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As spring training enters the homestretch, things are looking up for some of the walking wounded.
Marcus Stroman, thought to be on shaky ground because of right shoulder inflammation, made a start against the Canadian Junior National Team Saturday, striking out two over two no-hit innings, and expects to be ready for the fourth game of the season. Zack Greinke, who left his last start after one inning because of a tight groin, threw a 40-pitch bullpen session Sunday and expects to be ready for the third game of the season.
But most encouraging is Michael Conforto, who still won't be ready for the start of the year after surgery to repair a torn shoulder capsule but managed to play a minor-league game Saturday. And "managed" might be an understatement. Taking batting practice before the contest, he showed his usual power, even hitting a ball halfway up the batter's eye in center field, 410 feet away.
"It feels like it never happened," he told MLB.com
It's especially notable because this particular surgery has virtually no track record among hitters. The few pitchers who've had it -- guys like Johan Santana, Mark Prior, John Danks and Dallas Braden -- were never the same afterward, but it's worth noting their injuries were to the anterior part of the shoulder rather than the posterior.
Though he's going 194th overall according to FantasyPros consensus ADP, Conforto still has the upside of a No. 1 outfielder and could return as soon as May 1.
Make way for Martinez
After only returning to spring action Tuesday following an extended absence for a sore back, Matt Carpenter hasn't played it safe by just sticking to first base as expected. No, he played both second and third base Sunday against the Nationals, which is notable because of what the guy at first base did at the plate:
Jose Martinez has had a terrific spring, batting .293 with three home runs and a .975 OPS and striking out just three times in 41 at-bats, and the Cardinals are beginning to acknowledge it'll be awfully hard to keep his bat out of the lineup.
"We're going to have to be creative with everybody," manager Mike Matheny told MLB.com. "If he keeps hitting, he's going to play."
The problem is he and Carpenter can't both play first base. Carpenter himself, though, sounds like he has come to appreciate the merits of bouncing around the infield.
"It could be a situation where [Jedd Gyorko] plays five out of seven days, [Kolten Wong] plays five out of seven days and I rotate," Carpenter said. "There is a way to get Jose in there five out of seven days, too."
Stock up for Martinez, the kind of hitter who looks like he could hit .300 in his sleep.
Jorge Soler is one of the surprise leaders in home runs in the Cactus League, tying Jason Kipnis with his sixth long ball Sunday. He has been swinging a hot bat overall, batting .467 (7 for 15) with two homers and two doubles over his last five games.
And according to The Kansas City Star, he has made huge strides on defense, doing a better job of getting jumps and tracking down fly balls after losing 20 pounds this offseason.
"The hips work, the knees work, the feet are much quicker and he's able to get into a better route quicker, which increases the range as he goes after the ball," special instructor Rusty Kuntz said.
In what has become sort of a patchwork Royals lineup, Soler is looking to be a mainstay, and you may remember it wasn't too long ago he and Kris Bryant Exhibits 1 and 1A of the Cubs' homegrown greatness.
Some definite sleeper appeal here.
Following a disastrous stint in the majors last year in which he compiled a 7.39 ERA in 16 appearances, 14 of them starts, Amir Garrett wasn't expected to get even a foothold in the Reds rotation battle this spring. But he has been one of the most impressive pitchers in camp, continuing it with four one-hit innings Sunday against the Diamondbacks.
"Today, he was a little lateral and wasn't behind the ball quite as well," manager Bryan Price told MLB.com "But, he found a way to manage the game without his best command. That, to me, says a lot about where he is with his confidence and his ability to compete his way through some of the challenges."
Price, a former pitching coach, noted earlier this spring that Garrett's arm slot is better and delivery more repeatable. He did recently suggest Sal Romano and Tyler Mahle are both in the Reds starting rotation, but with Anthony DeSclafani (oblique) and Brandon Finnegan (biceps) both nursing injuries, there's still room for Garrett.
Of course, there's still no guarantee he comes out of spring training with a job, but he's one of the most talented pitchers in the organization and should be back on Fantasy owners' radars.
Tyson Ross, twice a 195-strikeout guy for the Padres, is back with San Diego this spring after attempting to come back from thoracic outlet surgery with the Rangers last season. Manager Andy Green had hinted that good things would be coming for Ross if he pitched well in his next spring start, and he ended up throwing four one-hit innings against the Dodgers on Sunday.
His overall line this spring portends good things:
"The velocity is back; the slider is back," Green told MLB.com. "His arm stroke is cleaner. He's locating fastballs, for the most part, better than I saw him do a few years back. He's wired to compete, and I think he has a lot of good things in front of him."
He's not the only pitcher on the comeback trail. Marco Gonzales, who turned some heads pitching for the Cardinals in 2014 before a slew of arm problems, threw 5 2/3 one-hit innings Saturday and has pretty much locked up the No. 4 spot in the Mariners rotation.
Meanwhile, Miles Mikolas -- who is back in the majors after a successful three-year stint in Japan in which he compiled a 2.18 ERA, 0.99 WHIP and 8.0 strikeouts per nine innings -- has recovered from a rocky start to spring training, allowing no runs in nine innings over his last two starts.
He throws 98 mph with excellent curveball and is probably the most deserving of these three of a mixed-league pickup.
Dan Vogelbach had a chance to claim the starting first job last spring after GM Jerry Dipoto acquired him from the Cubs just a few months earlier. But he struggled and then didn't perform quite well enough at Triple-A Tacoma to force the issue. He did reach base at a .388 clip, though -- something he has done throughout his minor-league career -- and his monster OPS potential is finally on full display this spring.
"He's relaxed," manager Scott Servais told MLB.com in early March. "That's kind of the Daniel Vogelbach we were hoping to see last year. Sometimes it takes a little longer, but he's relaxed, he's having fun and the results are starting to come."
No longer counting on the 6-foot-0, 250-pound bruiser, Dipoto acquired Ryon Healy from the Athletics this offseason, but he has been sidelined following hand surgery. Ultimately, it may not matter.
"Vogelbach is making his case, whether Ryon Healy is ready or not, to be on our 25-man club," Dipoto told MLB.com. "He has raked from day one. He has controlled the strike zone really better than anybody in the Cactus League. What he's doing with the bat is reminiscent of what he's kind of always done in the minor leagues, but we've never had the opportunity to see in the big leagues."
If nothing else, Vogelbach is worth drafting in AL-only leagues, and it wouldn't be altogether surprising if he became something like Matt Carpenter was last year, assuming he finds the playing time.