After months of waiting, we finally had meaningful baseball games. However, we were quickly reminded that these are different times as the Washington Nationals lost one of their star players in outfielder Juan Soto hours before first pitch after he tested positive for COVID-19.

The Miami Marlins will lose a few of their players due to positive tests as well.

Not only will fantasy baseball owners have to navigate the impact of the coronavirus throughout the season, but the normal injuries will continue to occur as well. Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw landed on the injured list hours before he was supposed to start due to a back issue. Houston Astros ace Justin Verlander is dealing with an arm issue and could miss the entire season.

Those are all huge losses early in the season and fantasy baseball owners will have to stay on top of the news cycle as there is no doubt this will be the key to winning a championship.

Three Up:

Chicago Cubs Starting Pitcher Kyle Hendricks — The crafty right-hander threw an absolute gem on Opening Day as he pitched a complete-game shutout while striking out nine. Hendricks usually gets overlooked because he doesn’t have a fastball that will blow hitters away, but he knows how to pitch. Fantasy baseball owners who didn’t draft the elite starting pitching options and ended up with Hendricks have been rewarded already.

Minnesota Twins Designated Hitter Nelson Cruz — The 40-year-old does one thing well and does it at an elite level. Cruz can simply hit a baseball with a lot of authority, and he has done so for many years. Father Time will eventually catch up, but until then, fantasy owners who rely on Cruz to hit for power seem to be in line to be rewarded again. Cruz finished the opening series with three home runs, 10 RBIs and a .538 batting average. We need players to get off to a fast start in this shortened season, and Cruz is doing exactly that.

San Diego Padres Outfielder Tommy Pham — The downward trend of stolen bases during the last few seasons has made it more of a priority to draft players who have that skill set. When Pham has stayed healthy, he has proven to be a player who will steal bases, with two seasons of 25 in the last three years. The outfielder is off to a roaring start in this category, as he already has four stolen bases. The hits haven’t been there yet, but Pham is finding ways to get on base to allow him a chance to steal bases. If the Padres let him run wild, Pham is going to prove to be one of the more impactful fantasy players this season.

Three Down:

Atlanta Braves Outfielder Ronald Acuna — Fantasy owners already have an early test of how patient they can be in this shortened season. Acuna was a consensus top two fantasy pick leading into the restart and struggled mightily in the first three games. The youngster struck out eight times and only collected two hits. This is only the first series of the year, so we’re not worried yet, but if this continues for the next week, fantasy owners will have some tough decisions to make.

Chicago Cubs Third Baseman Kris Bryant — I’ve always felt there is another level for Bryant to reach, especially after hitting 39 home runs in his second season in 2016. However, Bryant hasn’t reached that mark since. He’s been a very solid player, but not the superstar many thought he would be. If fantasy owners were hoping Bryant could reach that level this season, he will need to get going quickly after a dreadful opening series for the third baseman. Bryant collected only one hit and struck out six times. Like Acuna, Bryant is officially on watch for fantasy owners.

Minnesota Twins Starting Pitcher Jose Berrios — I wrote about Berrios prior to the restart season as a guy that was being overvalued. Berrios has all the talent; it just hasn’t translated into dominance. If I was investing a fifth- or sixth-round draft pick on a pitcher, I needed something more than just a solid pitcher in a shortened season. After his first start, the right-hander will need to get going quickly after he was lit up for five earned runs in only four innings. Berrios only struck out one in that appearance.

Photo Credit: Mitch Stringer/PressBox

Phil Backert

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