Health concerns are paramount at this point, with the positive coronavirus tests of players and staffers around Major League Baseball, specifically the outbreak within the Miami Marlins camp and the heightened caution around the Philadelphia Phillies and St. Louis Cardinals, at the forefront of our minds.
Once we take a step into the slightly more frivolous news and developments of the early season, there are some interesting performances, improvements, roster moves and big-picture strategic concerns across the league to recap. It might not surprise you that I wrote much more than expected on these topics. Here are my top-line takeaways from the first week of games -- focusing on each team in the American League. Stats are through Thursday's games.
The Orioles took two of three from the Red Sox and are doing it with a motley crew of castoffs -- frankly, exactly how a rebuilding team should be constructed. One of the biggest advantages clubs have in this position is playing time and roster spots to give chances to fringe big leaguers, waiver claims, guys on minor league deals, those that have been injury prone, or haven't been performing well of late but with a glimmer of hope of regaining form.
Jose Iglesias is the definition of this -- a glove-first shortstop who probably can't start for a contender, and he's batting third for the Orioles, hitting .500/.500/.750 through four games. It's safe to bet against anything close to that continuing for long, but that's the fun part of a shorter season. Among the rest of the regular lineup, outfielder Anthony Santander was a Rule 5 pick and there are four waiver claims: third baseman Rio Ruiz, second baseman Hanser Alberto, designated hitter Renato Nunez and catcher Pedro Severino. First baseman Chris Davis has perhaps the worst contract in professional sports and there are two more waiver claims on the bench in utilitymen Pat Valaika and Andrew Velazquez.
Iglesias (seven balls hit 95-plus mph on 13 balls in play), Alberto (1.055 OPS), Ruiz (three homers), and Santander (a 401-foot homer, and another ball hit 107 mph) all had a strong opening series and having that occur at the beginning of the season allows for a breath of fresh air for Orioles fans rather than it getting buried in the middle of a slog. At least one of these players mentioned will turn into a multiyear, useful asset for the club that a contending team might even trade for, but those contenders don't have the bandwidth to discover on their own.
The pitching staff includes the two softest-tossing starters in the game (LHP Wade LeBlanc, 86.7 mph on average; LHP Tommy Milone, 86.3 mph) and the 11th-ranked average velocity in baseball thus far (RHP Miguel Castro 97.7 mph), but that's how the scrap heap works. The next wave of young talent (catcher Adley Rutschman, right-hander Grayson Rodriguez, left-hander D.L. Hall, left fielder Ryan Mountcastle) are all at the alternate site and could be ready as early as 2021.