MLB Injuries That'll Make Biggest Impact on Opening Day and Beyond
Spring training is a time of great optimism around the MLB landscape, with a new season bringing a fresh start and renewed excitement for all 30 teams.
However, it's not all sunshine and rainbows.
There are also the inevitable injuries teams are forced to contend with while they attempt to break camp with the best possible talent on their rosters.
Ahead we've highlighted some of the more notable injuries around the league, with a breakdown of when the injured player is expected to return and who might be in line to replace him in the interim.
Let's get started.
SP Griffin Canning, Los Angeles Angels
Despite a busy offseason highlighted by the Anthony Rendon signing, the starting rotation remains a significant question mark for the Los Angeles Angels.
After L.A. finished 29th in the majors with a 5.64 starters ERA, it's fair to wonder if the additions of Dylan Bundy and Julio Teheran were enough to address the team's biggest weakness.
Now the loss of Griffin Canning raises further questions.
The 23-year-old posted a 4.58 ERA and 1.22 WHIP with 96 strikeouts in 90.1 innings as a rookie last season, and his top-prospect pedigree gives him one of the highest ceilings in the organization.
However, he's sidelined with an elbow injury, and his status remains unclear after preliminary tests.
Mark Feinsand of MLB.com wrote Sunday: "An MRI exam earlier this week revealed chronic changes to his ulnar collateral ligament and acute joint irritation, but the results were inconclusive with regard to the exact nature of the injury."
That leaves the likes of Patrick Sandoval, Matt Andriese, Jose Suarez, Jaime Barria, Dillon Peters competing to fill the final two spots in the rotation behind Bundy, Teheran and Andrew Heaney.
Barria (9.0 IP, 6 H, 0 ER, 5 K), Suarez (8.0 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 9 K) and Sandoval (2.0 IP, 0 H, 0 ER, 2 K) are all off to excellent starts this spring, while Andriese (5.0 IP, 6 H, 1 ER, 6 K) and Peters (7.1 IP, 8 H, 1 ER, 6 K) are also making strong cases.
It will be a compelling situation to watch for a team with legitimate aspirations of contention.
SP A.J. Puk, Oakland Athletics
The Oakland Athletics received some promising news regarding the health of left-hander A.J. Puk earlier this week.
A trip to orthopedist Dr. Neal ElAttrache revealed no structural damage in his sore left shoulder, according to ESPN.com, and he is now viewed as day-to-day.
While he is not expected to miss any significant time, don't be surprised if the Athletics decide to play it safe with one of their top prospects.
The 24-year-old did not make his 2019 debut until June while he continued his recovery from Tommy John surgery, and he finally made his MLB debut Aug. 21, posting a 3.18 ERA with 13 strikeouts in 11.1 innings down the stretch.
In his last full season in the minors, Puk piled up 184 strikeouts in 125 innings between High-A and Double-A, and he has the stuff to be a top-of-the-rotation presence in Oakland.
Roster Resource projects the following rotation for the Athletics:
- RHP Mike Fiers
- LHP Sean Manaea
- RHP Frankie Montas
- LHP Jesus Luzardo
- RHP Chris Bassitt
Daniel Gossett (4.0 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 4 K) is also an option on the 40-man roster and is off to a strong start this spring.
That leaves the A's with enough options to put Puk on a short leash to start the year, but he should still be able to make a significant impact in 2020.
SP Cole Hamels, Atlanta Braves
The Atlanta Braves gave Cole Hamels a one-year, $18 million contract during the offseason in hopes of adding a proven veteran presence to the starting rotation.
The 36-year-old had a 3.81 ERA with 143 strikeouts in 141.2 innings last season, and he has a wealth of postseason experience with a 3.41 ERA and 1.10 WHIP in 100.1 frames in October.
However, it might be a while before he makes his Braves debut.
A left shoulder strain sidelined him before he made his first appearance of the spring, and he was ruled out for Opening Day on March 26 all the way back in mid-February, according to Mark Bowman of MLB.com.
That opens the door for non-roster invitee Felix Hernandez to potentially break camp with a spot in the rotation. The 33-year-old has posted a 2.08 ERA with eight strikeouts in 8.2 innings this spring.
With Mike Soroka, Max Fried, Mike Foltynewicz and Sean Newcomb essentially locked into the first four spots on the starting staff, prospects Kyle Wright (8.1 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 12 K) and Patrick Weigel (5.1 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 5 K) currently look like the biggest competition to King Felix for a roster spot.
Once Hamels returns to action, the team could have a tough decision to make, assuming everyone is healthy and pitching well. That's a good problem to have for a Braves team eyeing a third straight National League East title.
SP Mike Clevinger, Cleveland Indians
With Corey Kluber traded to the Texas Rangers and Mike Clevinger expected to start the 2020 campaign on the injured list following knee surgery to repair a partially torn meniscus, the Cleveland Indians rotation will have a decidedly different look to start the season.
Shane Bieber now looks like the favorite to earn the Opening Day nod March 26, while Carlos Carrasco is gearing up for a full season after he was sidelined with leukemia for part of 2019.
The current favorites to fill the other three spots in the rotation are the young trio of Aaron Civale, Zach Plesac and Adam Plutko, through prospects Logan Allen (4.1 IP, 3 H, 2 ER, 5 K) and Scott Moss (5.2 IP, 3 H, 2 ER, 8 K) are also in the mix.
Mandy Bell of MLB.com provided the following update on Clevinger recently:
"Indians manager Terry Francona said on Monday that Mike Clevinger's next step in his rehab process will be to advance from throwing on flat ground to simulating pitching on the mound without a ball to get used to landing downhill on his surgically repaired knee. But the Tribe's skipper may not have anticipated that Clevinger would be ready to take that step just 24 hours later.
"Clevinger underwent surgery to repair the partially torn meniscus in his left knee on Feb. 14 and began a throwing program on Friday, exactly two weeks later. Over the weekend, he extended his flat-ground catch sessions out to 75 feet and pushed himself to 150 feet on Tuesday afternoon. Because of how well it went, he moved over to the mound to start doing his simulations."
The 29-year-old had a 2.71 ERA with 169 strikeouts in 126 innings last season, and the sooner he's back in the mix, the better as the Indians look to chase down the Minnesota Twins in the American League Central.
SP Blake Snell, Tampa Bay Rays
Despite failing to match his 2018 AL Cy Young-winning level of production, Blake Snell remained a quality starter for the Tampa Bay Rays last season.
The 27-year-old posted a 4.29 ERA that was backed by a more promising 3.32 FIP, and his 147 strikeouts in 107 innings were good for a career-high 12.4 K/9.
His low inning total was the result of undergoing arthroscopic surgery in July to remove loose bodies from his left elbow, and that same elbow has been an issue once again this spring.
Following his spring debut Feb. 26, he felt soreness in the same area of his elbow, and he eventually received a cortisone shot. Now he's slowly working his way back up to speed.
Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times recently offered the following update on his status:
"The plan is for Snell, who said the spot where he had bone chips removed last July felt 'super sore' in the days after his Feb. 26 spring debut, to play catch at increasing distances Wednesday and Thursday, and if all is well to throw off the mound as soon as Friday. If that also goes well he could return to game action Sunday or Monday, and potentially miss only the first week of the regular season."
In his absence, the Rays have Charlie Morton, Tyler Glasnow, Yonny Chirinos and Ryan Yarbrough, who are likely to fill the first four spots in the rotation.
For the fifth spot, Trevor Richards looks like the leading candidate if the team opts for a traditional starter, but they could instead wind up going with the opener approach that has worked so well in recent seasons.
SP Chris Sale, Boston Red Sox
As they look to rebound from a disappointing 2019 season, the Boston Red Sox could be without ace Chris Sale for the start of the year.
The seven-time All-Star is dealing with a flexor strain in his left elbow, an injury that can often be a precursor to Tommy John surgery.
However, surgeons Dr. James Andrews and Dr. Neal ElAttrache both looked his MRI, and neither recommended surgery at this time, according to ESPN.com.
He has been shut down for a week, at which point he will resume throwing and hope there are no further setbacks.
The news could have obviously been significantly worse for the Red Sox, but it's still a troubling development for one of the most important players on the roster.
Injuries have limited Sale to 158 and 147.1 innings the past two seasons, respectively, and the Red Sox are counting on him to front a starting rotation that is full of question marks.
"This is about as tough of a situation as I've ever been in. I was able to get through most of my career doing what I love to do and helping my team win, and for sure, over the last year and up to this point, I've done nothing but fall flat on my face," the 30-year-old lefty told reporters.
If Sale starts the season on the injured list, non-roster invitee Brian Johnson (6.1 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 8 K) could land the No. 5 starter job.
SPs Luis Severino and James Paxton, New York Yankees
Another year, another crowded injury list for the New York Yankees.
First, left-hander James Paxton underwent a microscopic lumbar discectomy. His timetable to return was pegged at three-to-four months, according to George A. King lll of the New York Post.
Then it was revealed in late February that Luis Severino needed Tommy John surgery and would be out for the entirety of the 2020 season.
Good thing the Yankees won the Gerrit Cole sweepstakes.
The prized free-agent signing will now front a rotation that also includes Masahiro Tanaka, J.A. Happ and two glaring question marks.
A healthy Jordan Montgomery (7.0 IP, 7 H, 5 ER, 1 BB, 11 K) is a solid bet to fill one of the available spots, while Jonathan Loaisiga (5.0 IP, 0 H, 0 ER, 9 K) has been nothing short of perfect so far this spring.
Other in-house options include long reliever Luis Cessa, 2019 opener Chad Green and non-roster invitee Nick Tropeano.
Regardless of who breaks camp with a rotation spot, someone needs to step up if the Yankees are going to live up to lofty expectations in 2020.
OFs Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton, New York Yankees
The pitching staff is not the only place the injury bug has reared its ugly head once again for the Yankees.
Giancarlo Stanton was limited to just 18 games last season, while Aaron Judge played in 102. They are both watching from the sidelines once again this spring.
Judge has been dealing with right shoulder and right pectoral soreness throughout spring training, and it was finally revealed Friday that he has a stress fracture in his rib, according to Rustin Dodd of The Athletic.
Meanwhile, Stanton suffered a Grade 1 calf strain and is unlikely to be ready for the start of the season, according to Joel Sherman of the New York Post.
With fellow Aaron Hicks also sidelined as he continues to recover from Tommy John surgery, the Yankees are set to enter the season with Mike Tauchman, Brett Gardner and Clint Frazier as the starting outfielders.
Non-roster invitee Rosell Herrera is also playing his way into the mix, going 9-for-16 with three doubles and one triple in the early going this spring.
As for the DH spot, a healthy Miguel Andujar looks like the obvious answer given his defensive shortcomings, while whoever is not starting at first base between Luke Voit and Mike Ford could also be an option.
The Yankees thrived with a next-man-up mentality last year, and it looks like they will be forced to employ a similar approach early in 2020.
All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference unless otherwise noted.