the scoreboard."
- Shohei Ohtani hit a massive home run over the center field batting eye Wednesday, traveling an estimated 468 feet. It sailed over the 30-foot structure located behind a fence that itself was 420 feet away. He has been working to keep his back foot down on his swing after developing some mechanical issues because of a sore knee last year. "That's what we've been seeing, even in regular batting practice," Angels manager Joe Maddon said. "Better balance, just a better overall approach. And that's a pitch that's normally been tough for him in the past, an elevated fastball with good velocity, but he got to it relatively easily. He's in a better place mentally, a better place physically. He's just doing so many things better."
- Matt Carpenter made a start at second base Tuesday, and beat writer Zachary Silver of MLB.com said he could force the Cardinals' hand if he hits. It's a big "if" for the 35-year-old who has hit .216 over the past two seasons, and at this point, we should be rooting for the speedy Tommy Edman to claim the everyday role. Carpenter hasn't made an official appearance at second base since 2018.
- Athletics right-hander Frankie Montas, who broke out with a 2.63 ERA, 1.12 WHIP and 9.7 K/9 in 2019 thanks to the emergence of his splitter, vows to throw the pitch more this year after curtailing its usage to 12.9 percent last year and slumping to the tune of a 5.60 ERA. "I feel like I was more focused on throwing my two-seamer," Montas said. "When I have that good splitter in my back pocket, why not use it more?" Indeed.
- While Shane Bieber's 2020 was good enough to win him the Cy Young award, he's looking to get back to being the pitcher who goes 7-8 innings, like in 2019, than the one who goes 6-7, like last year. He's willing to do so even if it means reducing his MLB-leading 14.2 K/9. "I think that's really my identity," Bieber said. "With the shortened season, every run, every pitch seemed so elevated. [Catcher Roberto Perez] and I kind of found ourselves going for more swing-and-miss and missed bats." Fear not: Bieber still had 10.9 K/9 during his breakout 2019 season before the jump to 14.2 last year. He also plans to incorporate both his curveball and slider this year after focusing more on the slider in 2020.
- Padres right-hander Chris Paddack, who dove into the data this offseason and reworked his mechanics to regain the rpm (i.e., rising action) on his fastball, looked the part in his spring debut Monday, striking out three in two no-hit innings. "That's exactly what we wanted to see, and that's the way he's been throwing the ball all through camp in what we've seen," Padres manager Jayce Tingler said. Paddack is looking to get back to the 3.33 ERA, 0.98 WHIP and 9.8 K/9 he delivered as a rookie in 2019 before scuffling last year.
- The Blue Jays may have offered a sneak peek as to what their starting lineup will be in Tuesday's game against the Phillies, batting new acquisition George Springer leadoff, followed by Marcus Semien, Bo Bichette, Lourdes Gurriel and Vladimir Guerrero, with Cavan Biggio hitting sixth. "I like when he leads off like we did today. I like that," manager Charlie Montoyo said. "But we'll see." It would most impact Biggio, who primarily hit leadoff last season, but then again, he might get more opportunities to run without those big bats coming up behind him.
- About a quarter of Marcus Stroman's 30 pitches Tuesday were his new split-changeup, which he learned from Mets teammate Robert Gsellman last summer. "Man, I love it," Stroman said. "After throwing it today, I feel like it's a weapon." Stroman hasn't featured much of a changeup in the past, but anything that might improve the ground-ball specialist's strikeout ability would be a welcome development.
- Gary Sanchez, who fizzled out with a .147 batting average and 36 percent strikeout rate during the shortened 2020 season, is off to a good start with two home runs, including a mammoth shot over the batter's eye in center field Monday. According to MLB.com, he has put in time with hitting coaches Marcus Thames and P.J. Pilittere on calming his batting stance, specifically keeping weight on his back leg while reducing his leg kick. "Usually when you lose control in the box, it's because you're out of balance in your lower half," Sanchez said. "I've used that leg kick for quite some time. Usually that's where you find trouble."
- White Sox third baseman Yoan Moncada, who hit .225 with a .705 OPS in 202 after hitting .315 with a .915 OPS in 2019, said Wednesday that he couldn't find his rhythm at the plate last year because he was so run down from his battle with COVID-19. "There wasn't anything I could do about it," Moncada said. "This year, the difference is that my body feels good. I feel strong, and I've regained my strength, my energy. And then I'm able to react easily or the way that I used to. That's the big difference from last year to this year with my rhythm at home plate." He has also set a goal of stealing more bases during what's shaping up to be a bounce-back year.
- Rays shortstop Wander Franco, the consensus top prospect in baseball, hit a screaming liner of a home run Wednesday, sending the Rays dugout into a frenzy. "Oh my God, that thing went over the building. You don't see that," teammate Shane McClanahan said. "Kid's 19 years old, 20 years old, and he's putting balls over buildings." The 20-year-old traveled with the team to the World Series series last year as a potential emergency activation, which tells you how close the Rays think he is. He's worth a draft-and-stash in all leagues.
- Rays ace Tyler Glasnow unveiled his new slider/cutter hybrid Monday, "going to the lab" with pitching coach Kyle Snyder to develop it with the teams' pitch-design technology. "I know he's pretty excited about it, and he should be because he feels like he can land that pitch [for strikes] fairly consistently," manager Kevin Cash said. Beat writer Adam Berry of MLB.com pointed out that the times Glasnow has gotten himself in trouble are when he's not able to locate his curveball. Adding a true third pitch could remedy that.
- Tigers shortstop Willi Castro once again homered to center field Tuesday after hitting a 458-foot shot that direction over the weekend. While he hit .349 with six homers and a .932 OPS in 129 at-bats as a rookie last year, his average exit velocity and hard-hit rate both left much to be desired. He's doing his part to erase those doubts so far, though.
- Marlins right-hander Pablo Lopez has set a goal of throwing more than 200 innings this year, according to MLB.com, and is working to develop a breaking ball with that goal in mind. "Just have a consistent [breaking ball] with some shape that goes according to my arm slot," Lopez said. "We're trying to figure out with my arms like a good grip, a good break of the hand, how to make a breaking ball happen." Lopez already added a cutter prior to his breakthrough 2020, and having another pitch would add some variety for a third trip through an opposing lineup. It's still a work in progress, though.
- Red Sox outfield prospect Jarren Duran has wowed the team with his physique this spring and is showing newfound strength with a double and home run already. He has been known as a contact-first speedster in the minors, most notably hitting .357 in 2018: "He lifts, he sleeps, he eats and he plays baseball," manager Alex Cora said. "That's what he does. He's a lot stronger than he was two years ago." Duran could become a factor this year if Franchy Cordero falters.
- Tigers prospect Isaac Paredes, who had a forgettable debut as a third baseman late last year, has a chance to make the roster as a utility infielder, according to MLB.com. His struggles last year were particularly acute against breaking balls, which is why he spent the winter getting a look at more of them in Mexico. He hit 26 points higher than anyone else in the winter league, walking 27 times compared to just 12 strikeouts. "Because he can play, I'm not sure Triple-A is the best for his development," manager A.J. Hinch said. "The adjustments that he's going to have to make, with his contact being a premium skill that he has -- and his hands are really, really good -- that might have to happen in the big leagues for him to get the full development at the end of his ascent."
- Orioles outfielder DJ Stewart, who launched seven homers in just 88 at-bats last year, has already homered twice. He was the ultimate three-true-outcomes player in 2020, reaching base at a .355 clip despite batting just .193, and is learning to navigate the line between patient and passive. "I know I have a good eye, but there's also sometimes early in the count that I'm a little bit too selective. I feel like, and I know that, I can do damage with those pitches," Stewart said. If he can find the right balance, he has the upside to matter in Fantasy.
- Cedric Mullins, who's part of that Orioles outfield mix with Stewart, will bat exclusively left-handed this year, abandoning switch-hitting. He's a career .251 hitter from the left side of the plate and a career .147 hitter from the right side. He seems to be adapting just fine to seeing lefties from the left side, tripling off the Yankees' Jordan Montgomery Tuesday and then singling off another left-hander later in the game. Mullins has some low-end sleeper appeal as a possible base-stealer.
- If you were harboring any concerns about Ronald Acuna backing down as a base-stealer, his conditioning this offseason should come as a relief. "He lost a considerable amount [of weight]," manager Brian Snitker said. "You just look at him and how he's moving, it's really, really good."
- Marlins pitching prospect Braxton Garrett, who had a strong five-inning debut against the Phillies last September, nonetheless raised eyebrows by averaging just 89.6 mph on his fastball in that start and a less-successful follow-up effort against the Nationals, but he was back up to his usual 92.1 in his spring debut Tuesday. "My velo is better, especially, compared to the end of last season," Garrett said. "I was losing a little gas there, but I'd like it to be a little higher, which I think I can get it there." Ultimately, it's his curveball that's going to make or break him, but the renewed velocity ensures his prospect standing is intact.
- Diamondbacks right-hander Merrill Kelly took the mound Monday for his first appearance since undergoing thoracic outlet surgery last September. Not only did he pitch effectively, striking out five in two innings, but he also hit 92-93 mph with his fastball, which is about what he averaged last year. "Definitely something I was curious about," Kelly said. "From talking to people who have had the procedure I had, some of the feedback from those guys was that it might take a little bit to get back to the velo you were before the surgery." Kelly had a 2.59 ERA, 0.99 WHIP and 8.3 K/9 in five starts last year.
- Bobby Bradley, who's competing for the first base job in Cleveland, shed 35 pounds this offseason but none of the power that saw him hit 33 homers in the minors two years ago. He smoked a line drive well over the right-field fence Monday for a home run. "He hit that ball like a man," manager Terry Francona said. "He is in the best shape of his career since I've seen him, and I'm really happy for him." Bradley has had major strikeout issues at every level, but his only real competition for the first base job is Jake Bauers.
- Making his debut Stateside, Rangers right-hander Kohei Arihara, a 28-year-old from Japan, allowed three earned runs on five hits in two innings Tuesday, striking out two. He said afterward that he's still adjusting to the feel of the MLB ball, which is more slippery than the one used in Japan. There may still be a learning curve for Arihara, who figures to have a limited ceiling anyway given his modest strikeout rates in Japan.
- Lourdes Gurriel scorched a line-drive home run Tuesday. Beat writer Keegan Matheson of MLB.com says he's "noticeably stronger in the upper body" this year.
- Yankees manager Aaron Boone plans to slot outfielder Aaron Hicks into the three-hole, according to MLB.com. It should help get the most out of his Fantasy value, not only by giving him more at-bats but also by positioning him in the middle of the murderer's row that is DJ LeMahieu, Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and Luke Voit.
- Reds right-hander Tejay Antone wants to start and made some inroads toward that goal Wednesday at the Dodgers, striking out five over two scoreless innings with a fastball that clocked in the 97-99 mph range. "Maybe could have been the best fastball I've seen. That's saying a lot, he was so good last year, but his fastball looked really good," manager David Bell said. Antone played sort of swingman role for the Reds last season, making four starts and nine relief appearances en route to a 2.80 ERA, 1.02 WHIP and 11.5 K/9, but a slider that he threw nearly 40 percent of the time is what really set him apart. MIchael Lorenzen is likely the front-runner for the fifth starter job, but Antone is one to watch.
So which Fantasy baseball sleepers should you snatch in your draft? And which undervalued first baseman can help you win a championship? Visit SportsLine now to get Fantasy baseball rankings for every single position, all from the model that called Will Smith's huge breakout last season, and find out.