(CBS Baltimore) — Spring training continues in what’s shaping up to be another season under the cloud of COVID. With the cancellation of the 2020 minor league season, the pandemic has already delayed the development of MLB prospects. Some will pick up where they left off. Others won’t. With opening day still weeks away, other pandemic-related issues are already showing up as well. Fortunately, they are of the protocol-breaking variety and not the quarantining variety.
The Spring Training Report once again surveys the stories making headlines around baseball. This week’s edition looks at a few of MLB’s top prospects, players sidestepping COVID protocols and the passing of reliever Rheal Cormier.
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Top Prospects To Watch Out For
Another MLB season means another crop of big-league hopefuls. These prospects are the best of the best, who have long since been expected to reach baseball’s biggest stage. COVID may have delayed their arrival, but 2021 will probably be their year.
Wander Franco, Shortstop, Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays have high hopes for switch-hitting shortstop Wander Franco. In 2019, MLB’s top overall prospect hit .318 with 6 HRs and 29 RBI in his 233 at-bats for the Class A Bowling Green Hot Rods. The 20-year-old is fast, makes good contact and hits the ball hard, and has a strong arm. Franco will likely see the majors this season, and the Rays are already creating room for him in their infield. Some see him as an all-start in the making, who should already be in the big leagues.
Adley Rutschman, Catcher, Baltimore Orioles
This might be the season when the Orioles’ rebuild starts to show some real gains. The former Pac-12 Player of the Year was the first overall selection in 2019. As a catcher, he’s a little on the slow side. But that could be his only weakness, and is kind of to be expected given his position. Rutschman shows poise with the bat and can hit for power and average. His middling results in limited minor-league at-bats — .254, with 4 HRs and 26 RBI in 130 ABs — belie his talent and upside at the plate. He also fields his position well. This will probably be the season the Orioles bring him up.
Jarred Kelenic, Outfielder, Seattle Mariners
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The young center fielder rising up through the Mariners system might have debuted in the majors last season were it a typical year. Of course, it wasn’t. Kelenic, who bats left-handed, has hit .290 over his two seasons in the minors, collecting 29 HRs and 110 RBI in his 663 ABs. He’s also struck out 161 times. Still, his controlled swing generates a fair amount of power. Kelenic is a maturing hitter who has shown the willingness and work ethic to improve his game. He should get the opportunity to proved his worth in the majors at some point this season.
Players Breaking COVID Protocols
MLB has stricter rules for players (and everybody else) during COVID. And those rules severely limit what people can do off the field. The goal, of course, is to allow teams and the league to have a season with limited interruptions.
Like last season, players are tested at least every other day, with those who test positive required to quarantine for at least 10 days. Player activities outside the ballpark are restricted. That means quarantining at spring training and limited interaction otherwise. Masks must always be worn, except on the field during games.
The Cleveland Indians have already had two players break the protocols, earning themselves some time away from the team. Outfielder Franmil Reyes got his hair cut last Friday then joined third baseman Jose Ramirez for dinner in a restaurant. These seemingly normal activities exposed themselves and their teams to unnecessary risk in the eyes of MLB.
Chicago Cubs reliever Pedro Strop was reportedly also involved. The 35-year-old pitcher has since tested negative and could return to the Cubs as soon as Tuesday.
Former Reliever Rheal Cormier Dies
Ex-MLB pitcher Rheal Cormier succumbed to cancer at the age of 53. Initially drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals, the left-handed reliever pitched for 16 seasons, also logging stints with the Boston Red Sox, Philadelphia Phillies, and Cincinnati Reds. He was 71-64 with two saves and a 4.03 ERA in 683 games, piling up 760 strikeouts against 317 walks.
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“Rheal was one of the most vibrant people I’ve had the pleasure of knowing,” said friend and former teammate Jim Thome. “He loved baseball, but he always put his family first. Frenchy was the kind of guy who would do anything for you and I’m lucky to have called him my friend for many years. Our time spent together in Philadelphia as teammates was unforgettable. He will be greatly missed but never forgotten.”