One of the only silver linings of the delay to the 2020 season via the coronavirus pandemic was that it gave many stars time to fully recover from injury. As baseball now gets set to resume, here are 25 stars that you might not have seen on the original Opening Day (March 26) that now look like much surer bets to take the field.
Giancarlo Stanton, OF, Yankees
Stanton might have been in the original Opening Day lineup, but the extra time has given New York’s big slugger more time to make sure his strained right calf is completely healed. Injuries limited Stanton to just 18 regular-season games in 2019.
Justin Verlander, RHP, Astros
Spring Training 1.0 was not kind to Verlander, who suffered injuries to both his lat muscle and his groin. The latter necessitated surgery, but Verlander was already long-tossing at the end of April. Another two months of rest and rehab likely helped both injuries heal even further.
Shohei Ohtani, DH/P, Angels
Two-way Ohtani could be very much back in our lives. The Halos’ phenom faced hitters in live batting practice in May and was already stretching himself out to 50- to 55-pitch sessions. Los Angeles originally expected to see Ohtani back on the mound in May, and so now we could see him pitch right from the get-go. Oh, and Ohtani’s also been deadlifting close to 500 pounds.
Blake Snell, LHP, Rays
Snell would have likely missed the first turn or two through the rotation and might have even begun the year on the injured list as he recovered from a cortisone shot on his left elbow. Now, the Rays should have their powerhouse trio of Snell, Charlie Morton and Tyler Glasnow ready to roll.
Yordan Alvarez, DH, Astros
Knee issues nagged Alvarez through much of Spring Training 1.0, and so some time off was likely beneficial. Astros fans are expecting a big follow-up from the designated hitter after his transcendent rookie season.
James Paxton, LHP, Yankees
Paxton underwent back surgery at the beginning of February and was originally thought to be shelved until mid-May. Now, the southpaw should be able to begin the season in the Yankees’ rotation.
Andrew McCutchen, OF, Phillies
Philadelphia originally hoped McCutchen could make his return from a torn ACL before the start of May. Now, Cutch could be back atop the Phillies’ lineup -- a big addition if he replicates what he did in his first 59 games in red last year.
Yoenis Céspedes, OF, Mets
Céspedes was eyeing a return on the original Opening Day, though that may have been a tad optimistic. But now it’s not hard to envision Céspedes in the Mets’ lineup when baseball does return, and his motivation to play well after a roller-coaster offseason -- in his own words -- is off the charts.
Tommy Pham, OF, Padres
Pham strained the UCL in his elbow last year and received PRP and stem-cell injections over the offseason. If there was any doubt as to whether he would be in the Padres’ Opening Day lineup, it should be cleared up now -- especially now that San Diego could put Pham in the DH spot and protect him from throwing on an everyday basis.
Eugenio Suárez, 3B, Reds
Reds president of baseball operations Dick Williams says the third baseman is 100% recovered from the shoulder surgery he underwent in January, meaning Suárez’s 49-homer bat should be back in the Cincinnati lineup.
Mike Clevinger, RHP, Indians
Clevinger was way ahead of schedule in recovering from the meniscus tear he suffered on the second day of Spring Training, possibly even ready to take the ball on Opening Weekend. He should be 100% ready now.
Byron Buxton, OF, Twins
Buxton’s health was a huge story in the first Twins camp, and he had recovered enough from shoulder surgery to take live BP before the stoppage. There was an outside chance the speedster would have made the original Opening Day, so expect to see him patrolling center field when baseball returns.
Rich Hill, LHP, Twins
Minnesota signed Hill knowing he wouldn't pitch until at least June as he recovered from elbow surgery, and now that time is already here. The southpaw could come up huge for a Twins club hoping to make a deep run through the postseason.
Cole Hamels, LHP, Braves
Hamels was likely going to be sidelined through at least the middle of May with left shoulder inflammation, but now he should be available as a veteran presence alongside Mike Soroka, Max Fried and Mike Foltynewicz.
Michael Conforto, OF, Mets
Conforto hurt an oblique muscle on his right side after colliding with an outfield wall in a Spring Training game in early March. The injury left him questionable for the original Opening Day, but now he should be ready to follow up a career-best 33-homer season in 2019.
Aaron Hicks, OF, Yankees
Hicks would have missed at least half the original season recovering from Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. Now, after video surfaced of him taking batting practice in June, Hicks could be back to the Yankees’ regular outfield mix.
Alex Verdugo, OF, Red Sox
The centerpiece of Boston’s return in the Mookie Betts-David Price trade told MLB.com in early May that he was already 100% recovered from a stress fracture in his back, an injury that dated all the way back to last August. That’s a boost for the Red Sox, who probably wouldn’t have featured Verdugo for the first four to six weeks of a normal season.
Jordan Hicks, RHP, Cardinals
The Minor Leagues’ hiatus means Hicks should at least get some work during Spring Training 2.0 as he finishes recovering from Tommy John surgery. The flamethrower has already been throwing off a mound, and there was originally hope he would have returned around the All-Star break. So, there’s a good chance he logs some innings this year for St. Louis.
Adalberto Mondesi, SS, Royals
Mondesi hadn’t returned to action yet when Spring Training was shut down, but the extra weeks should mean he’s ready to return after undergoing shoulder surgery last fall.
Miles Mikolas, RHP, Cardinals
Mikolas was St. Louis’ Opening Day starter last year, but he would have missed this year’s opener with a torn flexor tendon in his elbow. Both he and reliever Andrew Miller should now be back to full strength.
Willie Calhoun, OF, Rangers
Calhoun had virtually no shot to be on the field for the original Opening Day after a pitch broke his jaw during Spring Training, but the outfielder should see a lot of playing time now -- especially with Nomar Mazara traded away to the White Sox.
A.J. Puk, LHP, Athletics
The A’s shut Puk down in March after he suffered a mild strain -- but no structural damage -- in his left pitching shoulder. A shortened season could mean that both he and fellow youngster Jesús Luzardo should be free of innings restrictions and turned loose in Oakland’s rotation.
Michael Fulmer, RHP, Tigers
Tigers fans originally hoped to see Fulmer sometime in July after he underwent Tommy John surgery last year, and so this could be close to perfect timing for the former American League Rookie of the Year. Fulmer still has to face live hitters, but don’t be surprised if Detroit turns to him at some point -- perhaps even out of the bullpen -- in 2020.
Stephen Piscotty, OF, Athletics
Piscotty was shut down from baseball activities with an oblique/rib cage injury when camp came to a halt, continuing an unlucky string of injuries that dated back to last June. But he told NBC Sports Bay Area in April that he was pain-free and back to taking swings, and added that he was "fully confident" that he will be at full health for the new opener.
Mitch Haniger, OF, Mariners
The All-Star break was probably the most optimistic expectation for Haniger’s return when camps were shut down after he underwent two surgeries (one to repair a sports hernia, the other a discectomy to remove an intervertebral disc) in a span of three weeks in February. Haniger’s timeline is still unclear, but baseball has been gone long enough to where we could now see him return for some portion of the season.
Matt Kelly is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @mattkellyMLB.