The big story of the winter was the Astros' sign-stealing scandal. Now that camps have opened we can turn the page to some new topics, one of which is just as unpleasant as cheating. The big story early in spring training is the injury monster running rampant in both Florida and Arizona. Some players are dealing with minor aches and pains, some are already done for the season. Stud hitters like Giancarlo Stanton, Eugenio Suarez and Aaron Judge are questionable for the start of the campaign but it is rare for a hitter to miss an entire season. It is much more common for pitchers - in fact just one bad pitch can end a career. On that ominous note let's take a look at a few stellar pitchers who are in the news. These early-round pitchers are presenting fantasy owners with the same familiar quandary we faced a year ago.
Sale to Get a Late Start
The Red Sox announced that their ace starter Chris Sale will begin the season on the injured list. Manager Ron Roenicke insisted the reason is Sale's bout with pneumonia rather than any setback with his left elbow. The skinny southpaw was shut down in mid-August last year because of pain in his pitching elbow. He received platelet-rich plasma injections and rested the elbow through the off-season rather than resorting to surgery. He came down with pneumonia just before pitchers and catchers reported to camp. The illness kept him from throwing in late January and well into February, so he will need extra time to build up his strength and stamina. He was able to throw a bullpen session on Wednesday and is expected to pitch in Grapefruit League games in March. Fantasy owners would like to see him air it out in a few games before they spend an early-round pick for him on draft day. Missing out on the opportunity to quell any injury worries is more of a concern to potential fantasy owners than a handful of early April starts. A healthy Chris Sale is worth a second round pick in fantasy drafts even if he misses the first couple weeks of the season, especially in head-to-head leagues where the key to success is having a healthy team come playoff time. Fantasy owners would be advised to pass on him in early drafts. Keep an eye on his progress and maybe jump on him in late March drafts if he proves his wing is healthy before then.
Sale's 6-11 record and 4.40 ERA last year were the worst of his stellar career. On the other hand his 2.93 xFIP was right in line with his 2.91 career average. His 218:37 strikeout-to-walk ratio was one of the best of his career. The problem he faced was the home run explosion, which of course affected a lot of pitchers in a record-setting year for longballs. His 19.5 percent home run per fly ball rate was nearly double his career mark. Don't let last year's high ERA scare you away from grabbing Sale if he proves his arm is healthy before your draft.
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Let History Be Your Guide
James Paxton (back) could resume throwing next weekend. The Yankee ace felt leg pain early in the off-season and the source was traced to a cyst on his spine. He had surgery to remove the cyst in early February and it was thought he would need 3-4 months to recuperate, a timetable that could keep him out of action until the All-Star break. He appears to be way ahead of that schedule now however and will be able to start throwing in the coming days. If he avoids any further setbacks it is feasible that he could be ready to return to the Yankees in late April or early May. Paxton pitched well last year in his first go-round with the Yankees -- he went 15-6 with a 3.82 ERA in 29 starts.
The Yankees really need Paxton to come back quickly considering they have already lost Luis Severino for the season. Severino underwent Tommy John surgery on Thursday and won't be ready to take the mound again until halfway through the 2021 season. The quandary fantasy owners are facing with Sale and Paxton right now is eerily similar to what they were facing with Clayton Kershaw and Severino at this point last year. Kershaw's status was up in the air due to a chronic back injury and Severino was diagnosed with a sore rotator cuff in mid-February 2019. Both pitchers fell out of the first few rounds in fantasy drafts because of the uncertainty over their health. Fantasy owners who took a shot on Kershaw snared a huge profit as the Dodger ace stayed healthy all year and went 16-5 with a 3.03 ERA. Those who invested in Severino lost their shirts when Severino missed nearly the entire season with the shoulder injury and a severe lat strain. Those are the stark realities we face when we spend a draft pick on Chris Sale and James Paxton in the next few weeks. Sometimes a pitcher quickly recovers from an injury and shows no ill effects in a great season, and sometimes the injury lingers far longer than expected and washes out the entire season. Drafting Sale or Paxton is like flipping a coin with one gold side and one coal side.
Halo in Jeopardy
Angels starter Griffin Canning has been sent for an MRI on his right elbow. He pitched two shutout innings against the Dodgers on Wednesday but his elbow started barking soon after. The up-and-coming young hurler was solid last year as a rookie. The 23-year-old went 5-6 with a 4.58 ERA but displayed signs of being a special talent that could develop into a potential ace down the road. He struck out 96 batters against 30 walks in 90 innings pitched. He struggled to keep the ball in the yard at times and ended up allowing 14 homers in 17 starts and one relief appearance. Canning has a rotation slot locked up if he stays healthy. If Canning isn't ready to go for Opening Day it would create an opportunity for Jose Suarez or Patrick Sandoval to snare a place in the rotation, at least until Shohei Ohtani is ready to take the mound.
National League Quick Hits: Nolan Arenado clobbered a solo homer in the Rockies’ loss to the Athletics, it was his first bomb of the spring. ... Jordan Yamamoto didn't allow a run over three innings with four strikeouts against the Mets. ... Adam Eaton homered, doubled and walked while scoring three runs against the Astros. ... Tyler Beede worked two scoreless innings against the Mariners in a 5-4 win... Former Cy Young Award winner Rick Porcello, now with the Mets, hurled two scoreless innings against the Marlins. ... Reds prospect catcher Tyler Stephenson went 2-for-2 with a home run and four RBI to help smash the Diamondbacks 8-0. ... Tony Gonsolin recorded three strikeouts over two scoreless innings in a Cactus League start against the Indians. He has an outside shot at a rotation slot with the Dodgers, although he more likely to be a stud reliever again this year. ... Enrique Hernandez socked a three-run homer to power the Dodgers to a 6-5 victory over the Indians. He will play primarily against left-handed pitchers this year. ... Trevor Bauer spun two scoreless innings in a spring training start against the Diamondbacks. ... Madison Bumgarner allowed one run while punching out four batters in two innings during a loss to the Reds. ... Mets outfielder Brandon Nimmo (heart) has been cleared to resume baseball-related activities. ... Matt Adams was scratched from the lineup on Thursday against the Marlins. ... Brewers shortstop Orlando Arcia went 2-for-3 and ripped a three-run homer in a 4-2 spring training win over the Royals. ... Max Scherzer allowed two runs - one earned - over three innings with five strikeouts and one walk against the Astros. ... Brewers starter Brett Anderson turned in two scoreless frames in a start against the Royals. ... Phillies second baseman Scott Kingery homered and knocked in three runs in the Phillies' 12-5 takedown of the Red Sox. ... Nick Pivetta fanned five while allowing only one run in 2 2/3 innings against the Red Sox. The Phillies starter was a trendy pick in drafts last spring but quickly fizzled into a dud. ... Phillies prospect outfielder Simon Muzziotti went 3-for-3 with two RBI against the Red Sox. ... Braves starter Felix Hernandez held the Cardinals to one run over 2 2/3 innings and struck out four in the Braves' 3-1 victory. ... Pirates closer Keone Kela gave up three runs in an inning to take a loss to the Orioles. ... Jimmy Nelson came out of his Wednesday bullpen session with lower body discomfort and has been shut down.
American League Quick Hits: Edwin Encarnacion was scratched from the White Sox lineup on Thursday due to back stiffness. ... Mariners prospect starter Logan Gilbert drew the start against the Giants and turned in two shutout innings. He could make his big league debut this summer. ... Shed Long laced a double, stole a base and scored two runs in a loss to the Giants. He could be the Mariners' starting second baseman this year instead of Dee Gordon. ... Athletics youngster A.J. Puk fired two scoreless innings in a Cactus League start against the Rockies. The rookie is battling for a rotation slot in Athletics camp. ... Chad Pinder went 2-for-3 with a solo homer to lead the Athletics to a 5-2 victory over the Rockies. Pinder is in a four-way battle for the starting job at second base. ... Matt Andriese started against the Padres and fired two scoreless innings. He is likely slated for a long relief role in his first season on Anaheim. ... Astros starter Cristian Javier struck out four and allowed one run over two innings on Thursday in his Grapefruit League start against the Nationals. ... Salvador Perez laced two singles in two at-bats against the Brewers. He has not yet played behind the plate in spring action, serving only as a designated hitter thus far. ... White Sox starter Ross Detwiler hurled two scoreless frames in his Cactus League debut against the Mariners. ... Mariners outfielder Jake Fraley went 1-for-2 with a solo homer and two RBI against the Cubs. He is a deep sleeper pick in early drafts. ... White Sox catcher/DH Zack Collins slugged a two-run homer to lead the White Sox to a 6-5 win over a Mariners. ... Rougned Odor went 3-for-3 with a grand slam to propel the Rangers to a 13-1 blowout victory over the Cubs. ... Aaron Judge (shoulder) still hasn't progressed enough to face live batting practice. ... Red Sox Rule 5 pick Jonathan Arauz hit a three-run homer off the Phillies' Cole Irvin. ... Rays shortstop Willy Adames went 2-for-2 and hit a two-run homer Thursday as a Rays split-squad beat the Tigers 6-3. ... Jordan Zimmermann was tagged for four runs in 2 2/3 innings Thursday in a loss to the Rays. ... Orioles prospect first baseman Ryan Mountcastle delivered a homer and a pair of doubles in his three at-bats as the Orioles crushed the Pirates 13-0. He hit .312/.344/.527 on his way to being named International League MVP last year. ... Tommy Milone pitched two scoreless innings and struck out three against the Pirates. ... Chris Davis is 4-for-5 with two homers and three walks this spring. ... Jake Cave homered and doubled twice in three at-bats Thursday as the Twins and Blue Jays played to a 3-3 tie. ... Tyler Wade hit a two-run homer and stole a pair of bases as the Yankees topped a Rays split-squad 7-1. ... J.A. Happ pitched three innings of one-run ball against the Rays. ... Rays third baseman Daniel Robertson went 2-for-3 with a double on Thursday and is 5-for-9 with a pair of walks this spring. ... Emmanuel Clase has been diagnosed with an upper-back strain and is expected to miss 8-12 weeks. The reliever was the key piece of the deal for the Indians in the Corey Kluber trade with the Rangers.