Coming off a breakout showing during the truncated 2020 season and subsequent postseason, Astros left-hander Framber Valdez appeared ready to reach new heights this year. Fantasy players have certainly been on board with that notion, as Valdez has an ADP (average draft position) of 97.38 (35th pitcher off the board) on NFC and 108.4 (41st pitcher off the board) in Yahoo drafts. Unfortunately, that momentum came crashing down Wednesday.
Astros general manager James Click announced that X-rays showed Valdez has a fractured left ring finger, which he suffered when he fielded a comebacker during Tuesday’s game against the Mets. The southpaw actually stayed in the game to face five more batters and said afterwards that he was fine, so the news came as a major shock. More tests are needed to determine the exact timetable, but obviously Opening Day isn’t realistic.
It’s a tough break for the Astros, who will already be without Justin Verlander this season as he recovers from Tommy John surgery. Valdez was being looked at as a crucial piece after posting a 3.57 ERA and 76/16 K/BB ratio over 70 2/3 innings during the regular season and a 1.88 ERA over 24 innings (three starts, one relief appearance) during the postseason. Not only was he a workhorse, he was the team’s best pitcher.
Names like Jake Odorizzi, Aníbal Sánchez, and Rick Porcello remain available via free agency, but the Astros could look to internal options if it looks like Valdez will not miss significant time. Luis Garcia, Brandon Bielak, and one-time top prospect Forrest Whitley are the most likely alternatives in the pipeline.
Oh My, Ohtani
Is any player boosting their stock more this spring than Shohei Ohtani? It’s early yet, but it’s hard to argue against it. After reportedly reaching 100 mph during a recent batting practice session, Ohtani slugged a massive home run against Rangers prospect Hans Crouse in Cactus League action on Wednesday. It was a 468-foot blast which scaled the batting eye beyond the center field fence. What have you accomplished this week?
Of course, Ohtani was limited to just 1 2/3 innings on the mound last season due to a flexor strain, but he also struggled at the plate. In 44 games, he slashed just .190/.291/.366 with seven home runs in 175 plate appearances. The 26-year-old utilized an extra pull-heavy approach and saw his contract rate collapse while making less in the way of hard contact. After regularly sitting among the league leaders in average exit velocity from 2018-2019, he was at 89.1 mph last season. That was in the 55th percentile among qualified hitters.
Besides the randomness of the unprecedented 2020 season, it was fair wonder whether the flexor strain had an impact on Ohtani at the plate. However, we recently learned another explanation, as Ohtani disclosed that his knee wasn’t fully up to strength after September 2019 surgery to address the bipartite patella in his left knee. One side effect was that he struggled to keep his back foot planted at the plate, which is something he focused on during the offseason as well as reexamining his diet and training methods during a visit to Driveline Baseball.
It’s fair to expect better results at the plate this season, but the big question is what he’s going to look like on the mound in Cactus League action. We’re expected to get our first look on Friday.
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Boone Takes Medical Leave of Absence from Yankees
Scary news out of Yankees camp on Wednesday, as manager Aaron Boone took a leave of absence from the team in order to undergo a procedure for a pacemaker to address a heart condition.
Surgery took place Wednesday night at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Tampa and went as expected. Boone was said to be in good spirits, according to the Yankees. Bench coach Carlos Mendoza will serve as manager on an interim basis, though Boone said he was hoping to return to work “in the next several days.” In the time of COVID-19, he’ll have to go through all the proper protocols before being cleared.
Anything involving the heart is a serious matter, but Boone tried his best to reassure his staff and team on Wednesday morning. He actually participated in a staff Zoom call from his hospital bed and recorded a video for the players to see. Wednesday’s news brought well wishes from all over the baseball world and we’ll happily join the chorus. Get well, Aaron. See you in the dugout again soon.
American League Quick Hits: As for the Yankees on the field, Corey Kluber struck out three over two perfect innings in Grapefruit League action Wednesday while Gary Sanchez hit his second homer of the spring … Adalberto Mondesi (foot) took batting practice, ran the bases, and participated in fielding drills Wednesday in Royals’ camp … Yordan Alvarez (knee) took on-field batting practice against a pitching machine on Wednesday, though it’s unclear when he’ll be ready for game action … Austin Meadows stayed hot Wednesday with his second homer of the spring … Nelson Cruz socked a three-run homer in his spring debut on Wednesday, reminding us to underestimate him at our own peril … Matt Chapman (hip) is expected to begin playing defense in Cactus League games this coming Friday … White Sox manager Tony La Russa said Wednesday that Yasmani Grandal is “improving” after twisting his right knee during a drill last week … Nick Madrigal (shoulder) is on track to make his Cactus League debut next Monday … Rays top prospect Wander Franco hit a rocket of a home run beyond the right field fence Wednesday against the Pirates … Red Sox projected first baseman Bobby Dalbec launched his second and third homers of the spring in a blowout win over the Twins on Wednesday … Austin Hays went 2-for-3 with a two-run homer and a stolen base against the Braves on Wednesday as he tries to hold off Cedric Mullins for center field duties in Baltimore … Hyun-Jin Ryu will make his Grapefruit League debut on Friday … Mariners prospect outfielder Jarred Kelenic rocked his first homer of the spring Wednesday against the Cubs as he continues to state his case to break camp with the team … Sean Murphy (lung) has begun doing hitting and catching work in Athletics’ camp … James Paxton will throw in a simulated game this week rather than pitch in Cactus League action … Twins closer candidate Alex Colome was knocked around for four runs in his appearance against the Red Sox on Wednesday.
National League Quick Hits: Mets ace Jacob deGrom is scheduled to make his Grapefruit League debut on Saturday night against the Astros … J.T. Realmuto is scheduled for a follow-up MRI on his fractured right thumb later this week … In his Cactus League and Padres debut, Blake Snell struck out one batter in a clean inning against the Brewers on Wednesday … Brewers manager Craig Counsell said Wednesday that Devin Williams won’t appear in a Cactus League game until March 17 as the team tries to ease him into action after his shoulder issue late last season … Rebound candidate and new Nationals first baseman Josh Bell slugged a homer against the Marlins on Wednesday … Victor Robles exited Wednesday’s Grapefruit League after he was hit in the left forearm by a pitch, but he’s expected to be fine … In some encouraging news, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts indicated Wednesday that Gavin Lux is under consideration to play against both right-handers and left-handers this season … Kole Calhoun underwent surgery Wednesday to repair a medial meniscus tear in his right knee, perhaps increasing the likelihood that Daulton Varsho makes the Opening Day roster … David Price could make his Cactus League debut early next week … New Nationals left-hander Jon Lester flew to New York to have his thyroid gland removed, though it may not rule him out for the start of the season … Diamondbacks utility player Tim Locastro has been diagnosed with COVID-19 … Antonio Senzatela is likely to miss two Cactus League starts with a right hamstring strain … Craig Mish of SportsGrid reports that the Marlins have signed veteran left-hander Gio Gonzalez to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training … The Cubs signed infielder/outfielder Eric Sogard to a minor league deal with an invitation to spring training.