Aaron Nola (SP) is expected to start the Phillies' season opener Friday vs. the Marlins at home. The 27-year-old right-hander will look to start his sixth big league campaign on the right foot after a mildly disappointing 2019 saw him go 12-7 with a 3.87 ERA and a 4.03 FIP. He had struggled in Spring Training as well prior to the shutdown, allowing 13 hits and four earned runs in eight innings over three starts. Despite his recent struggles, the Phillies ace will still be a strong fantasy play on Friday against a middling Miami lineup. He's performed significantly better at home throughout his career, where he's 30-16 lifetime with a 3.03 ERA, 1.13 WHIP and 3.9 K/BB ratio. He's also pitched well against the Fish with a 3.28 ERA, a 1.08 WHIP and a .637 opponent OPS in 13 career starts against them. With an appealing home matchup to start the season, Nola should be locked into fantasy lineups on Opening Day.
Barring the birth of his child this weekend, Zack Wheeler (SP) will likely make his Phillies debut on Saturday at home vs. the Marlins. Wheeler, who inked a five-year, $118 million contract with Philadelphia in the offseason, is expected to slot in behind Aaron Nola as the team's #2 starter. The 30-year-old is coming off back-to-back strong seasons with the Mets in which he went a combined 23-15 with a 3.65 ERA and a 1.19 WHIP. He's had great success at Citizens Bank Ballpark throughout his career, posting a 3.27 ERA with a 0.98 WHIP in 44 career innings there. He's also excelled against the Marlins, going 7-3 with a 1.91 ERA and a 0.93 WHIP in 14 career starts against them. Assuming Wheeler is able to make his scheduled start, he'll be a strong fantasy option this weekend.
The oft-inconsistent Vince Velasquez (SP) appears to have secured a spot in the Phillies' rotation after a strong preseason that culminated in five innings of one-run ball in Monday's exhibition game against the Yankees. Velasquez threw 48 of his 76 pitches for strikes, walking one and fanning six. The 28-year-old has had his share of ups and downs during his five MLB seasons, which have yielded a 27-34 record and a 4.67 ERA despite high strikeout numbers (career 9.8 K/9). Shaky command has often led to inflated pitch counts and early exits for Velasquez, who has averaged 3.5 BB/9 and 1.4 HR/9 over his career. Velasquez must do a better job limiting mistakes if he wants to remain in the rotation and achieve his full potential as a starter, making him a high-risk, high-reward fantasy option for 2020.
Top pitching prospect Casey Mize (SP) will not be on the Tigers' Opening Day roster. Instead, he will open the season at the team's alternate training site in Toledo as part of the team's "taxi squad," meaning Detroit may promote him later this year. Mize, 23, is widely considered to be one of the best prospects in baseball and should provide a lift to a Tigers organization that has struggled in recent years. Mize looked good during the preseason and, based on his Minor League dominance, should be making his way to the Show very soon. It only remains to be seen whether he can translate his success down on the farm (2.71 ERA, 0.97 WHIP) into ace-level production in the Majors.
Today marks the four-week mark since Daniel Norris (SP) tested positive for COVID-19, which will delay his start to the 2020 season. Norris has yet to receive the two negative tests that will enable him to return to action, although the Tigers say he is feeling better and expect him to return soon. Norris, 27, is surely eager to put 2019 behind him and have more success in 2020 after going 3-13 with a 4.49 ERA and a 1.33 WHIP last year. Norris, who appeared to be one of Detroit's promising young arms a few seasons ago, has struggled over the last three years with injuries and control issues. While he has been unable to replicate his early-career success from 2015 and 2016, perhaps he'll be able to get his career back on track this year when he returns.
Matthew Boyd (SP) is slated to be the Tigers' Opening Day starter on Friday in Cincinnati. After several underwhelming campaigns, Boyd surprisingly emerged as one of the American League's top strikeout pitchers last year, racking up 238 punchouts to rank sixth in the Junior Circuit. His 11.6 K/9 rate was even more impressive, ranking fourth in the AL. He was far from dominant, however, allowing a league-high 39 home runs and posting a 4.56 ERA. If Boyd can maintain his strikeout gains while limiting his mistakes in 2020, he has the potential to be a down-ballot Cy Young candidate. But if the home run issues persist, he'll only prove to be a middling fantasy option.
Around the League
Anthony Rendon (3B-LAA) is still experiencing oblique soreness and may not be ready to return by Opening Day on Friday, according to Angels manager Joe Maddon. Rendon, who suffered the injury on a swing last Wednesday during an intrasquad game, was held out of the lineup from Monday's exhibition game at San Diego. Rendon says he feels fine, but if he's unable to go he will likely be replaced by David Fletcher or Matt Thaiss at the hot corner. Maddon said he's not sure whether Rendon will need a stint on the 10-day injured list or if he may only miss a few games, if any time at all. With Rendon's status up in the air, fantasy owners will want to monitor his progress throughout the week and have a backup plan ready in case he's unavailable.
Christian Yelich (OF-MIL) hopes to put his recent struggles behind him once the season starts, as he's now 2-for-20 with 12 strikeouts in the Brewers' intrasquad games at Miller Park after going 1-for-2 with an infield single on Monday. Yelich has looked surprisingly mortal after staking his claim as one of baseball's best hitters in 2018 and 2019, winning the NL batting crown and pacing the Senior Circuit in OPS both years. While Yelich's mini-slump shouldn't be cause for alarm, he may need some time once the season starts to work out any kinks in his swing. As such, fantasy owners may want to temper their expectations for the 2018 NL MVP in the early going.
Cole Hamels (SP-ATL) will likely be out a few weeks before making his Braves debut. The 36-year-old lefty has not faced hitters since developing left shoulder inflammation in late January, and triceps tendinitis prevented him from throwing a side session earlier this month. The setback ensured that he wouldn't be ready for the regular season, and he's expected to be out another few weeks before returning to the Braves, possibly in early August. Between his age and mileage (nearly 2,800 career innings including the postseason), Hamels appears to be a health risk at this point in his career and should be treated as such in fantasy circles.
Byron Buxton (OF-MIN) is getting closer to returning from a left mid-foot sprain that has sidelined him since July 13. He was able to run on Monday and has been taking some swings. Buxton will hit against live pitching on Tuesday, but it is still unclear if he will be ready to go by Opening Day on Friday night against the White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field. While he's trending in the right direction, fantasy owners should keep an eye on his status prior to Friday's season opener.
Miguel Sano (DH-MIN) is eyeing a spot in the Twins' Opening Day lineup after losing nearly two weeks to quarantine due to positive COVID-19 tests. Sano saw his first game action on Sunday and played again on Monday, going 0-for-3 with two strikeouts. While his swing and timing are still a bit rusty, he appears to be in good physical condition and is hopeful to be in the starting lineup on Friday against the White Sox. Fantasy owners should continue to monitor his status over the following days.
Shohei Ohtani (SP-LAA) expects to pitch on Sunday against the A's and that he'll pitch once a week on Sundays this season. After not pitching at all last year, Ohtani believes he's ready to reclaim his two-way status, and plans to be in the lineup on Friday as a designated hitter and then start on the mound on Sunday. If he continues starting on Sundays, the Angels will rest him on Saturdays and Mondays to help keep him fresh. If Ohtani stays healthy, he has the potential to make 10 starts and start 33 games at DH, which would make one of the more valuable assets in fantasy.
Yoan Moncada (3B-CWS) shined on both sides of the ball Monday in his return to action from COVID-19, helping the White Sox to a 5-3 victory over the Cubs at Guaranteed Rate Field. In his first at-bat, he showed no signs of rust by ripping an RBI single off Yu Darvish and later coming around to score. He also excelled on defense, robbing multiple hits with strong plays in the field. While the White Sox have not said for sure whether Moncada will be in their Opening Day lineup, his strong return certainly helps his case.
Jed Lowrie (2B-NYM) was placed on the 10-day injured list Monday with left knee discomfort. Lowrie's body has broken down repeatedly over the past several years, as he has appeared in only nine games since signing a two-year, $20 million contract with New York prior to the 2019 season. Given his recent health history and track record, fantasy owners shouldn't expect much from the 36-year-old veteran this season.
Ryan Braun (OF-MIL) missed his sixth straight scrimmage Monday, putting his status for Opening Day in jeopardy. The 36-year-old has been dealing with an oblique issue, along with several other aches and pains that may prevent him from starting the season on time. While not the most durable player, Braun did play 144 games last year -- his most since 2012 -- and he's remained productive with the stick as well as on the basepaths. But given his recent struggles with injuries, the Brewers will likely err on the side of caution with their veteran outfielder.
John Means (SP-BAL) has not been able to resume throwing due to right arm fatigue, putting his scheduled Opening Day start against the Red Sox in doubt. The Orioles are expected to be cautious with Means, who finished second in AL Rookie of the Year Award voting with a 3.60 ERA over 31 appearances (27 starts) last year. If Means is unable to go, the Orioles may turn to Wade LeBlanc, Tommy Milone or Thomas Eshelman in his place.