Some new names have joined the Fantasy fray over the past week of spring training action. Here are the 15 development that stood out to me the most:
Latest on Carlos Rodon health scare
A forearm strain is often a precursor to something worse, and that something is often Tommy John surgery. But in Rodon's case, it really does seem like he'll need only a brief shutdown. The strain is in his brachioradialis, a muscle on the outside of the forearm. By contrast, the UCL is on the inside of the elbow. According to MLB.com, Rodon experienced something similar last May and managed to pitch through it, so this shutdown period is in some ways a precaution. "I can go out there and perform, but am I performing at my best and how long am I going to last throughout the season if I continue down this road?" Rodon said. "If it's Oct. 5th or it's the ALDS, I'm taking the ball."
Given this optimistic outlook, Rodon should probably still be drafted among the top 25 starting pitchers. Clarke Schmidt will likely fill in for however many turns Rodon misses.
Latest on Jordan Walker health scare
The darling of spring training was the victim of another scarier-than-it-sounds injury. In Walker's case, it was a shoulder strain that forced him out of Saturday's contest. The Cardinals ruled him day to day, and apparently, they meant it. He was already back to taking batting practice Sunday, according to MLB.com. "They're not overly concerned," Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol said. "If it was up to him, he would keep going, but there was no reason to continue." Walker suffered the injury on a head-first slide. The Cardinals will encourage him to slide feet-first moving forward. He remains in the mix for a roster spot, and his chances are looking pretty good still.
Volpe doing everything he can
Anthony Volpe had another big game out of the leadoff spot Sunday, going 2 for 4 with his second home run. It was a shot deep to the opposite field, as you can see for yourself:
Anthony Volpe CONTINUES to impress with a bomb to right center field! pic.twitter.com/LOIT6k5NXn— Talkin' Yanks (@TalkinYanks) March 12, 2023
"I think it gives you a little peek at how much power he's got to all fields," manger Aaron Boone said. The 21-year-old also has three stolen bases this spring, batting .320 (8 for 25) with a .433 on-base percentage. According to MLB.com, the performance has him in serious contention for the starting shortstop job. Fellow rookie Oswald Peraza, the presumed favorite at the start of camp, is just 3 for 15. Between the two, Volpe might be my preferred choice to draft at this point. Each has power and speed potential, but Volpe has more of both in addition to excellent on-base skills.
Encarnacion-Strand enters the chat
Joey Votto, who's recovering from surgery to repair his left rotator cuff and biceps, may have made his spring debut Sunday, but he's still no guarantee for opening day. Meanwhile, manager David Bell has acknowledged that Christian Encarnacion-Strand has put himself in the running this spring, batting .577 (15 for 26) with four home runs vs. just two strikeouts. Here's a look at one of them, and you'll want to turn the volume up to hear that sweet crack of the bat:
Oh my, Christian Encarnacion-Strand! Where did this ball land? pic.twitter.com/O5WmjUSeQp— MLB (@MLB) March 4, 2023
"He's here and he's getting a lot of opportunity to play. He's playing well," manager David Bell said. "I meant it when I said at the beginning -- if you're here, you have a chance to make the team." Such a comment has more credibility coming from Bell. He's part of the management team that went against convention by naming Jonathan India its starting second baseman two springs ago. India went on to win NL Rookie of the Year.
Even if Votto is ready to go, the DH spot makes it possible for Encarnacion-Strand to make the roster. It's also possible the 23-year-old could see some action at his primary minor-league position, third base. Bell has lauded his "very mature approach," but it's the power that stands out most. In just 122 minor-league games last year, Encarnacion-Strand had 32 homers and 114 RBI. He's still a relative long shot given his limited time in the upper minors, but he's at least worth a late-round flier in leagues where more than 300 players are rostered.
See you later, Andrew Painter
Painter's UCL sprain will shut him down for the next four weeks, according to MLB, and he'll presumably require a lengthy ramp-up period after that. It takes him out of consideration for redraft leagues, but there's good reason to believe he'll avoid Tommy John surgery. The tear is proximal rather than distal, and according to a 2017 Cleveland Clinic study, 17 of 19 pitchers with a partial proximal tear returned without surgery. Famed orthopedist Neal ElAttrache signed off on the rest-and-recovery plan.
"You look at ElAttrache," Painter said. "That guy's one of the best at what he does. For him to come out and say, after getting a good look at it, we're going to rest it -- he's dealt with stuff like this before. I don't think he would recommend that if he wasn't confident it was going to work." It's still a possibility the 19-year-old debuts for the Phillies this year, but again, the wait will be too long for you to stash him away in redraft leagues.
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Remember Matthew Boyd?
The 32-year-old left-hander made a name for himself in Fantasy by recording 238 strikeouts for the Tigers in 2019, but he also had a 4.56 ERA because of the 39 home runs he served up. That was during the worst of the juiced ball era, though, and he was relying almost exclusively on his slider and fastball at the time. Now that he's fully recovered from Tommy John surgery, he's flashing a new and improved changeup, and it's paying off big time. Over his past two starts, he has registered 13 strikeouts in just seven innings, allowing a combined two hits and one walk. His swinging-strike rate is a Jacob deGrom-like 21.9 percent.
What makes the changeup new and improved? According to MLB.com, the one he threw earlier in his career had different wrist action than his slider, making it easier to pick up. But now? "I throw a changeup just like a slider now, but using essentially the smooth part of the baseball to create no drag on one side," he said. "And because of that, I get more movement than I did before." Time to mark down the left-hander as a sleeper again, particularly in leagues where his relief pitcher eligibility is so valuable, such as Head-to-Head points.
Vargas takes bat off his shoulder
Because of a fractured pinky suffered early in camp, Miguel Vargas wasn't allowed to swing a bat for the first six games he played. Not surprisingly, he went 0 for 6 (though impressively enough, with four walks). In three games since he's been allowed to swing a bat again, he's gone 4 for 9 with three doubles, looking every bit like the consistent .300 hitter he was in the minors. It's pretty much a foregone conclusion he'll be the Dodgers second baseman on opening day, and the extra reps he received at the position were worth the ugly stat line. "I'm very excited for Miguel; he's got a great baseball pedigree," said manager Dave Roberts. "I think that this camp, in particular, has been great for him to see what's expected of him on the defensive side."
All hail Chris Sale
So far this spring, Chris Sale has looked like ... Chris Sale, meaning the perennial Cy Young candidate we knew before the tumultuous 2019 that ultimately led to Tommy John surgery. His dominance was particularly on display Saturday, when he needed just 32 pitches to make it through three innings, registering five strikeouts on eight swinging strikes.
Chris Sale's 5Ks. pic.twitter.com/FJsSbSvZS8— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) March 11, 2023
"Really good," said manager Alex Cora. "Used all of his pitches. He was very sound mechanics-wise." Drafters have been reluctant to invest in Sale given how little we've seen of him since that 2019 season, but the injuries that sidelined him last year were more like freak accidents -- a stress fracture in his rib cage and a fractured wrist. If he keeps up the sizzle this spring, he could fly up draft boards sort of like Justin Verlander did a year ago.
Riley Greene's swing looks 'perfect'
The second-year player is off to a good start this spring, batting .320 (8 for 25) with two homers, two doubles and a stolen base, but the exit velocity readings have been just as impressive, according to MLB.com. Greene has hit at least eight balls in excess of 103 mph (Statcast isn't available for every spring training game), and unlike last year, when he too often put the ball on the ground, seven of these were put in the air.
Greene talked earlier this spring about wanting to hit the ball on the ground less, but rather than focusing on launch angle, he's thinking more in terms of backspin and an up-the-middle approach. "In [batting practice] and in my early work, I want to spin the ball correctly. I want true backspin," he said. "I don't want topspin. I don't want a hook. I want true backspin wherever I hit it, because that means I'm staying through the ball, swing is perfect. That's kind of what I look for. I just think homers to left-center field in BP."
Stock up for Jake Fraley
Though he already made an impression by batting .295 (51 for 173) with 11 homers, three steals, a .377 on-base percentage and a .903 OPS in 53 games after returning from a knee injury last summer, Fraley is aiming to be a big part of manager David Bell's plans this year. He has already hit two home runs and stolen three bases this spring, batting .375 (9 for 24). "He's really improving on a daily basis as an overall baseball player," manager David Bell said. "He's just in a really good place."
As impressive as the power/speed combo is the on-base ability. Fittingly, Bell has batted Fraley no lower than fourth in any game this spring and has used him in the leadoff spot twice. The 27-year-old is beginning to gain traction as a sleeper in five-outfielder leagues.
Bradish brandishes new weapons
Kyle Bradish turned heads down the stretch last season with a 2.76 ERA over his final eight starts, including four in which he allowed just two hits over seven-plus innings. The only drawback was his 7.5 K/9 rate during that stretch. Already, he's doing a better job missing bats this spring, striking out eight over four innings in his latest start Friday for the Orioles.
Most impressive is that he did it without having a great feel for his best pitch, the slider, according to MASN. "Slider just wasn't really there," he said. "I probably threw two or three good ones out of 10, so back to work on that one." Instead, he threw about 30 percent changeups, which was a pitch he barely featured last year. If his arsenal is expanding, who knows to what heights Bradish can soar?
New rotation candidate for Braves
With Mike Soroka still sidelined by a hamstring injury and Ian Anderson and Bryce Elder trading off uneven performances, Jared Shuster has emerged as a dark-horse candidate for the fifth starter job, according to MLB.com. The team's first round-pick in 2020, Shuster continued his strong spring with another fine outing Sunday, striking out five while allowing just a solo home run in 3 2/3 innings. While the left-hander doesn't throw particularly hard, his fastball plays up because of his changeup. Still, it was his improving slider that took center stage Sunday, generating seven of his 13 whiffs (on only 57 pitches total). "If you're ready, you're ready," manager Brian Snitker said. "It's very impressive what he's doing."
Brendan Donovan powers up
It was defense, contact hitting and on-base ability that secured Donovan a third-place finish in NL Rookie of the Year voting last year, but according to MLB.com, the 26-year-old is looking to enhance his game with the most valuable contribution of all: power. He already has four home runs this spring for the Cardinals after hitting five all of last season, and apparently, it's no accident. He worked with Marucci Clubhouse sports facility in Baton Rouge, La., this offseason to become a more efficient hitter. Among the findings: he can handle a heavier bat with a "hockey puck" knob that allows him to rip his hands through the zone faster.
"I'm not really swinging harder; I'm just learning to use my body more efficiently," said Donovan. "Nothing changes with my swing; it's just that my body is loading better so that I can swing the bat faster." Power for Donovan -- who's eligible at second base, third base and the outfield -- would be a complete game-changer, and while you don't want to overvalue spring stats, his explanation makes him someone to consider late in drafts.
Bailey Ober has Twins reconsidering
After initially saying they wouldn't go with a six-man rotation to begin the year, the Twins are rethinking that stance, according to MLB.com. Partly, it's to preserve the health of pitchers like Kenta Maeda, Tyler Mahle and Sonny Gray, but partly, it's because of how good Ober has looked. The 27-year-old, who had a 3.21 ERA, 1.05 WHIP and 8.2 K/9 in 11 starts last season, has been right around 93 mph with his fastball through two starts this spring, up from an average of 91.5 last season. Better extension is partly to credit.
Ober has excellent control and a fly-ball profile that should play well in a post-juiced ball league. This development makes him another potential late-round sleeper target.
Scott McGough makes his case
Though Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo won't commit to any one closer heading into this season, it's fair to say McGough has been the most impressive of the presumptive candidates so far this spring. The 33-year-old has thrown 4 2/3 no-hit innings, striking out six and walking one. He spent the past four years in Japan, including the past two as a closer. "He has the ability to mix his pitches and throw them all for strikes and the ability to understand when he needs a swing-and-miss moment and when he needs to bury a pitch," Lovullo said. "He's making some adjustments here, some very good quality adjustments, but he's pounding the zone and he's following good game plans."
- Joe Musgrove, still recovering from a fractured big toe, has already resumed throwing and may only miss one turn through the rotation, targeting April 6 for his debut.
- Tony Gonsolin's recovery from a sprained ankle figures to be "a slow process," according to Dave Roberts. He'll begin building up again toward the end of spring training.
- The tendinitis Kodai Senga is experiencing at the base of index finger is likely the result of gripping the slicker American ball too tight, according to GM Billy Eppler. Manager Buck Showalter said Senga would probably pitch if it was the regular season.
- Mitch Haniger will be shut down for about a week with a mild oblique strain, but he's optimistic he'll be ready for opening day.
- Garrett Mitchell, who was removed from Thursday's game with a hamstring injury, is only expected to miss about a week.
- Fernando Tatis ended his 0-for-16 skid to begin spring training with two hits, including a double, Saturday. He also stole his second base.
- Jason Heyward is a "safe bet" to make opening day roster, according to Dave Roberts, and could spend a lot of time in center field.
- The Marlins will give newly signed Yuli Gurriel reps at second and third base in addition to first base.
- Justin Dirden could make the opening day roster with the injury to Michael Brantley. The 25-year-old is having a big spring after slashing .302/.384/.558 with 24 homers and 12 steals between Double- and Triple-A last year.
- Jake Burger, competing for a reserve role this spring, is up to four home runs after working to elevate the ball more this offseason.
Notable stat lines
Jeffrey Springs, SP, Rays
5.1 IP, 0 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 9 K
Oscar Colas, OF, White Sox
.400 BA (30 AB), 2 HR, 1 SB, 1 BB, 1 K
Trevor Rogers, SP, Marlins
9 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 0 BB, 11 K
Gabriel Moreno, C, Diamondbacks
.412 BA (17 AB), 2 HR, 2 BB, 2 K
Hayden Wesneski, SP, Cubs
8.2 IP, 5 H, 0 ER, 2 BB, 11 K
Darick Hall, DH, Phillies
.346 BA (26 AB), 4 HR, 3 BB, 5 K