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NBA injury report: Return timeline, updates, impact for Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jusuf Nurkic, Jrue Holiday, other injured stars

NBA injury report: Return timeline, updates, impact for Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jusuf Nurkic, Jrue Holiday, other injured stars

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Players are being shut down left and right as the regular season is almost over and, for teams that are not battling for playoff position, there is little sense in making anyone play through significant pain. The most interesting injury situation around the league, though, involves an MVP candidate and the team with the league’s best record. Milwaukee managed to avoid major injuries for the vast majority of the season, and now, in addition to the various things afflicting Malcolm Brogdon, Nikola Mirotic, Pau Gasol and Donte DiVincenzo, superstar forward Giannis Antetokounmpo’s gimpy ankle has become a concern.

Antetokounmpo has downplayed the injury and insisted that he doesn’t want to miss time, but Milwaukee has just six games left and has essentially locked up the top spot in the East. (It has a four-game lead on Toronto, plus the tiebreaker.) The Bucks must assess the risk of Antetokounmpo doing further damage to his ankle and weigh that against the possibility of going into the playoffs short on rhythm.

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The other big piece of news on this subject is that the Blazers will be worse on both ends after Jusuf Nurkic’s devastating knee injury. Already without CJ McCollum, Portland is in danger of falling from third in the West if it can’t overcome this significant setback.

We have every single NBA injury chronicled here and updated often to let you know who is in or out each night and beyond. But this page will look at the most important injuries in the NBA and how they are affecting teams and players moving forward.

NBA’s biggest injuries

March 30 update: The MVP candidate sprained his right ankle on April 17 against the Philadelphia 76ers and it hasn’t been quite right since then, even after missing a couple of games. On Thursday, Antetokounmpo left the Bucks’ game against the Los Angeles Clippers with about eight minutes left in the fourth quarter and didn’t return. He told reporters that he doesn’t want to sit out again, but Milwaukee has to decide how to deal with this situation with six games left in the regular season. After the run Antetokounmpo and the Bucks have had, it would be a shame if he was anything less than 100 percent healthy when the postseason starts. (The Brooklyn Nets will be particularly interested in what happens here, as they face Milwaukee twice in the next week and are fighting for their playoff lives.)

Holiday had season-ending surgery on Tuesday “to repair a core muscle injury,” the Pelicans announced, and now it’s worth wondering whether he has played his final game for the team. His great individual season was wasted, and, when New Orleans trades Anthony Davis, it will have to seriously consider how Holiday, who turns 29 in June, fits into its future. Two months ago, Holiday said that Davis was “90 percent of the reason that I stayed” when he could have left in free agency.

Nurkic had a career year, but it ended in ugly, cruel fashion on Monday. In the second overtime against Brooklyn — a game in which he had 34 points, 16 rebounds, five assists, four blocks and two steals — he sustained compound fractures to his left tibia and fibula. He had surgery right away and, while there is no official timetable for his return, it is clear that he will miss at least a significant portion of next season. This is crushing for the Blazers, who will have to rely on Zach Collins, Enes Kanter and Meyers Leonard in his place and are still missing guard CJ McCollum.

The second-year big man had a strange moment against Toronto on Tuesday, having to leave the game because of an accelerated heart rate and fatigue. The next day, the Bulls shut him down for the rest of the season, classifying it as a precautionary measure as they do more tests to figure out the root cause of the episode. Markkanen told reporters it wasn’t scary and isn’t worried about it, but Chicago is not going to take any risks.

On Saturday, LaVine will miss his fifth straight game due to a thigh injury. Given where the Bulls are in the standings, this doesn’t seem like a big deal, but the guard was scoring with absurd efficiency since the All-Star break, averaging 26.7 points on 48.7 percent shooting and making 46.4 percent of his 3s on 5.8 attempts per game.

Porter, out for Saturday’s game against the Raptors, extends his streak of absences to six games because of a shoulder injury. On Wednesday, he seemed surprised that reporters asked if he was done for the season, unaware that the team has a history of shutting players down with minor injuries this time of year. He has still not been ruled out for the year, but it is unclear when he will return for the Bulls.

The Lakers guard had been playing through pain for some time, and it’s sort of crazy that it took this long for the issue to be addressed in a serious way — on Thursday, he had what the Lakers called an “ultrasonic debridement procedure” on his right patellar tendon, which will sideline him for 12 weeks. From the Los Angeles Times: “The procedure Hart underwent involves a small surgical instrument being inserted into the knee, with the help of an ultrasound machine. It then delivers ultrasonic waves that help remove tissue that is causing problems in the knee’s healing process.” Hart’s efficiency dipped after December, but at his best this season he looked like a helpful role player whose skills could fit in just about anywhere.

It is fair to assume that Exum will miss the rest of the season, as the guard had surgery to repair a partially torn right patellar tendon on Wednesday. Still just 23, Exum has suffered an alarming amount of injuries since being drafted No. 5 overall in 2014 and playing in all 82 games as a rookie. He appeared in 42 games this season, the first of a three-year, $33 million deal. If the season ended now, the Jazz would play the Rockets in the playoffs again, and, if that matchup comes to pass, they would surely love to have Exum available to pester James Harden. Alas.

The 38-year-old hasn’t played since March 10, and a left ankle injury is expected to sideline him until late April, per ESPN. With only three appearances since signing in Milwaukee, it is unclear if coach Mike Budenholzer will feel comfortable using him in the playoffs. Even if he had remained healthy, his place in the rotation would have been an open question, as Brook Lopez figures to get the lion’s share of the center minutes and D.J. Wilson is the far more mobile backup big man.

Bucks just keep getting hurt. On Tuesday, the team announced that DiVincenzo would get a “biologic injection” to address the bilateral heel bursitis that has affected him during his rookie season. Milwaukee ruled the guard out for the rest of the season as he recovers.

Gibson is doubtful for Saturday’s game, and if he sits out, it will be his fifth straight absence as he deals with a calf injury. Without him, Gorgui Dieng has been reinserted into the Wolves’ regular rotation.

The Knicks announced Friday that the 20-year-old Ntilikina, who has only played in two games in the last two months, will miss the rest of the season. He reaggravated his strained groin muscle in his brief appearance against the Clippers last Sunday, per the team. It has been widely speculated that the Knicks do not feel attached to the last pick of the Phil Jackson era and will try to trade him in the offseason. When coach David Fizdale was directly asked whether or not Ntilikina was part of their plans, he said, “Yeah. He’s on our roster, isn’t he?”

March 22 update: On CBS Sports HQ on Thursday, McCollum said that he is “taking it slow” and, while he would “love to return as soon as possible,” he and the Blazers need to “be smart and make sure that the muscle is completely healed.” This is purposely vague when it comes to a timeline, but it jibes with what he told reporters earlier this week: “There’s nothing I can physically do to make it heal faster besides eating properly, allowing my body to rest and recover and trying to strengthen some of the muscles around it, but the muscle is going to heal at its own rate.” He is scheduled to be re-examined on Sunday, based on Portland’s announcement when he was diagnosed with a popliteus strain in his left knee. Without him, the Blazers won at home against the Pacers and Mavericks, and they will host Detroit and Brooklyn, two teams fighting for playoff position in the East, before a four-game road trip next week. As they themselves try to hold on to home-court advantage in the West, it would be helpful if Seth Curry keeps playing like he did against Dallas — the reserve guard scored 20 points on 8-for-16 shooting.

The Bucks were having a charmed season injury-wise and otherwise until the news that Brogdon had a plantar fascia tear in his right foot. The timeline, per ESPN, is six to eight weeks, which means he’ll miss the rest of the regular season and at least some of the first round. Brogdon had been playing through pain in his foot, but it wasn’t a big story because he downplayed it, didn’t miss much time and was having a career season. This isn’t that big a deal if he comes back in the second round healthier than he was before, but there’s no guarantee that will be the case. If Brogdon isn’t quite 100 percent, it will be a bummer, partially because he wasn’t himself in last year’s playoffs. In his absence, Mike Budenholzer has supersized the starting lineup, replacing him with Nikola Mirotic (more on him in a second) and, later, Ersan Ilyasova. Milwaukee has also signed backup point guard Tim Frazier, who will likely be out of the rotation in the postseason unless something happens to George Hill.

I guess Milwaukee was due for some bad injury luck, but this is rough. Mirotic has a sprained and (slightly) fractured left thumb, and, according to The Athletic, will be out for two to four weeks. Fortunately, the Bucks were playing the best basketball in the league before Mirotic’s arrival, and, even if he misses a full four weeks, he will be back in the first round. On this particular team, Mirotic is a luxury, not a core component, so the trade the front office made to acquire him will be worth it as long as he is healthy and helpful later in the postseason. Without him, there will be more minutes for Ilyasova, D.J. Wilson and perhaps even Pau Gasol, although the 38-year-old has been inactive because of an ankle injury in recent games.

On March 4, Timberwolves coach Ryan Saunders told reporters that Covington would make his long-awaited return “hopefully this week.” That did not happen, and, on Thursday, the team announced that the forward — and the next two names on this list — will miss the remainder of the season. Per the press release: “Covington had made improvements in his recovery and had progressed to on-court activities, in preparation to rejoin the team. However, he recently suffered a setback which will require further treatment before returning to the court.” At this point, with Minnesota out of the playoff race, this isn’t all that surprising, but it’s definitely not what anyone expected when he got hurt months ago. In the 22 games Covington played for the Wolves, they went 12-10 and had a plus-3.0 net rating with him on the court.

Teague initially hurt his left foot in December, and he has been out for Minnesota’s last five games because he reaggravated it. The team announced that his foot will be evaluated again in three weeks, which is when the season ends. Tyus Jones has been starting at point guard in Teague’s place, and, in 13 games as a starter this season, Jones has averaged 10.2 points, 7.2 assists and 1.9 steals in 33.5 minutes.

Rose had an MRI on Tuesday, per the Wolves, and it revealed a chip fracture and a loose body in his elbow. Like Teague, he hasn’t played since March 10 and is done for the season. The 30-year-old will be a free agent this summer, and it’ll be interesting to see how prospective suitors will weigh his shocking first-half-of-the-season production against the fact that he has shot 12.5 percent from 3-point range in the 19 games he’s played since January.

The upcoming restricted free agent will have “minor” surgery on his left thumb and miss the rest of the season, according to Woj, but otherwise things have been going quite well for him. Oubre has averaged 20.2 points, 5.7 rebounds in 28.0 minutes since the All-Star break, starting for a Suns team that is young but has an intriguing collection of young talent. Oubre himself is still just 23, and if he didn’t remain in Phoenix, it would be a surprise.

Before the Mavericks’ game in Sacramento on Thursday, Rick Carlisle told reporters they will shut Hardaway down for the season because of a stress reaction in his left tibia. Hardaway has played 19 games since Dallas acquired him from New York, averaging 15.5 points in 29.3 minutes with a true shooting percentage of just 51.4 percent. Justin Jackson replaced him in the starting lineup against the Kings.

Last Wednesday in Atlanta, Miles scored 33 points on 11-for-16 shooting, including 8-for-12 from deep, his best individual performance in some time. In the Grizzlies’ next game, against the Wizards, Miles had to leave the court after 10 minutes because of a sore left foot. An MRI revealed a stress reaction, so, sadly, his season is over.

In same game against Washington, Bradley suffered a right shin contusion. The team announced that he would be re-evaluated in a week, and did not rule him out for the season. The Grizzlies’ playoff dreams were dashed long ago, but, as the Memphis Commercial Appeal pointed out, these injuries are hitting them at a significant time if you are invested in what happens with their first-round pick, which is top-eight protected. Memphis is seventh in the tank standings; if the front office wants the pick to convey so that it can get on with the difficult business of rebuilding, then it needs some wins. If it would rather increase its odds of getting a core player near the top of this year’s draft, then it might as well lose.

Vonleh left New York’s game in San Antonio last week with a right ankle injury, and he has missed three games since. He is listed as questionable for the Knicks’ game against Denver on Friday. In his absence, David Fizdale decided to go small. Mario Hezonja stepped into the starting lineup and blocked LeBron James’ potential game-winner at Madison Square Garden last weekend, with rookie Kevin Knox shifting to power forward.

After months of rehab in Los Angeles, Fultz is now in Orlando, but he is not practicing with the Magic. He did watch them practice on Tuesday, though, and said that it felt “unbelievable” to be around the team, per The Athletic. About his injury, Fultz said this: “I’m definitely getting better each and every day. That’s what a lot of people didn’t know about TOS: It’s very tricky, and the pain is different for different people. But that’s what I’m working on now in rehab: just getting better each and every day. And the progression that I’m making is very good.” There is no expectation that he will play down the stretch.

March 15 update: Porzingis is not expected to play this season, but he’s back on the court. During Wednesday’s practice, he played five-on-five for the first time since tearing his ACL, and then told reporters that, while he feels “healthy” and “great” and is “antsy” to play, he and the Mavs are “going to take our time,” per Tim Cato of The Athletic. He also said he started playing video games because he was bored and desperately missed “competition, talking some smack, and being out there and kicking some ass.” His status is a bit confusing, but, as much as he’s talked about wanting to return, it doesn’t seem like there’s much motivation for this to happen this season. Dallas increases its odds of keeping its pick every time it loses and, according to The Athletic, Porzingis’ camp is the side that determined he’d sit out all year.

As you can see in this video from NBA TV, Oladipo is walking and shooting set shots again, and that represents real progress as he rehabilitates a ruptured quad tendon. While he’s been out, the Pacers have been much steadier than expected — they still have a half-game lead on Philadelphia for the third spot in the East, and they have gone 12-10 since his injury. Two impressive stats: Indiana has a plus-3.5 net rating with Oladipo off the court this season, and its bench has the league’s best aggregate net rating, per This is the basis for Nate McMillan’s Coach of the Year candidacy, and it is a complete reversal of last season, when the Pacers tended to fall apart without their star. The two craziest parts of this story are that they have done this despite losing their first four games since the injury, and they have done this despite Tyreke Evans‘ wildly inefficient season.

Warren has missed the Suns‘ last 20 games, and Suns coach Igor Kokoskov said Monday that he didn’t know whether it was time to rule him out for the season. Kokoskov has said that Warren’s ankle injury is a “chronic thing” and an issue of pain tolerance. If there is a bright side to his extended absence, it is that it has opened up playing time for Phoenix’s small army of young forwards: Kelly Oubre, Josh Jackson, Mikal Bridges and Dragan Bender. Kokoskov has had Bender, who was in and out of the rotation earlier this season, in the starting lineup for the past couple of weeks, including the Suns’ upset victories over Golden State and Milwaukee.

Mbah a Moute’s sore left knee has been something of a mystery, and, with less than a month remaining in the regular season, we have no real clarity on what’s going on. “I don’t know if we’re going to have him for this season or not,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said Tuesday, per Dan Woike of the Los Angeles Times, and that’s a bummer considering how effective he was when healthy last season. The Clippers have a ton of depth, and integrating Mbah a Moute would be tricky, but if he were to return to full strength, he could certainly make them a better, more versatile defensive team.

March 9 update: It’s not official, but the Lakers expect to rule Ball out for the rest of the season on Saturday, per ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne, who tweeted that, as of the other night, he wasn’t running or jumping yet. This is not great news if you’d like to see Los Angeles at least play respectable basketball in its final 17 games, as his absence has made the team much less competent defensively and less likely to generate transition opportunities. Ball is still a divisive young player, but, particularly given how poorly the Lakers have played with Rajon Rondo on the court, it is screamingly obvious that they’ve missed him. Anyone who cares about this team has wondered what their record might be if he had stayed healthy.

This one is official: Ingram is out for the season with a Deep Venous Thrombosis — a blood clot — in his arm. Even though the Lakers know that they’re not going to make the playoffs, this is rough news. Ingram had been playing some of the best basketball of his career before his shoulder started bothering him, and it would have been ideal to let him use this last part of the season to work on expanding his game. The big question here is what that solid stretch will mean in the big picture — has he raised his trade value around the league or changed how Los Angeles’ sees him fitting next to LeBron James?

Feb. 28 update: Jackson has had a phenomenal rookie season, but it might be over. While the Grizzlies have not ruled him out for the season, J.B. Bickerstaff said Wednesday that he “wouldn’t expect to see him anytime soon” and “he’s not even at a place where he’s on the court at all right now,” adding that “we’ve talked about it and we’ll be patient.” Memphis looks totally different than it did at the beginning of the season, with Jonas Valanciunas starting at center, Joakim Noah backing him up and both Bruno Caboclo and Ivan Rabb getting starts at power forward recently. Fun fact:

The Wizards are still mum on a timtable for Howard, who started light workouts a week ago and hasn’t played since Nov. 18. Recovery from spinal surgery does not tend to be fast, so it would be best to keep your expectations low for the 33-year-old. Thomas Bryant has started at center for most of his absence, but coach Scott Brooks recently decided to bring him off the bench and start Bobby Portis at the 5 spot. Washington is having a forgettable season and likely wishes it signed somebody else instead of Howard last summer, but at 25-36 it is somehow only three games out of the playoffs in the East.

Feb. 10 update: Wall’s latest injury is so upsetting that I don’t want to say much about it. It’ll be about a year before he can play again, and this changed the direction of the franchise — owner Ted Leonsis went back on his word and dumped Otto Porter on trade deadline day. By the time Wall returns, the roster could look completely different. One positive to come out of this, though: He’s going to get his degree from Kentucky.

Jan. 26 update: As if the Bulls‘ season needed to get more depressing. Carter had surgery on his injured thumb last week, which means he will be out for 8-12 weeks. In all likelihood, this means his (mostly great) rookie season is over. Carter’s averages of 10.3 points, 7.0 rebounds and 1.3 blocks in 25.2 minutes don’t quite capture how promising he has looked — the guy is 19 years old and plays with the maturity of a seasoned veteran. Chicago is a total mess, and the team is a significantly less interesting total mess without Carter on the court.

Jan. 18 update: Rick Carlisle called the 34-year-old’s season-ending injury “gut-wrenching,” and this is especially true because, despite his age, Barea had continued to run the pick-and-roll on the second unit this season the same way Mavericks fans have come to expect. Dallas is fortunate enough to have plenty of guard depth — even without Dennis Smith Jr., whose status with the team appears uncertain, rookies Luka Doncic and Jalen Brunson are more than capable of running the show — but this is still a real bummer. Barea means a lot to Dallas, and, before tearing his Achilles tendon, he said he wants to play at least two more seasons.

Jan. 11 update: Brooks’ season is over after just 18 games — he ruptured a ligament in his right big toe last Saturday in San Antonio, and had to have season-ending surgery. This is obviously a disappointing development for a player who had an encouraging rookie season and just hasn’t been able to stay on the floor this year.

Dec. 29 update: Reporters watched Roberson’s post-practice work on Nov. 29 and came away impressed, and Thunder coach Billy Donovan said he has “been on a really good track,” per The Oklahoman‘s Erik Horne. A day later, the team announced he’d suffered a setback in his recovery, as an MRI revealed an avulsion fracture, and he would be re-evaluated in six weeks. Oklahoma City deserves all sorts of credit for having the best defense in the whole league without Roberson, who is a Defensive Player of the Year-caliber stopper when healthy.

Jones had surgery on Wednesday, and he might be out for the remainder of the season. The Warriors announced he will “begin the rehab process” six weeks after the surgery. Jones had started in 22 of his 24 games this season, but only averaged 17.4 minutes — Golden State takes a platoon approach to the center position. If he’s done for the year, Golden State will rely on Kevon Looney and Jordan Bell in addition to the still-sidelined Cousins as its traditional 5s. Of course, its best look in the playoffs will probably remain Green playing “center” with Kevin Durant next to him in the frontcourt.

Nov. 29 update: The mysterious Porter continues to be out indefinitely despite saying he was pain-free in the summer. The 20-year-old was only available to the Nuggets because he had two back surgeries, so he should be seen as a long-term, low-risk, high-upside play. There is no meaningful analysis to be done here, but Denver would love to look brilliant for taking him at No. 14 in the draft if/when he is healthy down the road.

This sucks so much for both him and the Spurs — Murray is the their best defender, and they have been 23rd in defensive rating. He was supposed to take the leap this season, but that went out the window when he crumpled to the floor in a preseason game. On offense, San Antonio has relied on DeMar DeRozan’s playmaking even more than it planned to, and Bryn Forbes has stepped into a starting role at point guard. We will soon find out if Lonnie Walker can earn a role in the rotation, too.

The Bulls have been hit with a whole bunch of injuries early in the season, from Markkanen’s elbow to Bobby Portis‘ knee and Kris Dunn’s knee. Valentine is on this list because he is done for the year after undergoing what the team called an “ankle stabilization procedure” on Tuesday — his injury was initially described as a moderate ankle sprain in September.


Posted by smashdownsportsnews on 2019-03-30 21:19:16

Tagged: , Basketball , News , Featured

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MLB spring training: Breaking down the most intriguing position battles for all 30 teams

MLB spring training: Breaking down the most intriguing position battles for all 30 teams

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Battles! For positions and roles! As we work our way toward Opening Day, teams are sorting out their active rosters and depth charts, and that means metaphorical armed conflict with at-bats and innings at the highest level as spoils. To celebrate such hostilities — such … battles — we’re here decked out kevlar ready to run down each team’s most notable spring training position battle. Will there be blood? People, there will be blood.

Here is each team’s most intriguing spring training position battle. Teams sorted alphabetically precisely because society insists we can’t do that.

Arizona Diamondbacks

Catcher: This is really more “crowded situation” than outright battle. Carson Kelly has the inside track, as the 24-year-old was one of the key pieces the D-Backs received from the Cardinals in exchange for Paul Goldschmidt. Kelly’s a good defender, but his bat has stalled out in part because of spotty playing time when he’s been up. Veteran Alex Avila is also in the mix, and the D-Backs are actually poised to carry a third catcher in John Ryan Murphy. Arizona doesn’t profile as a contender this season, so it makes sense to let Kelly sink or swim. Three catchers on the active, though, means a duel for playing time.

Atlanta Braves

Fifth starter: The top four spots are likely committed to Julio Teheran, Kevin Gausman, Sean Newcomb, and Mike Foltynewicz. For the fifth spot, there’s a huge competing fray, even after Mike Soroka has been ruled out for the start of the season because of shoulder troubles. That’s a reflection of the Braves‘ deep stores of pitching. Touki Toussaint is the likely favorite to nail down the job. Also in the running are Max Fried, Kolby Allard, Luiz Gohara, Kyle Wright, and Bryse Wilson.

Baltimore Orioles

Shortstop: It’s exceedingly rare for a team to dig up a starting shortstop via the Rule 5 Draft, but that may be what the 2019 Orioles have done. They plucked 24-year-old Richie Martin from the Athletics, and he’s likely to win the starting shortstop job coming out of spring training. If the O’s decide that’s asking a bit much of Martin, who hasn’t played above Double-A, then veteran gloveman Alcides Escobar will get the nod. No doubt, though, the O’s want to see what they’ve got in Martin.

Boston Red Sox

Catcher: It seems a bit odd for a defending champion to be unsettled at a position like catcher, but that’s the case with Boston. Sandy Leon got a plurality of the reps behind the plate last season, but he managed an OPS of just .503 — not acceptable even in light of his other merits. Going into the 2019 regular season, he’ll be competing with Blake Swihart and Christian Vazquez for the starting job. Complicating matters is that none of the three have options remaining. Swihart has the strongest offensive profile of the trio.

Chicago Cubs

Center field: The Cubs, of course, will mix and match with their roster and give core players meaningful time at multiple positions. In that sense, there may not be a true battle to be found. One interesting subplot, however, will be who winds up getting the regular reps in center. Ian Happ offer more offensive upside, particularly in terms of power, but Albert Almora is the better fielder in center. Also note that Happ, in addition to playing all three outfield positions last season, also saw significant time at third. In other words, he’s got a number of paths to regular playing time outside of center. Jason Heyward may also see some time in center, as he has in each of his seasons with the Cubs. Again, Joe Maddon will tailor his choices to the given game and make the most of the positional flexibility up and down his roster. Who settles in as the primary in center, though, will be something to watch.

Chicago White Sox

Outfield corners: Very likely, Jon Jay and Daniel Palka will open the season as the White Sox’s outfielder cornermen. This is because the Sox will very likely make up a reason to start off Eloy Jimenez at Triple-A and keep him there long enough to wrench an extra-year of team control out of him. The 22-year-old Jimenez last season put up a .925 OPS at Double-A before putting up a .996 OPS at Triple-A. He’s been ready for the highest level, but the Sox will almost certainly choose to manipulate his service time rather than to proceed based on merit. For a team that soured its fan base this offseason by whiffing on Manny Machado and, to a lesser extent, Bryce Harper, that’s missing the opportunity to reinvigorate them for Opening Day. Sure, Jimenez will be up soon enough, but it’s a cynical decision that deserves to be ridiculed. To be fair, it’s not certain that the Sox will indeed demote Jimenez to start the season, but the heavy expectation is that they will.

Cincinnati Reds

Outfield: Some battles are the result of not having enough good options. In the case of the Cincy outfield, it’s the residue of having too many. The likely primary arrangement, at least to start the season, will be Scott Schebler in center, Jesse Winker and Matt Kemp platooning in right, and Yasiel Puig in left. But what if Kemp, as an accomplished veteran, seems to merit full-time duty? As well, top prospect Nick Senzel is on the way — he’s ready for the bigs right now — and he’s already switched to the outfield. The Reds may start him off in the minors in order give him more reps, but either way he’ll force his way to Cincy soon enough. At that point, things will get even more crowded.

Cleveland Indians

Outfield corners: For a heavy division favorite, the Indians‘ outfield is certainly a mess right now. Michael Brantley and Lonnie Chisenhall departed via free agency, and that’s left a void. Assuming health, Leonys Martin will be the starting center fielder. The Tribe will fill left and right most likely with some combination of Tyler Naquin, Jake Bauers, and Jordan Luplow. Also in the mix are Oscar Mercado and Greg Allen, who each have options remaining. Bradley Zimmer will also return from shoulder surgery at some point early in the season, and his glove will surely put him in the discussion. There’s also NRI Matt Joyce. None of these potential solutions is particularly inspiring, you’ll note.

Colorado Rockies

Second base: Daniel Murphy is new to the fold, but he’s not longer anything resembling an adequate defensive second baseman, which is why he’s going to be the primary at first base for Colorado. Meantime, at Murphy’s old position Garrett Hampson is probably the favorite, but he’ll be pushed by Ryan McMahon. A platoon arrangement fronted by the lefty-swinging McMahon makes some sense, but the Rockies probably won’t have the roster space for both if Mark Reynolds cracks the active. That means the stakes are high for Hampson and McMahon in this battle.

Detroit Tigers

Center field: JaCoby Jones is probably the leader in this one, but he’s yet to prove he’s capable of being an adequate hitter at the major-league level. Mikie Mahtook isn’t exactly a big producer at the plate, but he’s certainly got more offensive upside than Jones does. If the Tigers decide to prioritize bat over glove, then Mahtook could win the job. Both are right-handed hitters, so there’s no natural platoon arrangement. Side note: Both Jones and Mahtook are LSU products.

Houston Astros

Fifth starter: The rotation was a strength for Houston last year, and it may be once again. However, they lost Charlie Morton to free agency, and presumably Dallas Keuchel will be elsewhere (it’s of course possible he winds up back in Houston, however). Throw in the loss of Lance McCullers Jr. to Tommy John surgery, and you’ve got some holes to fill. The addition of Wade Miley helps, assuming his tuned-up cutter keeps doing work, and Collin McHugh seems bound for a spot. Framber Valdez is probably the favorite to open the year as the fifth starter, but he could be pressed by Josh James once he returns from a quad injury. As well, Forrest Whitley — regarded by many to be the top pitching prospect in all of baseball — will likely be at Double-A to open the year, and he could be a consideration in short order. Brad Peacock’s also still a factor, but the Astros probably prefer him in the bullpen. Of course if there’s a Keuchel reunion, then consider this spot spoken for by virtue of Miley’s and McHugh’s sliding down to make room.

Kansas City Royals

Backup catcher: This is a battle mostly because stalwart catcher Salvador Perez underwent Tommy John surgery and will miss all of 2019. The recently signed Martin Maldonado will be the regular behind the plate, and the battle for backup reps will be between Cam Gallagher and Meibrys Viloria with Gallagher probably having the edge. Just twice has Maldonado caught more than 900 innings in a season, so the winner of this one will likely see some reps.

Los Angeles Angels

Fifth starter: Who slots in behind Tyler Skaggs, Andrew Heaney, Matt Harvey, and Trevor Cahill? Twenty-two-year-old Jaime Barria will probably lock down the job coming out of camp. Righty Felix Pena will challenge him. Looking forward a bit, highly regarded prospects Griffin Canning and Jose Suarez could be ready to contend for a spot in short order. Depth pieces like Nick Tropeano and Dillon Peters are also around.

Los Angeles Dodgers

Fifth starter: The Dodgers have plenty of starting pitching depth, but it’s a matter of sorting it out. With Clayton Kershaw likely out for Opening Day, Kenta Maeda, Ross Stripling, Julio Urias figure to fight for the two spots behind Walker Buehler, Hyun-jin Ryu, and Rich Hill. After Kershaw returns, the battle will be for the fifth spot. The two “losers” will likely land in the bullpen.

Miami Marlins

First base: The stripped-down Marlins are fairly settled at most positions, but first base is a competition of sorts. Veterans Neil Walker and Martin Prado are competing for the job. Since Walker is a switch-hitter who’s historically been much stronger from the left side and Prado bats righty, there’s a natural platoon fit. That may be what manager Don Mattingly winds up doing. Walker can also play second, and Prado can still man third.

Milwaukee Brewers

Fifth starter: Brandon Woodruff is probably the guy here, but the Brewers have other options for that last job in the rotation. To wit, Freddy Peralta, Corbin Burnes, and maybe even Aaron Wilkerson could be considered. As well, veteran Josh Tomlin is in camp on an NRI. Not in the mix is Brent Suter, who will likely miss all of 2019 after undergoing Tommy John surgery.

Minnesota Twins

Fifth starter: The top four spots in the rotation are locked up with Jose Berrios, Kyle Gibson, Jake Odorizzi, and Michael Pineda. In the fifth and final slot, lefty Martin Perez is the favorite, but he could pressed by Adalberto Mejia. Stephen Gonsalves is also on the 40-man and still highly regarded within the organization.

New York Mets

First base: Here’s a pretty interesting one. The Mets of course aspire to contend in the tough NL East, and they’ve made significant roster improvements. Getting more from first base, however, will be key. What seems mostly likely is a platoon arrangement with left Dominic Smith getting primary duty. Once veteran Todd Frazier returns from an oblique injury, he could be the right-handed half of such a platoon. One to watch is Pete Alonso, who boasts big-time power from the right side. Smith still has potential, but his development has seen some fits and starts. If he stumbles, then Alonso could get an extended look as the regular first baseman.

New York Yankees

Back of the rotation: Ace Luis Severino is doubtful for the start of the season because of shoulder troubles, and CC Sabathia’s status is uncertain after knee and heart procedures. That means question marks abound after James Paxton, Masahiro Tanaka, and J.A. Happ. Right now, Luis Cessa, Domingo German, and Jonathan Loaisiga seem to be competing for one or possibly two spots at the back end, at least for the early days of the season. GM Brian Cashman seems less inclined to go outside the organization for help. Another possibility is that the Yankees go with a Rays-style “opener” for a while in order to paper over any weaknesses at that back end.

Oakland Athletics

Fifth starter: The competition for the final spot in the Oakland rotation likely comes down to Frankie Montas, Chris Bassitt, Jesus Luzardo, Parker Bridwell, and Aaron Brooks. The job is probably Montas’ to lose, but Luzardo, the top prospect in the Oakland system, has the most upside. The 21-year-old lefty reached Triple-A last season, so barring the unexpected he’ll make it to the majors in 2019. Once he does arrive in Oakland, he’ll have a rotation spot waiting on him. In the meantime, bet on Montas. Once they get healthy, Jharel Cotton, Andrew Triggs, and Sean Manaea will challenge for spots.

Philadelphia Phillies

Outfield depth: The splash addition of Bryce Harper has created a bit of a packed outfield situation in Philly. Harper will be in left, Andrew McCutchen will be the right fielder, and Odubel Herrera will likely open the season as the regular center fielder. Herrera, obviously, has the weakest grip on his job. As for depth, Nick Williams, Aaron Altherr, and Roman Quinn will compete for what figures to be two available roster spots.

Pittsburgh Pirates

Shortstop: Walk into Mordor? Sure, but one does not simply “replace” Jordy Darned Mercer. The Pirates will do their level best, however, with Erik Gonzalez or Kevin Newman. Gonzalez, whom the Pirates acquired from Cleveland last November, is probably the frontrunner, but the younger Newman could emerge as the placeholder. At some point in 2019, prospect Cole Tucker, who has more upside than Gonzalez or Newman, will likely arrive at the highest level and take over the job for the near- to mid-term. Whoever settles in, expect them to bat eighth.

San Diego Padres

Catcher: The incumbent Austin Hedges is a skilled defender who’s coming off a solid-enough offensive season in 2018. He’ll be challenged by Francisco Mejia, one of the top catching prospects in baseball whom they acquired from the Indians last July in exchange for Brad Hand and Adam Cimber. Mejia is likely the long-term answer at the position, but it’s entirely possible that Hedges keeps his job for now. Don’t be surprised if both are rostered and share time behind the plate.

San Francisco Giants

Outfield: The Giants‘ outfield is a bit of a mess right now. If the season opened today, then a starting arrangement of Steven Duggar, Mac Williamson, and Gerardo Parra seems likely. Veteran Cameron Maybin is also in the mix, and he could easily win a spot. Other candidates include Mike Gerber, Austin Slater, Chris Shaw, and Rule 5 pick Drew Ferguson. President of baseball ops Farhan Zaidi has hinted that upgrades via trade are also possible. That’s understandable because at the moment the Giants may have the worst outfield in baseball.

Seattle Mariners

Outfield: It’s a potentially crowded situation in Seattle. Mitch Haniger will of course have a starting job, and Domingo Santana seems likely to own one of the corners. Mallex Smith is sidelined presently with a sore elbow and may not be ready for Opening Day. Once he returns, he should settle in as the center fielder. There’s also veteran slugger Jay Bruce. He’ll man right for the time being, but what about when Smith returns? The M’s no doubt want to give Santana full-time duty, but could Bruce force a platoon arrangement with a hot start? Braden Bishop and Ichiro are also on the fringes of the mix.

St. Louis Cardinals

Right field: The job is Dexter Fowler’s to lose. The Cardinals are heavily invested in Fowler, but he’s coming off a terrible and injury-compromised 2018. It’s possible that he’s suffering steep decline, but St. Louis is banking on a rebound from Fowler. No doubt, he’ll be pressed by Tyler O’Neill, who has tremendous raw power and can man all three outfield positions. There’s also Jose Martinez. While he’s stretched as an outfielder — or at any defensive position, really — he’s one of the best pure hitters on the Cardinals’ roster. Fowler has the inside path, as noted, but if struggles to start the season, then manager Mike Shildt may make a prompt change.

Tampa Bay Rays

Right field: Lefty-hitting Austin Meadows, who not so long ago was a highly regarded prospect, is likely going to be the primary in right field to start the season. Avisail Garcia, however, could also see some time in right, at least against lefties. Garcia will likely be the DH most of the time, but if the Rays lose confidence in Meadows then Garcia could settle in as the go-to man in right.

Texas Rangers

Backup outfielder: Titillating, no? Barring injury, the Texas starting outfield is going to Delino DeShields, Nomar Mazara, and Joey Gallo. The battle for backup is between Willie Calhoun and veteran NRI Hunter Pence. Pence has been dealing with shoulder issues this spring, but he’s also rebuilt his swing, which makes him an intriguing option. This one may be determined by spring performance.

Toronto Blue Jays

Fifth starter: Toronto’s front four in the rotation are pretty much set: Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, Clay Buchholz, and Matt Shoemaker. The fifth spot, though, is in play. Veteran Clayton Richard is certainly in the mix and may be the favorite. The Jays also have a number of starter prospects in the high minors and on the 40-man roster. The most likely to crack the active is probably 24-year-old lefty Ryan Borucki. Other prospects with a shot include Sean Reid-Foley, Trent Thornton, and T.J. Zeuch. Richard likely has the edge.

Washington Nationals

Fifth starter: The Nats have paid mind to their rotation this offseason, most especially with the signing of Patrick Corbin. Also new to the fold is Anibal Sanchez, who slots in as the fourth man behind Corbin, Stephen Strasburg, and ace Max Scherzer. The fifth spot, though, is at least a little uncertain. Jeremy Hellickson is the heavy favorite to pin down the spot, but he could be tested by Erik Fedde, Joe Ross, Austin Voth, and veteran NRI Henderson Alvarez.


Posted by smashdownsportsnews on 2019-03-11 15:09:31

Tagged: , Baseball , News , Featured

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