The restart of camp in preparation for the 2020 season hasn't gone off without a hitch. Whether because of the holiday weekend or a process that's still in need of streamlining, some teams were still waiting for intake testing results as of Monday. The Athletics, Astros, Angels, Cardinals and Nationals all had to cancel workouts just 18 days before the season is scheduled to begin while waiting for tests.
And then there were the positive tests, the most notable belonging to Freddie Freeman. He's also known to have symptoms, which hasn't been reported for most of the positive tests and, of course, complicates his path back. He'll need to feel 100 percent again, not to mention testing negative twice.
On COVID-19 testing
Here are some notable players known to have tested positive for COVID-19:
- Freddie Freeman, 1B, ATL
- Charlie Blackmon, OF, COL
- DJ LeMahieu, 1B/2B/3B, NYY
- Joey Gallo, 1B, TEX
- Miguel Sano, 3B, MIN
- Tommy Pham, OF, SD
- Salvador Perez, C, KC
- Will Smith, RP, ATL
- Luis Urias, 2B/SS, MIL
- Delino DeShields, OF, CLE
- Willians Astudillo, C, MIN
I use the awkward phrasing "known to have tested" because a player must grant his team permission to reveal this information. And so it's worth mentioning that there are a number of other questionable absences around the league.
Blackmon's positive test dates back to June 23, and he still has yet to report, which offers our earliest indication of what a timeline might look like. Conventional wisdom suggests it'll take at least two weeks for the virus to work through a person's system, and then he'll have to go through intake again, which might take 2-3 days even in an optimal scenario. With only 2 1/2 weeks remaining until the start of a 9 1/2-week season, the weeks are numbered, clearly.
Then again, Padres manager Jayce Tingler still sounds hopeful he'll have Pham back for Opening Day, according to The San Diego Union-Tribune. Pham is one of the players confirmed not to have any symptoms (so far, anyway).
"I have zero concerns Tommy Pham will be ready to play as soon as he comes back," Tingler said. "Right now, he's still feeling well, not showing any symptoms, which is great. My message to him has been — and it's honestly how I feel — I cannot wait, and we cannot wait to get him back in this clubhouse."
For asymptomatic cases like his, Opening Day remains a possibility, but it'll be a tight-rope walk. Helping those chances is that a positive test doesn't reveal exactly where a person is in the recovery process. Some of these guys may already be a week in. I worry about the pitchers more than the hitters since so much of their training is about building up their arms, but they can do it in private if they're feeling well enough. And it's less concerning for a reliever like Smith than it would be for a starting pitcher.
The most concerning of all of these cases, at least based on what we know, is Freeman, who was having body aches, headaches, chills and a high fever early in the weekend, his wife Chelsea said. He was reportedly showing improvement Sunday, but it's impossible to say right now how close he is to returning, which makes a second-round investment appear awfully risky.
The combination of the investment level and the small window almost necessitates a downgrade for a player of his stature. It'll be harder to make up for an early loss than it would be in a normal season. What makes it tricky is that Freeman is so obviously the best first baseman after Cody Bellinger that you want to presume the best — and in shallower leagues where you can navigate his absence a little easier, there may be little downside in doing so — but speaking as someone who has to maintain rankings that apply to all league depths, I'm sliding Freeman behind second-tier options like Matt Olson and Josh Bell (and maybe even Carlos Santana in points leagues).
On the COVID-19 injury list
Several Phillies players — the most notable being ace Aaron Nola, second baseman Scott Kingery and closer Hector Neris — were placed on the COVID-19 IL at the start of the weekend but without confirmation that they themselves tested positive. It's a notable distinction because the IL is also available to players who merely have symptoms or who have come into contact with someone who tested positive.
Neris showed up at Citizens Bank Park on Sunday, and Nola was back to throwing bullpen sessions Monday, so it would appear both are in the clear now. Nola confirmed that his absence was a contact tracing situation and not a case of him testing positive. No word yet on Kingery, but again, hitters won't need as long to get ready.
On David Price opting out
Ian Desmond, Ryan Zimmerman, Mike Leake and Joe Ross basically opted out right away, but others joined them over the weekend, including Braves teammates Nick Markakis and Felix Hernandez. Starting pitcher David Price became the most notable player to do so Saturday, which of course ends any hope for him having a bounce-back season with the Dodgers but also creates a rotation spot for one of several young pitchers hoping to break in.
The consensus feeling is that Ross Stripling will get the first crack. He made the All-Star team as a starter in 2018 and has a 3.22 ERA, 1.17 WHIP and 9.7 K/9 over the past two years. He says he was told back in spring training that he'd be the next man up if something happened to one of the starting five, according to The Orange County Register. He sounds like he's itching to go, too, saying he'll be stretched out enough to throw six innings from Day 1.
The Dodgers have been noncommittal so far, though, with manager David Roberts also citing rookies Dustin May and Tony Gonsolin as possibilities. Usually when a prospect of May's stature makes the kind of impression he did bouncing between the rotation and bullpen down the stretch last year, he's a shoo-in for a rotation spot, so it's a testament to Stripling's production that this is even a contest.
And ultimately, Fantasy Baseballers would be satisfied with any of the three, so long as it's only one. Along those same lines, reducing the rotation surplus benefits the Dodgers' other starting pitchers by creating more length for them. It was never in question for Clayton Kershaw and Walker Buehler, of course, but now even more will be expected from Julio Urias and Alex Wood. The threat of them piggybacking with May and Gonsolin (and thereby never throwing more than 4-5 innings) is lessened with the team's pitching depth now being stretched more. Shoot, Wood has already thrown a three-inning sim game since reporting.
On other availability issues
- Carlos Martinez and Giovanny Gallegos are among several Cardinals pitchers whose returns have been delayed. Martinez was coming back from the Dominican Republic and Gallegos from Mexico, but the team hasn't offered much explanation for their absence. Their fates are tied in more ways than one with Gallegos looking to step into the closer role vacated by Martinez's return to the rotation, but manager Mike Shildt has suggested Martinez's absence could compromise his planned return to starting.
- Eduardo Rodriguez has yet to report because someone close to him tested positive. He'll likely report once his own test comes back negative, but he's missing valuable ramp-up time in the meantime.
- Some players have been missing from Astros camp for unreported reasons. Jose Urquidy is out with what manager Dusty Baker described as "condition that's preventing him from reporting to the field" and Yordan Alvarez for what Baker called "league mandates." It wouldn't be fair to jump to conclusions in either instance, but it also wouldn't be unfair to be a bit more pessimistic about those two given the urgency attached to this season.
- Josh James has also been away for the Astros, but his absence is more of a personal nature. He's expected back soon, but he also hasn't totally secured the fifth spot in the starting rotation. If he would be severely limited in his first couple turns through the rotation anyway, maybe the Astros just stick him in the bullpen to start the year.
- A number of players have suggested they're still on the fence about whether or not they're playing this year — none louder than Sean Doolittle, whose wife is considered high-risk. Buster Posey and, yes, Mike Trout also made headlines with their comments, but their sentiments about needing to see the way things play out are probably more universal.
- Trout does have the additional complication of a child on the way — his wife is due in August — and his departure combined with the additional 2-3 days he'll need to go through intake again could result in him missing more than a week of action. In a season that's only 9 1/2 weeks long, it's something that needs to be factored in, and I'll be dropping him from second to fifth in my Rotisserie rankings, behind Ronald Acuna, Christian Yelich, Cody Bellinger and Mookie Betts, in response.
- Zack Wheeler's wife is also due, but earlier than Trout's — right around the time the season is set to begin, in fact — which means he may miss a couple turns at the start of the season. He did express doubts about returning at all, according to MLB.com, but added, "I feel safe as of now." Clearly, he needs to be downgraded, if only modestly because of the limited talent at his position.
- Top prospect Nate Pearson should be a lock for a rotation spot now that the Blue Jays won't have to safeguard his innings, but GM Ross Atkins is playing coy, saying they'll do what's best for his development. Maybe Atkins is just being careful not to overpromise anything, but with the recent revelation that a team could secure an extra year of service time just by waiting until Week 2 to call up a player, I'm suspecting Pearson won't be available for the first time through the rotation.
- Masahiro Tanaka took a Giancarlo Stanton liner off the head Saturday but was able to walk off the field. He was diagnosed with only a mild concussion and has continued to go about his business at Yankees camp, but he's not back to baseball activities yet as part of the concussion protocol. Concussions can be unpredictable, but as of now, this injury doesn't sound like it should alter his Draft Day status.
- Kirby Yates' arrival to camp was delayed by family diagnosis, but he has begun the intake process and should join the team soon.
- Byron Buxton arrival to camp was delayed by the birth of his child, but he's in Minneapolis now and is also going through the intake process.
On starting pitcher workload
Given the abbreviated three-week ramp-up period leading up to the season, the general presumption was that pitchers wouldn't be able to go as deep, at least for their first turn or two through the rotation, but so many have expressed such optimism in that area that I'm beginning to wonder if it's actually the case. It's not like when pitchers are arriving in February for spring training, after all. Many maintained throwing programs throughout the lockdown, and while those were largely unsupervised, teams seem to be giving them the benefit of the doubt so far.
These pitchers have actually said they'll be ready to throw six innings by their first turn:
Meanwhile, Gerrit Cole and Clayton Kershaw have both already thrown three-inning simulated starts, which suggests they'll be ready to throw six by their first turn. They're probably not alone either.
It doesn't mean teams will let them fully extend themselves from the get-go, but in a 60-game sprint to the playoffs, they're not afforded the same abundance of caution either. If the pitchers are indeed stretched out — and it seems like they will be — then their usage may be closer to normal than we've been imagining.
Others notes (most of them good!)
- The Reds are at least entertaining the idea of having Trevor Bauer take every fourth turn in the rotation, according to MLB.com, which is something he has lobbied for in the past. "I've got that as being 100 percent on the table, especially in the shortened season," said pitching coach Derek Johnson. Preserving Bauer's arm would be less of a concern over a 60-game schedule — one with more off days built into it than the standard 162-game season — and it could create enough of a workload advantage to separate Bauer from other pitchers in Fantasy, especially in points leagues and especially if he bounces back to his 2018 production.
- Mets manager Luis Rojas suggested he might go the by-committee route at closer, which would be the worst possible scenario for Fantasy purposes. Last year's big acquisition, Edwin Diaz, struggled to keep the ball in the yard last year, leading to Seth Lugo finishing up in the role, but Diaz was expected to get first crack at it. It remains the more likely scenario for now, but if he's asked to share the role, it obviously limits him as a potential Fantasy contributor, sort of like we're imagining for Nick Anderson of the Rays.
- Speaking of the Mets, Yoenis Cespedes, who is coming back from multiple surgeries on both legs, got some time in left field in a recent sim game. Rojas downplayed it as part of Cespedes' defensive progression, but the presumption to this point was that he'd be spending most of his time at DH. He has also drawn rave reviews for his hitting so far. "He looks like a monster," teammate Michael Conforto recently said. "To get Yo in the lineup on an everyday basis, that's going to be absolutely incredible for us."
- Aaron Judge was starting in right field in the Yankees' intrasquad game Monday, and optimism continues to grow that he'll be ready for opening day after being limited in spring training by a stress fracture in his rib that dated back to last fall.
- Rich Hill, who is thought to be one of the biggest beneficiaries of the delayed start to the season, looked good in his first bullpen session Friday. The 40-year-old is recovering from elbow surgery that figured to swallow up half his season, but with half the season already used up, he should be good from the start now.
- Carlos Rodon, who is recovering from Tommy John surgery, is kind of in the same boat as Hill. He threw a three-inning sim game on Sunday, tossing 45 pitches, and may be a surprise candidate for the White Sox rotation.
- Griffin Canning, whose availability for 2020 seemed in doubt when he was dealing with chronic changes in his UCL back in spring training, says he "feels like normal" and "10 times better than [he] did in the spring." He's already built up to throw 60 pitches, according to the Los Angeles Times, and showed big swing-and-miss potential as a rookie, putting him back on the sleeper path in Fantasy.
- Cole Hamels is back on track after being sidelined by shoulder irritation in spring training. He says it's just a matter of building up endurance now. He had some trouble in the second half with the Cubs last year, but it may have been related to him coming back from an oblique injury. With the Braves lineup backing him, he could still be a useful Fantasy contributor.
- Yu Darvish, who already has 10 pitch variations, is working to perfect a two-seamer/splitter hybrid that he calls "the supreme." Throwing more splitters and cutters is part of what helped him turn the corner last year, when he delivered a 2.76 ERA, 0.81 WHIP and 13.0 K/9 over his final 13 starts.
- The Nationals are still expecting rookie Carter Kieboom to be their starting third baseman, manager Dave Martinez told MASN Sports. He remains woefully underdrafted in Fantasy as the 327th player off the board on average.
- In an interview with KNBR radio, Giants manager Gabe Kapler offered up Tyler Rogers as a potential candidate to close, praising his ability to generate ground balls and retire both lefties and righties. The side-arming righty, who is the brother of Twins closer Taylor Rogers, had a 1.02 ERA and 0.85 WHIP in 17 appearances for the big club last year. Tony Watson is his main competition, and Kapler added that he may not go the committee route with the two of them. "The one thing I just want to make clear is while if somebody emerges as a surefire closer option for us, a guy that fits the ninth inning, we'll absolutely put that person in that role."
- The Reds are still counting on converted infielder Nick Senzel to be their primary center fielder, according to MLB.com, even following the acquisition of Shogo Akiyama. It would suggest that Senzel's playing time is secure even with some crowding in the Reds outfield. A Jesse Winker/Phillip Ervin may be the plan at DH.