By: Robert Bishop
Back again, and with the tentative start of the Major League Baseball season less than a month away, news is beginning to cycle out. The worst news for baseball fans is Baltimore’s quick and necessary decision to place slugger Trey Mancini on the 60-day injured list, essentially ending his season. Mancini underwent surgery in March to remove a malignant tumor from his colon. The additional risk presented by COVID-19 made his participation in the upcoming season an obvious no-go. A breakout star in 2019, Mancini will look to be fully healthy and build on his 35-home run, .291/.364/.535 batting line in 2021.
Baseball’s top prospect, shortstop Wander Franco of the Tampa Bay Rays, was expected to spend the bulk of the 2020 season in the minor leagues. Only 19, Franco is far from a finished product, having spent the latter part of the 2019 season in High-A. Of course, he absolutely dominated during his time there. With no minor league season due to COVID-19, Franco seems poised to be given a chance for semi-regular playing time with the big-league club. Over the weekend, it was confirmed that Franco was part of Tampa Bay’s 60-man player pool. He is likely to spend time on the taxi squad to start the season, but Franco will likely end the season with the playoff-hopeful Rays.
Oakland hurler A.J. Puk was unlikely to be ready for the start of the season in April due to a shoulder strain. Now, thanks to the delay created by the pandemic, Puk is said to be fully recovered and ready to be a significant part of Oakland’s youth-laden—and upside-heavy—rotation. Puk will form an intriguing 1-2 punch with fellow left-hander Jesus Luzardo, one of baseball’s best pitching prospects. The quest for a playoff berth will be difficult for the A’s given the competition in the AL West from the Astros and Angels. Oakland’s playoff hopes may come down to the success of its two potential aces at the top of the rotation.
As teams submit their respective 60-man player pools for the resumed spring training, a few glaring omissions from rosters continue to perplex. The most egregious is the unsigned plight of outfielder Yasiel Puig. Though a disappointment compared to the considerable hype generated during his rookie season, Puig remains a more than competent right fielder—at worst—with the potential to be more. There are more than a few teams that could benefit from Puig’s place on the outfield depth chart. These teams include playoff hopefuls such as the Toronto Blue Jays, St. Louis Cardinals, and Los Angeles Angels.
One way in which Puig fits onto the Cardinals is as a potential DH option against left-handed pitching while also platooning with incumbent starter Dexter Fowler. At present, the Cardinals are slated to use Matt Carpenter as the full-time DH, a move necessitated by Carpenter’s awful 2019 season and the breakout campaign from Tommy Edman. Banking on a rebound season from Carpenter is far from ideal. The same could be said about St. Louis being heavily dependent on a repeat showing from Edman despite his lack of pedigree as a prospect. Adding Puig to the mix would give St. Louis another viable option, either spelling Carpenter at DH or allowing him to handle third base as insurance against a drop-off from Edman.
While the Cardinals lack options at DH, the Los Angeles Dodgers are rich in potential fits. Off-season acquisition Mookie Betts is going to be the full-time right fielder, and A.J. Pollock is likely going to get most of the starts in left. The team will likely use a rotation at center field, allowing the team to maximize its defense. Cody Bellinger may be able to shift back to first base full-time since slugger Max Muncy can now operate as the DH. Or Los Angeles can rest its star hitters by letting them serve at DH while pushing Kike Hernandez or Chris Taylor into the defensive alignment. The options are near limitless for the talent-rich Los Angeles Dodgers. There is a reason the team is the obvious favorites in the National League.