(CBSNewYork/CBS Local) — With MLB Opening Day just a little over three weeks away, lineups around the league are starting to take shape. Most teams have a good sense of how they’d like their rosters to look in a perfect world. But injuries and recovery timetables have a way of changing those ideal lineups.
The New York Yankees are all too familiar with the effects of injuries after the 2019 season. The Bronx Bombers managed 103 wins and an American League East title despite missing many of their top players for stretches of the season. The 2020 campaign, with Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton already ailing and Luis Severino sidelined, may present similar obstacles. And they aren’t the only potential contender destined to be missing key components come March 26.
Injuries or not, the Baltimore Orioles don’t figure to be in the playoff hunt this season. But the early success of long-struggling slugger Chris Davis may point to brighter days ahead. The two-time MLB home run leader has been among the league’s worst hitters the past two seasons. But he’s opened Spring Training this season on a tear.
Tim Tebow’s unlikely run with the New York Mets organization continues with his third straight non-roster invite to Spring Training. His showing last season virtually guarantees that he’ll start the season in AAA. But the continuing curiosity surrounding the former Heisman Trophy winner also leaves the door open a crack for a roster appearance later in the season.
This week’s Spring Training Report looks at a few lingering injuries around the league, Davis’ Spring Training success and Tebow’s ongoing quest to be a Major League Met.
The Yankees suffered through an injury-plagued 2019 season, with 25 players finding themselves on the injury list at one point or another. High-profile players like outfielder Aaron Judge, starting pitcher Luis Severino and outfielder/designated hitter Giancarlo Stanton were among them. And yet, as one of only four teams to top 100 wins, the Yankees took the AL East by seven games.
Only a couple weeks into Spring Training, and some are wondering if the injury bug has bitten the team again. Severino underwent Tommy John surgery at the end of February, ending his season before it even started. Stanton is dealing with a calf strain that could keep him out of the lineup on opening day. And now Judge is suffering from issues with his pectoral muscle, though the initial MRI was negative. There are others.
Oblique and shoulder injuries limited Judge in 2019. He missed significant time in 2018 as well. The Yankees slugger was runner-up in the AL MVP voting in 2017, his last complete season, and could compete again this season if healthy. But health is already proving to be a big ‘if’ for the 2017 AL Rookie of the Year, not to mention his team.
The Philadelphia Phillies, hoping to climb the National League East standings, will be relying on a former MVP themselves. Andrew McCutchen will share an outfield with Bryce Harper when he fully recovers from the torn left ACL he suffered last June. He opened Spring Training with no limitations but won’t be ready in late March, when the Phillies open their season in Miami against the Marlins.
The injury was unusual for McCutchen, the 2013 NL MVP with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He played in at least 150 games per season in eight of his first nine seasons in the league. The outfielder was hitting .259 with 10 homers and 29 RBIs from the leadoff spot when he suffered the injury last season. The Phillies hope to have him back on the field before the end of April.
The Boston Red Sox won’t have pitcher Chris Sale for the start of the season either, though he also looks to be on track for an April return. Sale is recovering from elbow inflammation that kept him off the mound since last August. (He did avoid Tommy John surgery for the injury that ended the ace’s inconsistent 2019 campaign.) Over the weekend, the lefty threw live batting practice, his first time pitching against actual hitters in over six months.
Lucky for him the setback wasn’t elbow-related; a bout of pneumonia back in February delayed his recovery. Sale, who was the team’s Opening Day starter the last two seasons, will not start for the team in Toronto against the Blue Jays on March 26.
Chris Davis Hitting The Ball
Has Chris Davis actually turned things around? Early Spring Training results suggest he might have.
The Orioles first-baseman has been among the worst hitters in MLB over the last two seasons. In 2018, he hit a dreadful .168 over the course of 470 at-bats, with 192 strikeouts. To be fair, he also hit 16 home runs and drove in 49 RBI. In 2019, he hit .179 over 307 at-bats, with 139 strikeouts to go along with his 12 home runs and 36 RBI. His extended slump included an 0-54 stretch that spanned the end of the 2018 season and the beginning of the 2019 season. The former slugger, who is still owed $93 million on his contract, actually contemplated retirement rather than continue his struggles.
Davis added 25 pounds in the offseason to restore some of his former power, and it seems to be working so far. Through five games and eight at-bats (14 plate appearances), he’s hitting .625 with three home runs, six RBI and only one strikeout. His hot start should be kept in perspective, as this is only Spring Training, and pitchers are still working through their own issues as well. Still it’s still a promising development for the long-struggling Oriole.
Tim Tebow Still At It
Mets prospect Tim Tebow, the former NFL quarterback and TV announcer, continues to follow his baseball dreams. Tebow, now 32 years old, is entering his fourth professional baseball season in the Mets organization and is one of the team’s non-roster invitees for the third straight Spring Training.
Last season, in AAA, he hit an underwhelming .163 over 239 at-bats, with four home runs, 19 RBI and 98 strikeouts. He fared better the previous season, in AA, where he hit a surprising .273 over 298 at-bats, with six home runs, 36 RBI and 103 strikeouts. Before his time with the Mets organization, Tebow had not played baseball since high school.
Tebow will likely start this season back in AAA. And the odds remain low that he will crack the majors, given his age, though he did recently hit his first-ever spring training home run. But anything is possible with the Mets, who may find themselves out of the playoff race later in the summer and in dire need of a publicity (and attendance) boost.