The Braves are a little more than a week away from beginning their 60-game 2020 season. Before they begin making final preparations, here’s a look at where they stand regarding questions about Freddie Freeman’s health, the outfield mix and the rotation.
Is there an update on the status of Freddie Freeman and the others who tested positive for coronavirus?
The good news is Freeman has felt good for a little more than a week. The bad news is that feeling good does not give us a clue of when he might test negative. And as you know, once a player tests positive, he must generate two negative tests over a span of more than 24 hours to be cleared to rejoin the team.
So for now, Freeman’s status for Opening Day seems to be questionable at best.
Even if Freeman were to test negative twice over the next few days, he would only have about a week to prepare for the Braves’ Opening Day matchup against Mets ace Jacob deGrom in New York on July 24.
Given what we saw last September -- and more importantly, a few months ago when Freeman attempted to aggressively test his surgically repaired left wrist too soon -- there may be some benefit to delaying his debut.
Like left-handed reliever Will Smith and right-handed pitcher Touki Toussaint, who have both been asymptomatic since testing positive, Freeman has the option to work out away from the team. So it’s not like these guys would be starting over with their preparations when they return.
Still, Atlanta will be cautious as it assesses where each of these players stand in terms of readiness. But those assessments can’t be made before the negative tests.
Who do you expect to fill the left-field void created by Nick Markakis electing not to play?
Now before going too much further, let’s point out that Freeman’s status will influence Austin Riley’s role. If Freeman is unavailable, Riley would be the top option at first base. I mention this because I expect Freeman to eventually return, at which point the Braves could move Riley back to third base or put him in left field, where he would be a better defensive option than Ozuna.
It’s safe to say Duvall will be playing left field against left-handed starters. His offensive potential against right-handers would not be as significant. But still, when you account for his defensive value, it might be wise to put him in left on an everyday basis.
This is a good question that further highlights the fact Markakis’ primary value on this roster might have come from his role as a left-handed pinch-hitter.
The presence of the DH will lessen the significance of pinch-hitters this year, but with the three-batter minimum rule in play, there could be some situations where it would be beneficial to have another quality left-handed bat on the bench.
Still, I don’t think this need is significant enough to add Alonso or Solarte to the 40-man roster. But if forced to choose between the two, I’d go with Solarte, who brings versatility as a switch-hitter who can play multiple positions.
What’s up with Sean Newcomb? Reliever or starter? Will 2020 be another year where his role changes week to week?
With Cole Hamels’ status in doubt, it seems safe to assume Newcomb will get another chance to serve as a starter. So I guess you could say the ball is in his court, much like it was at the beginning of last year, when he faltered as a starter and then enjoyed five productive months as a reliever.
Given that Newcomb finally showed some extended consistency once he was moved to the bullpen last year, my thought was he would be best utilized in that role again this season. But I also think it could be quite beneficial to see if he has developed the changeup enough to find success as a starter.
We’ve seen Newcomb experience varying degrees of success with both the changeup and the curveball. But we haven’t seen him have both consistently working well enough to get a feel for how much better he could be with that third pitch. So before relegating him to the ‘pen yet again, it makes sense to give him another chance over these next few weeks.
Who has the inside track to the fifth-starter spot?
Since the Braves opened Summer Camp on July 3, Félix Hernández has elected not to play and Toussaint has been forced to stay away because of his positive test. As for Hamels, most sensibly assumed he would have been further along than he was, even before the triceps tendinitis became an issue this past weekend.