news 6 days ago

30 MLB players we'll miss watching most on what should have been Opening Day

Sporting News — (Ryan Fagan)

Today, March 26, was supposed to be Opening Day.

That’s not happening, as you know, but that’s not going to stop us from dreaming about what might have been, even as we watch the smorgasbord of baseball games from the past that are being broadcast all day long. 

Here’s one player from each team we were especially looking forward to seeing perform on Opening Day. 

MORE: 15 things we miss most about baseball

American League 

Andrew Heaney, SP, Angels

Why him? The Angels wasted no time naming the lefty as their Opening Day starter this spring. This was supposed to be his first Opening Day nod, which is a pretty cool honor for any pitcher, and that’s reason enough to watch (and it’s the reason we’ll pick another couple of players on this list). But, there’s also this: Heaney didn’t hold back when asked for his thoughts about the Astros and their cheating scandal this spring, and guess who the Angels were scheduled to play on Opening Day. The popcorn was already ready. 

Jose Altuve, 2B, Astros

Why him? Because it’s impossible to think about the Astros and their first game of 2020 without thinking of the sign-stealing scandal that broke this offseason. And Altuve somehow became the central figure in this scandal despite the data showing he heard the fewest trash can bangs recorded in 2017. But Altuve hit the home run off Aroldis Chapman in the 2019 ALCS and told his teammates not to rip off his jersey as he approached home plate. And, well, that just seemed all kinds of suspicious. So, to pick one Astros player the most eyes would be on, the nod goes to Altuve. 

And now we’re done with sign-stealing scandal stuff, I promise. 

Mike Fiers, SP, Athletics

Why him? OK, one more, dammit. The A’s hadn’t announced their Opening Day starter yet, but Fiers was certainly a possibility. He got the nod for the first game in 2019 and was a reliable part of the A’s rotation last year, posting a 3.0 bWAR and 3.90 ERA in 33 starts. Fiers, of course, is the player who went on the record with The Athletic and kicked the whole sign-stealing scandal into high gear. So, yeah, his first 2020 start would have been interesting. Worth noting, though, that the A’s host the Astros in the second series of the season, so if the A's wanted to make sure Fiers wouldn’t face the Astros — seems like an unnecessary early season distraction — they could have pushed him back to start the third game of the year. 

OK, THAT is the last scandal mention. Double promise, pinkie swear. 

Vladimir Guerrero Jr., 3B, Blue Jays

Why him? Because he’s kind of amazing and is likely to have a monster season, and popping a couple baseballs over the fence wouldn’t have surprised anyone. 

Shane Bieber, SP, Indians

Why him? Bieber is coming off an outstanding season — fourth place finish in the AL Cy Young award and All-Star Game MVP — and was scheduled to face the rebuilding Tigers at home. Feels like a no-hitter, or at least a shutout, was on the table. 

Kyle Lewis, OF, Mariners

Why him? Lewis, the No. 11 overall pick in the 2016 MLB Draft, skipped over Triple-A last year and posted a .885 OPS in 18 big-league contests for the Mariners last year. He’s likely to have his ups and downs, but he’s an outstanding talent and watching him hit that spring training grand slam was a lot of fun. 

Chris Davis, 1B, Orioles

Why him? Because hope springs eternal, and Davis was on fire this spring. And, sure, spring stats mean very little, but when you’re talking about a player with a -4.8 bWAR and 53 OPS+ over the past two years combined, any little sliver of success is welcome. 

Joey Gallo, RF, Rangers

Why him? Because we were deprived of Gallo for far too much of a 2019 season — his year ended July 23 when he went on the DL with a broken hamate bone in his right hand — that was setting up to his the breakthrough year we’ve all been waiting for. 

Jose Martinez, DH, Rays

Why him? Because Martinez feels like a perfect fit for Tampa Bay, a professional hitter without much of a defensive position who is finally in the American League and can shine, primarily as a DH but also spot starter at first and in right field. And what better way to get going than with two or three hits at his new home against an NL team?

Alex Verdugo, RF, Red Sox

Why him? New face in a new place, replacing a superstar in Mookie Betts. Intrigue. 

Adalberto Mondesi, SS, Royals

Why him? He’s fun to watch, especially when he gets on base. Big season could be in the works, if he figures out how to get on base more regularly. 

Miguel Cabrera, DH, Tigers

Why him? Because, as I said when I watched a Tigers game from the press box this spring, any time you can see a future Hall of Famer play, that’s a good day. 

Jose Berrios, SP, Twins

Why him? His breaking stuff is just mesmerizing. Berrios is coming off back-to-back All-Star seasons and he’s still just 25 years old. Last year, he got the Opening Day nod and struck out 10 in 7 2/3 shutout innings at home against Cleveland. This assignment, at Oakland, would be been a bit tougher but still a chance to shine. 

Luis Robert, CF, White Sox

Why him? The White Sox took “service time” distractions off the table, signing Robert to a deal that guarantees $50 million over six years, and has team options that could add two years and $38 million. All this despite that he’s yet to make his big-league debut, which is why we picked him here. Robert was brilliant in 2019, batting a combined .328 with a 1.001 OPS, 32 homers and 36 stolen bases at three levels in the White Sox organization. 

Gleyber Torres, SS, Yankees

Why him? Because he’s pretty much the only healthy starter, right? Really, though, Torres has been exactly the player Cubs fans feared he would be when their favorite team traded him to the Yankees for rental closer Aroldis Chapman (though he did contribute to that little World Series title). 

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National League

Ronald Acuña, Jr., Braves

Why him? Because he’s a damn superstar, that’s why. 

Christian Yelich, RF, Brewers

Why him? Has any trade ever worked out any better than the Brewers’ deal to land Yelich? He’s been an incredible player — one MVP award and one second-place finish — and this offseason agreed to a lucrative extension to stay in Milwaukee for a long, long time. The Brewers were supposed to open their season at home against the Cubs, and the home-crowd reception would have been really something. 

Jack Flaherty, SP, Cardinals

Why him? How do you follow up an incredible finish — he had a 0.93 ERA in his last 16 starts — to the 2019 season? Well, that’s why we picked him. 

Javier Baez, SS, Cubs

Why him? He’s a star, with a flair for performing on the big stage. Like, for example, Opening Day 2019, when he popped a pair of homers and had four RBIs in a win against the Rangers on the road. 

Starling Marte, CF, Diamondbacks

Why him? It feels like years ago that the Diamondbacks acquired the two-time Gold Glove winner from Pittsburgh. But he’s coming off back-to-back 20/20 seasons, and all eyes would be on him for his first regular-season game in his new uniform. 

Mookie Betts, RF, Dodgers

Why him? Well, duh. 

Johnny Cueto, SP, Giants

Why him? He’s only made 13 starts the past two years, but he’s healthy and was named the Opening Day starter. Cueto gives a clinic on disrupting batters' timing, every time out. 

Lewis Brinson, CF, Marlins

Why him? I am going to believe that Brinson can develop into a star until the day he retires, apparently. He’s been, well, not good in the bigs so far, but Brinson was pretty good this spring — .345 average, three homers in 13 games — and I know spring stats don’t mean much, but I would have been watching and hoping Opening Day would have been his new, fresh start. 

Jacob deGrom, SP, Mets

Why him? Because when a two-time Cy Young winner takes the mound, you watch. 

Juan Soto, LF, Nationals

Why him? Soto and Acuña — who finished 1-2 in the 2018 NL Rookie of the Year voting — will be linked as long as they both defy their ages and play like superstars, and they’ll always be worth watching. 

Tommy Pham, LF, Padres

Why him? Pham feels like the perfect addition to a Padres team that’s on the rise, and I’d expect that impact to be obvious from Day One. Or, y’know, Opening Day. 

Bryce Haper, RF, Phillies

Why him? Boring choice? Yep. But you’ll be watching, too. 

Jarrod Dyson, CF, Pirates

Why him? Been a fan of Dyson since his days as the speedster who helped the Royals thrive in 2014-15, and because that’s what speed do. 

Joseph Daniel Votto, 1B, Reds

Why him? Because if the Reds are going to be legitimate contenders in 2020, they need Votto to be the Votto of old. And what better time to start than Opening Day? 

Nolan Arenado, 3B, Rockies

Why him? It was — well, it has been — an interesting offseason for Arenado and the Rockies, and watching him play again would have been great for Rockies fans.