MLB Quick Takes on Jack Flaherty, Justin Verlander's Injury, Joey Bart and More
With spring training in full swing and Opening Day on March 26, it's a busy and exciting time for Major League Baseball.
Let's go over some of the current top stories in the game, with quick takes on Houston Astros ace Justin Verlander's injury situation, St. Louis Cardinals right-hander Jack Flaherty and how he's been hurt by MLB's salary system, the demotion of top San Francisco Giants catching prospect Joey Bart and more.
Michael Kopech Is Back and Throwing 100mph, Which Could Push ChiSox over the Top
The Chicago White Sox are on the edge of contention after a protracted rebuild. They play in a relatively weak American League Central division and have talent up and down the roster.
Their chances were boosted with the news that right-hander Michael Kopech is back and throwing triple-digit cheddar.
After missing 18 months because of Tommy John surgery, Kopech returned to action in the Cactus League on Tuesday and threw 11 pitches. Six of them reached 100 mph.
"I felt really good. I was able to command my fastball after those first two, and aside from that, just go out there and get an inning under my belt," Kopech told reporters.
The 23-year-old still needs to work his way back. This is only a first step. But he has ace-level potential and clearly hasn't lost his stuff.
Ian Happ Is Primed to Be the Chicago Cubs' Everyday Center Fielder
Ian Happ's career has been something of a roller coaster.
He finished eighth in National League Rookie of the Year voting for the Chicago Cubs in 2017 while posting an .842 OPS in 115 games. The following season, his OPS dipped to .761, and by 2019 he was demoted to Triple-A Iowa after a poor spring showing and ended up playing just 58 big league games.
Now, he could become the Cubs' everyday center fielder.
So far this spring, Happ is hitting .478 with a 1.326 OPS. Exhibition stats should always be taken with a grain of salt, but those numbers stand out.
Albert Almora Jr. is in the mix for the center field gig, but right now Happ looks like the guy who'll get the bulk of starts at the position.
Cubs manager David Ross told reporters Happ was a "man on a mission" this spring.
Prized Giants Prospect Joey Bart's Demotion Was Inevitable and Temporary
Joey Bart did everything he needed to do this spring to justify his status as the San Francisco Giants' top prospect.
The 23-year-old backstop hit .438 with two home runs in 19 plate appearances and looked major league-ready in nearly every respect.
Yet he was sent to minor league camp Tuesday. A dude by the name of Buster Posey still squats behind the dish for the Giants, who obviously want Bart to get as many reps as possible while he waits for his turn.
That turn could, and should, come soon. Posey is entering his age-33 season and posted a full-season career-low .688 OPS in 2019. He's a veteran leader and a Giants icon, but his best days are behind him.
At some point soon, Bart will supplant him, and Posey will become a highly paid backup and/or first baseman.
Cardinals Righty Jack Flaherty's Contract Situation Highlights Deep Unfairness
For a second straight year, right-hander Jack Flaherty and the St. Louis Cardinals failed to agree on a contract.
As Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch explained: "Per team policy, he'll receive a $10,000 reduction in salary as penalty. But the team did stretch their formula to give him a $10,000 bonus for a fourth-place finish in the Cy Young Award voting. Those offset, so he received a $604,500 salary for 2020."
Flaherty posted a 2.75 ERA and averaged 10.6 strikeouts per nine innings last season with the Cards. He's emerging as one of the top arms in the game.
And yet he's getting relative pennies. For a sport that features multiple executives who claim to want to pay players for what they will do and not what they have done, this highlights the broken nature of baseball's pay structure. It should be addressed when the current collective bargaining agreement expires in 2021.
Justin Verlander's Injury Could Expose the Astros' Thin Rotation
To state the painfully obvious: the Houston Astros don't need any more problems. But they have another one.
Ace right-hander Justin Verlander is sidelined with a lat strain and told reporters it "would probably take a miracle" for him to be ready by Opening Day.
Needless to say, that's bad news. Verlander is the reigning American League Cy Young Award winner and one of the best pitchers in baseball.
He's also the No. 1 starter in a relatively thin Astros rotation that lost co-ace Gerrit Cole to free agency. Zack Greinke is a solid No. 2, but after that it's Lance McCullers Jr., who missed last season to Tommy John surgery, and Josh James and Jose Urquidy—neither has eclipsed 150 innings pitched in an MLB season.
If Verlander's injury lingers into the season, the 'Stros could be in real trouble beyond the sign-stealing scandal.