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Wheeler: Every NHL team's best draft of the last 20 years – The Athletic



Ah, revisionist history. The lifeblood of every hockey fan. The rage-inducing coulda, shoulda, wouldas. Deep down, we all love to complain. Sports fans are bellyachers by nature.

And there are no bigger what-could-have-beens than the ones that come with the draft. When an NHL general manager makes a trade, we rarely know what else was available, who else they could have acquired, or why they bought or sold at the price that they did. But we know the draft results. It’s as simple as taking the guy who become better than the guy you actually took. Right? Right!? Right!?!?

This week, across two days, I’ll dive into the best and worst of every team’s draft history across the last 20 years, detailing my case for every team’s greatest triumphs and their largest failures — and come to some conclusions about the overall draft performance of each team along the way (hint: some teams have had several legendary classes, while others have struggled…

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Blue Jays’ creativity will be tested during unique training camp –



Playing baseball during a pandemic will demand many things from MLB’s players, coaches and staff. First and foremost, the acceptance of untold risk to their health. Second, a strict adherence to the rules and regulations necessary to keep everyone as safe as possible. That’s before you even consider a three-week lead-up to a 60-game season — a hit-the-ground-running dash that will challenge everyone to be resourceful and creative, making the most of limited time while adhering to the precautions necessary to prevent further spread of a novel and unpredictable virus.

As training camps get underway this weekend ahead of an expected July 23 opening day, we’re finding out what that looks like. At stadiums across the league, pitchers are taking the mound with personal rosin bags and wet rags to be used for moisture in lieu of licking fingers. Hitters are greeting one another with elbow bumps or foot taps and stepping in for batting practice with masks over their faces. Clubhouse attendants are disinfecting baseballs at the end of every workout. Everyone’s trying their best not to spit.

Toronto Blue Jays players who have cleared MLB’s intake protocol and provided two negative COVID-19 tests are currently experiencing similar scenes in Dunedin, Fla., where group workouts have been taking place since Friday. Meanwhile, some Blue Jays still have to wait to participate, as testing turnaround takes time.

But provided the club can satisfy all of MLB’s protocols and the additional governmental measures they’ve agreed to undertake in order to hold camp north of the border, the Blue Jays plan to fly a private charter full of players and staff up to Toronto on Sunday night. And they hope to hold a group workout under open skies at Rogers Centre the next day — the stadium’s retractable roof itself factoring in as one of the many health considerations.

“More the mental health,” Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins said on a conference call with media Saturday afternoon. “I think just being in the open air and feeling the sun, certainly there’s huge benefit to that with the restrictions and guidelines that we’re going to be under for a few weeks. Getting the sun on our skin and having that opportunity to feel a different level of humidity and a different overall climate is definitely a huge positive for us and for our players.”

Yes, a little sun never hurt anyone — particularly not players and staff who will be rushing to prepare for a season unlike they’ve ever experienced under less-than ideal circumstances. Next week’s workouts at Rogers Centre will occur in waves, with staggered groups of players taking the field throughout the day. The hours will be extremely long for coaches and staff in particular, as players cycle in and out, each on their own individualized progression.

Some pitchers have only thrown an inning of live batting practice at this point, while others have built up to as many as four innings of simulated game work. Some hitters have seen live pitching over the last three months; others haven’t. It will take a concerted and creative effort in order to ensure each player gets the work and attention they need.

A big consideration will be physical space, which will be at a premium as everyone tries to remain as distanced as possible. Players will be assigned to one of four different locker rooms; pitchers will make use of all five mounds the ballpark holds; hitters will be split up between the on-field batting cage and the two smaller ones deep within the stadium’s guts. It’s possible you could have a pitcher throwing a side session on the game mound, while baserunners practice their leads behind him, and outfielders run routes behind that.

“It’s about using every ounce of your facility and as much of your day as you can possibly use without taxing staff too much,” Atkins said. “Spreading things out more. Having less people in confined and restricted areas for less time. When we do have a larger number of people there, having it be for very short periods of time. Thinking about that as its happening across the entire day as opposed to a traditional workout that could be started and finished within three to four hours.”

The Blue Jays are working on ways to create heightened levels of competition throughout camp in order to re-introduce players to the physical and mental stresses of baseball at the highest level. Although club President Mark Shapiro indicated recently that the Blue Jays weren’t planning to play any pre-season games against other teams, the organization is still working on the possibility of an exhibition set south of the border in the days leading up to their opener, which is expected to be in St. Petersburg, Fla. against the Tampa Bay Rays. But until the Blue Jays find a dance partner, they’ll have to rely on live batting practice, simulated games and intrasquad scrimmages to expose players to game-like scenarios.

And those activities will have to continue into the season, as the players who don’t crack Toronto’s 30-man opening day roster continue working at the club’s “alternative training site.” The Blue Jays are planning to run that satellite camp out of Sahlen Field in Buffalo, NY, provided they can finalize an arrangement with the federal government to allow players to cross the border smoothly if they’re called up to Toronto.

And it’s not hard to envision scenarios in which the Blue Jays will be dipping into that pool. Say, for example, on day one of a six-game road trip Toronto’s starting pitcher is injured in the second inning and leaves the game. A succession of relievers pick up the pieces, but the next night Toronto’s starter gets shelled and can only record five outs, forcing the bullpen to carry a heavy load again. Many of Toronto’s relievers are now running on fumes with a get-away day game starting in only 14 hours, followed by the final three games of the road trip in a different city.

Situations like this arise all the time over the course of a 162-game season, as injuries, over-use and poor performance lead to perpetual roster churn. Remember, 30 pitchers threw at least 10 innings for the Blue Jays last season. Had you forgotten about Javy Guerra, Zack Godley, Nick Kingham and Buddy Boshers?

But it stands to reason that the burn rate will be greater in this strange season. Opening day is less than three weeks away and the Blue Jays are only now beginning training camp. Arms will be stressed as pitchers race to prepare for the season, testing the durability of their shoulders, elbows and forearms. Not everyone’s body will endure the demands.

And when that season starts, the intensity and magnitude of each game will be elevated as team’s try to shoot out of the blocks in a 60-game sprint to the playoffs. Pitchers will be trying to execute with as much conviction as possible; hitters will be more dialled in to every plate appearance; managers will have a quicker trigger as they try to never let their team fall too far out of a game. Not everyone’s performance will meet the challenge.

All things considered, it won’t be a surprise to see the Blue Jays calling upon reinforcements from the alternate training site early and often. And it will be imperative that those players are physically and mentally prepared to step into a major-league environment and help the team win. The challenge for Blue Jays staff is finding a way to keep those individuals as engaged as possible.

A monotonous, spring training-esque routine of lifting at 8 a.m., throwing or hitting at 9 a.m., fielding at 10 a.m., and rehab at 11 a.m. before spending the rest of the day in meetings or confined to a hotel room will grow tedious and tiresome awfully fast. The Blue Jays will need to program schedules to be varied and challenging, providing players with fresh stimulus and motivation to show up at the ballpark every day with a purpose.

There will also be a group of young, further-away prospects — Jordan Groshans, Alek Manoah, Simeon Woods Richardson, Alejandro Kirk — working out next to major-league depth at the alternate training site that the club’s hoping to concurrently expose to unique developmental opportunities.

“We have an incredibly creative player development staff — many of those members will be with us in Buffalo. And we’ve already started to talk about what that could look like,” Atkins said. “There’s a lot of creativity that has occurred and a lot of collaboration with our performance staff to make sure we’re tapping into sports science and tapping into opportunities to prioritize goals that we have for individuals. And we’ll look to create competition in every possible way.”

Maybe, for starting pitchers like Manoah and Woods Richardson, the club designs something close to a start week routine — with a side session, scouting reports to study and a catcher’s meeting leading up to a sim game against the hitters they spent the week game-planning for.

Meanwhile, hitters could prepare for their sim game plate appearances against those starters by studying video, looking to pick up cues in deliveries and thinking about how they might be attacked. Relievers could keep bullpens fresh with competitions that award points for locating certain pitches in certain quadrants of the zone, like this one designed by Cincinnati Reds pitching coordinator Eric Jagers:

Still, a challenge for Blue Jays coaches in Buffalo will be navigating the turnover of players coming and going — either because they’ve been called up, injured or chosen to accompany the major-league club on a road trip, as teams will be permitted to carry a taxi squad of up to three players for away games.

Those taxi squad players will train with the club and remain on standby in case of any last-minute injuries or coronavirus-related absences. They won’t receive MLB pay or service time but will receive the Major League allowance of $108.50 per day. If a team carries a full taxi squad, one of the three players must be a catcher — and that catcher can remain with the club during home games in order to catch bullpens.

Six-year veteran Caleb Joseph, signed to a minor-league deal over the winter, is an obvious candidate to be that catcher. Santiago Espinal and Ruben Tejada also stand out as potential taxi squad fits, considering their ability to cover a variety of positions around the diamond. A reliever with the ability to pitch multiple innings — think Jacob Waguespack or Thomas Pannone — would make sense as well.

It all adds up to a lot of moving pieces as the Blue Jays try to make the most of this strange, shortened season. There is much to accomplish, but not much time or space with which to accomplish it. But such are the realities of playing baseball during a pandemic. And as they let the sun in to the Rogers Centre this week, the Blue Jays are hoping it’ll not only bring a little light to their training camp, but some resourcefulness and creativity, too.

“We’ve already talked a lot about how we can create the best development opportunities while having guys primed to help our major league team,” Atkins said. “Putting guys in positions to continue to think about baseball in a different way. And think about their development in a different way. Albeit sometimes not in a team environment or in a competitive environment — but there are still going to be opportunities for us to learn and grow.”

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Tough day for MLB: Price out, Freeman positive, Tanaka hurt – CP24 Toronto's Breaking News



Steve Megargee, The Associated Press

Published Saturday, July 4, 2020 7:42PM EDT

Last Updated Saturday, July 4, 2020 8:17PM EDT

Freddie Freeman tests positive for COVID-19. Masahiro Tanaka gets hit in the head by a line drive. David Price announces he won’t play this season.

On this Fourth of July, even the return of baseball didn’t offer much cause for celebration.

As teams prepared to start their pandemic-shortened season, sobering examples of the game’s potential danger took place at camps across the country.

Major League Baseball is getting ready for a 60-game season that won’t include Price, a former Cy Young Award winner who was traded from the Boston Red Sox to the Los Angeles Dodgers in February.

“After considerable thought and discussion with my family and the Dodgers, I have decided it is in the best interest of my health and my family’s health for me to not play this season,” the five-time All-Star tweeted Saturday.

“I will miss my teammates and will be cheering for them throughout the season and on to a World Series victory. I’m sorry I won’t be playing for you this year, but look forward to representing you next year,” Price said.

The 34-year-old Price said he was opting out about five hours after Atlanta manager Brian Snitker announced Freeman had tested positive along with Braves pitchers Will Smith and Touki Toussaint as well as infielder Pete Kozma. Snitker said Smith and Toussaint were asymptomatic and noted Kozma had a fever.

Freeman is “not feeling great,” Snitker said.

“It will be a while before we can get him back,” he said of the four-time All-Star first baseman.

It was uncertain whether Freeman would be ready for the start of the season, scheduled for July 23.

The New York Yankees said All-Star infielder DJ LeMahieu and pitcher Luis Cessa tested positive for COVID-19 before travelling to New York and were self-isolating at home. Manager Aaron Boone said LeMahieu was asymptomatic and Cessa had mild symptoms.

Kansas City catcher Salvador Perez and Twins first baseman Miguel Sano also tested positive.

Due to concerns about medical privacy laws, MLB isn’t making a practice of disclosing which players test positive. For example, Baltimore Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said the team doesn’t intend to reveal to the general public if anyone has tested positive. The Pittsburgh Pirates acknowledged there were positive tests within the organization but didn’t get into specifics.

In the Braves’ case, the four players who tested positive permitted Snitker to reveal their names. It’s a move he applauded.

“For me, I think it’s good in the industry and society, to know that this is a real deal,” Snitker said. “This virus is real. It’s nothing to mess with.”

Snitker said Braves first base coach Eric Young Sr. already has opted out due to COVID-19 concerns.

Houston’s Dusty Baker, who at 71 is the oldest MLB manager, added that “I admire Freddie Freeman and his group for coming out saying what the problem is. And hopefully this can get through to other people, other young people.”

Indeed, the news surrounding Freeman offered a reminder to players across the league that anyone is potentially susceptible. Freeman joins Colorado Rockies outfielder Charlie Blackmon as four-time All-Stars who have tested positive.

“It doesn’t matter – age, race, ethnicity, religion,” Milwaukee Brewers star Ryan Braun said. “Nobody is immune from this thing. I think there are constant reminders when you see the amount of athletes who have tested positive, the amount of big-name athletes who have tested positive and you hear some of their stories.”

San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey says he hasn’t ruled out the possibility of sitting out this season, assuming the games are actually played. The six-time All-Star isn’t yet convinced there will even be a season.

“The way I would project it is I wouldn’t be surprised by anything at this point,” Posey said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we played 60 games with no hiccup and I wouldn’t be surprised if we didn’t play a game at all and I wouldn’t be surprised if we played half the games. That’s just the variability of this to me.”

“I just really think there’s no way we can give a hard line answer one way or another to what this is going to look like a week from now much less two months from now,” he said.

Posey’s comments came one day after three-time AL MVP Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels said he still doesn’t “feel that comfortable” about playing this season with his wife expecting their first child in August. Trout said he is planning to play at this point but that much would depend on how he feels the next couple of weeks.

Texas Rangers outfielder Nick Solak said that “after getting tested, just waiting for the results, there’s a level of anxiety.” He acknowledged that anxiety might subside as the season wears on and players get more accustomed to going through the tests.

The most frightening scene of the day didn’t involve the coronavirus at all.

During the Yankees’ first official summer camp workout, Tanaka got hit in the head by Giancarlo Stanton’s live drive. Tanaka immediately collapsed and stayed own for a few minutes before sitting up and eventually walking off.

The Yankees said in a statement that Tanaka was responsive and walking under his own power. He was sent to New York-Presbyterian Hospital for further evaluation.

That was the scariest moment of baseball’s bizarre and eerie return to the Bronx.

Before they even began their first official workout, Yankees players were startled mid-stretch around when someone set off a firework just outside the ballpark that echoed throughout the empty stadium. Similar bangs went off intermittently throughout the workout.

About 45 minutes after Tanaka was hit, a deafening siren went off in Yankee Stadium, drowning out music playing through the PA system for about 30 seconds. Emergency lights flashed around the stadium for about five minutes, as well.

AP sports writers Dave Ginsburg, Will Graves, Stephen Hawkins, Janie McCauley, Charles Odum, Kristie Rieken, Jake Seiner and Steven Wine contributed to this report.

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Yankees' Tanaka released from hospital after line drive to head – CANOE



New York Yankees pitcher Masahiro Tanaka, who was hit in the head by a line drive off the bat of teammate Giancarlo Stanton on Saturday, has been released from hospital, the Major League Baseball team said on Saturday.

Yankees manager Aaron Boone said Tanaka had concussion-like symptoms before leaving for the hospital but they have since dissipated and a CT scan returned negative. Tanaka will have to go through concussion protocol before returning to the field, Boone said.

The incident happened the same day the Yankees announced that infielder DJ LeMahieu and right-hander Luis Cessa have tested positive for COVID-19 and are away from the team.

According to Boone, both players tested positive before arriving to New York and are self-isolating at their homes, outside the state. He said LeMahieu was asymptomatic while Cessa has mild symptoms.

“We are hopeful (their absence) will be a short time but they are not here at this point, so we’ll see how that continues to unfold over the next several days,” Boone said during a virtual news conference with reporters following workouts.

In a terrifying scene during his team’s first official workout since returning from the COVID-19 layoff, the right-handed Japanese pitcher immediately dropped to the ground where he remained for several minutes.

Trainers and teammates rushed to the mound where Tanaka, 31, was tended to. He was then helped to his feet and walked off the field with the assistance of trainers.

“Anytime you see that on a baseball field and then add a layer, that it’s a teammate, I mean that stops you in your tracks and you hope for the best,” said Boone.

Tanaka, who was facing his third batter of the day in the simulated game, was responsive after the incident but was sent to hospital for further evaluation and testing.

After the incident a protective screen was placed in front of the mound before Jordan Montgomery took over pitching duties.

“I was a little timid after seeing that, a little squirrelly,” said Montgomery.

“That’s kind of a freak accident, a one-in-a-million chance of happening. And then it does, it’s terrifying. Especially as a teammate and friend, you don’t want to see anybody hurting.”

Tanaka became the fifth-highest paid MLB pitcher when the prized free agent signed with New York in 2014 following a dominant career with Japan’s Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles.

In 2019, Tanaka finished the season with a record of 11-9 in 31 starts with an earned-run average of 4.45.

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