Major League Baseball is aiming to return to a sense of normalcy in 2021, and the effort has proven successful through the first couple weeks of spring training, but it could be a while before Minor League Baseball can even attempt the same.
As first reported Tuesday night by ESPN’s Jeff Passan, the Triple-A season, originally scheduled to begin on April 6, has now been delayed until the first week of May. That’s around the same scheduled start date as High-A and Double-A affiliates.
The reasoning behind the delay mostly comes down to travel. Minor league teams move across the country on commercial airlines, as opposed to major league clubs who charter private flights. The hope is that baseball as a whole, both MLB and MiLB, can get a large majority of players and staff members vaccinated within the next two months to mitigate some of the concerns about individuals within the sport contracting or even possibly spreading COVID-19 across the expansive system of travel required to stage these games.
A notable element of Passan’s report is that alternate training sites will be returning for the 2021 season and could even remain part of the sport after the Triple-A schedule commences. Passan explains:
“The reason for rekindling sites -- which serve as training facilities for players who are likeliest to be called up to the major leagues -- is the proximity to teams' home stadiums and easier oversight of testing and coronavirus protocols.”
Look for teams to take advantage of that proximity in switching out arms and cycling through bench players, much like we saw last season. There’s also a theory that we might have to push back the estimated-time-of-arrivals on some top prospects, though this change in the Triple-A plan shouldn’t really have any bearing on service time -- the core issue when it comes to those ETAs. Jarred Kelenic should open at the Mariners’ alternate training site, getting in intrasquad work for a still-likely late-April debut.
But, yeah, in case you didn’t notice ... we’re not quite through this pandemic saga.
Calhoun Set For Knee Surgery
The start of spring training always arrives as a warm embrace, right up until the moment that the inevitable early-camp injury news begins to stream through our NBC Sports EDGE player news page.
The big injury headline from Tuesday came from Diamondbacks camp in Arizona, where it was announced that outfielder Kole Calhoun will undergo surgery on Wednesday morning to repair a medial meniscus tear in his right knee. That type of procedure usually comes with 4-6 weeks of rest and rehabilitation, so Calhoun can safely be ruled out for Opening Day, though the good news is that he might not be out the entire first month.
Calhoun apparently dealt with right knee discomfort off and on throughout his offseason workout program and was sent for an MRI on Tuesday morning so that the team could get a full picture of the issue. That picture wasn’t pretty, obviously, but it certainly could have been … less pretty.
The now 33-year-old scored a two-year, $16 million free agent contract from the Diamondbacks last winter and went on to post a strong .864 OPS with 16 home runs and 40 RBI over 54 games during the condensed 2020 campaign. His early-season absence this year, and the lack of Triple-A games through the first week of May, could maybe increase the odds that Daulton Varsho cracks the Opening Day roster. With his power-speed profile and positional eligibility at both catcher and the outfield, Varsho deserves more attention than he’s been given in fantasy drafts up to this point. And there’s already been some attention given -- 184.0 current Yahoo ADP.
Hicks Already Hitting 102?
Cardinals pitching coach Mike Maddux offered a promising update Tuesday on the status of potential closer Jordan Hicks, telling the in-game FOX Sports Midwest broadcast that the 24-year-old right-hander touched 102 mph with his fastball in a workout on Monday. Hicks has yet to make his 2021 Grapefruit League debut, but that could happen sometime later this week.
It’s a pointed update for those who have been selecting Giovanny Gallegos ahead of Hicks in early fantasy drafts. Gallegos can seem like the safer option because he actually pitched in 2020 and has tremendous numbers since joining the Cardinals in the Luke Voit trade from mid-2018: 2.49 ERA, 0.819 WHIP, 116 strikeouts in 90 1/3 innings. But the Cardinals could very well roll with Hicks as the primary closer this year if he’s healthy -- and he is now more than 20 months removed from Tommy John surgery.
Hicks, who’s 24 years old and doesn’t turn 25 until September, earned 20 saves for the Cardinals between 2018-2019 with good-not-great overall numbers but some of the nastiest stuff you’ll see in an era of nasty stuff.
Alex Reyes is a name to watch for saves too, but hopefully he’ll get another shot at the rotation with how sharp he’s looked so far. Also relevant here is that idea that Cardinals manager Mike Shildt might ultimately mix and match like he did amid a bunch of COVID chaos in 2020. It’s an underrated overall bullpen with lots of high-leverage options.
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National League Quick Hits: Nationals hitting coach Kevin Long said Tuesday that Carter Kieboom underwent LASIK surgery during the offseason … Freddie Freeman (paternity) expects to make his spring debut on Friday … Dinelson Lamet (biceps) threw 15 pitches in a live batting practice on Tuesday … Juan Soto (foot) is expected to be in the Nationals' lineup on Wednesday … Fernando Tatis Jr. clobbered a grand slam and reached base three times Tuesday in the Padres' Cactus League win over the Diamondbacks … Walker Buehler tossed two scoreless frames in his Cactus League debut Tuesday night against the Giants … Nationals hitting coach Kevin Long said Tuesday that it would be "huge" if Victor Robles would take the leadoff spot this season … Miles Mikolas (elbow) is scheduled to throw his next side session this weekend … Nick Castellanos was scratched from the Reds' Cactus League lineup on Tuesday night due to a sore right middle finger … Brandon Woodruff (back) threw a successful bullpen session Tuesday in Brewers camp … Jesse Winker (hip) said Tuesday that his absence from the Reds' Cactus League lineup remains precautionary … Marcus Stroman was perfect for two innings in the Mets' Grapefruit League defeat of the Astros on Tuesday … Ian Anderson got through two scoreless innings Tuesday in the Braves’ Grapefruit League win over the Twins … Adam Wainwright threw a pair of perfect innings Tuesday against the Marlins in his spring debut … Jose Castillo exited a simulated game Tuesday in Padres camp due to forearm tightness … Cubs re-signed reliever Ryan Tepera to a one-year, $800,000 contract.
American League Quick Hits: Yankees manager Aaron Boone said Tuesday that he envisions Aaron Hicks as his No. 3 hitter to begin the season … Adalberto Mondesi has yet to make his spring debut after being hit in the foot by a pitch before camp … Shohei Ohtani will make his first Cactus League appearance on the mound on Friday … Lucas Giolito yielded a solo homer but struck out four over two frames Tuesday in his Cactus League debut against the Rangers … Gio Urshela (elbow) will likely make his spring debut on Thursday … Xander Bogaerts (shoulder) took 30 swings off a tee on Tuesday … Gleyber Torres went 2-for-2 from the third spot in the order Tuesday as the Yankees topped the Orioles in Grapefruit League play … J.A. Happ (COVID-19) was cleared to join Twins camp on Tuesday … Joey Gallo hit his second home run in as many Cactus League games on Tuesday versus the White Sox … Casey Mize threw a pair of hitless innings and struck out three Tuesday in the Tigers’ Grapefruit League win over the Pirates … Lourdes Gurriel Jr. homered from the cleanup spot Tuesday as the Blue Jays beat the Phillies … John Means got five outs and was charged with one run Tuesday in his Grapefruit League start against the Yankees … Andrew Vaughn belted a three-run home run Tuesday in Cactus League action versus the Rangers … Cristian Javier worked two scoreless innings in relief Tuesday against the Mets … Kohei Arihara struggled in his first Cactus League outing Tuesday, yielding three runs on five hits and a walk against the White Sox … Chris Davis is day-to-day in Orioles camp with a lower back strain … Gerardo Reyes has been diagnosed with a UCL sprain in his right elbow.