By: Robert Bishop
Back again, and Twins outfielder Byron Buxton was forced from action on Monday with an apparent serious ankle injury. Few players in baseball have had worse luck with injuries in recent years than Buxton, who formerly burst onto the scene as baseball’s consensus top prospect before debuting in 2015. While his big-league career has been a relative disappointment given his lofty prospect status, Buxton is an elite defensive center fielder with excellent speed on the basepaths. As a hitter, he is excellent against left-handed pitching. The Twins have big expectations heading into the defense of a first-place finish in the AL Central. Potentially losing Buxton for any portion of the shortened 60-game slate will be a severe blow to overcome.
Cardinals reliever Jordan Hicks, baseball’s hardest thrower, has opted-out of the 2020 season due to medical concerns. Hicks is a Type-1 diabetic, putting him at higher risk of a severe response to COVID-19, and the potential rewards of playing this season were deemed not worth the risk. Hicks underwent elbow surgery in June last year, so he will likely spend the rest of the year continuing with rehab with the hope of being fully healthy and ready to roll in time for Opening Day in 2021. Already a weakness, St. Louis’s bullpen lacks reliable options outside of Carlos Martinez, who may end up in the team’s starting rotation. Giovanny Gallegos, who quietly posted a 2.31 ERA across 74 innings in 2019, may emerge as the team’s best reliever in 2020.
Veteran left-hander Cole Hamels is battling triceps tendinitis, putting his status for the start of the season up in the air. With Felix Hernandez already deciding to opt-out of the 2020 season, Hamels’ injury will further diminish Atlanta’s rotation depth. On the plus side, few teams have a deeper stable of young arms than Atlanta. Kyle Wright, Sean Newcomb, Bryse Wilson, and Touki Toussaint will vie for starts behind the trio of Mike Soroka, Max Fried, and Mike Foltynewicz. On paper, even with Hamels ailing, Atlanta is the greatest threat to the Los Angeles Dodgers for the claim to being the National League’s best team.
Yankees slugger Aaron Judge’s condition is improving following a tough battle to reach full health. Judge has been struggling through a rib injury that expanded into being neck tightness. Limited to 102 games last season, Judge was a star when healthy, hitting .272/.381/.540 with 27 home runs. A full season of Judge would again put him in the thick of the MVP race, and it would be a massive boon to New York’s push for a World Series bid. Also, working in New York’s favor is the status of fellow slugger Giancarlo Stanton. Stanton appears poised to erase the memory of last year’s disastrous 18-game, injury-plagued sample. Stanton and Judge represent arguably baseball’s best power-hitting duo.
Outfielder Tommy Pham, acquired on the cheap by San Diego this off-season, has been cleared following a positive COVID-19 test. Pham returned to San Diego’s camp and looks to be on pace to be in the Padres’ lineup to start the 2020 season. Coming off a third-consecutive solid season, Pham is perennially overlooked as a star-level outfielder. With the Tampa Bay Rays in 2019, Pham hit .273/.369/.450 with 21 homers and 25 steals. Set to man left field for the Padres, Pham is expected to play a significant role in the franchise’s playoff push. Few teams can match San Diego’s collection of exciting, young talent. The biggest thing working against the Padres is that the team is likely doomed to the NL Wild Card race as San Diego shares a division with the star-studded Los Angeles Dodgers.