Yoán Moncada has spent the past couple of months working out in what he called a “controlled and limited environment” in Florida, where the White Sox slugger could continue to get at-bats while protecting himself from the coronavirus.
That’s a good description of the environment that greeted him upon his return to Chicago.
Players began reporting to their teams and home ballparks Wednesday in the most significant step yet as Major League Baseball presses ahead with its plan for a 60-game sprint of a season. Most players underwent a battery of health checks, not only for COVID-19 but also for any other lingering ailments from spring training, ahead of planned workouts beginning Friday and Saturday.
“We were doing workouts by time, you know? You have to reserve a time. I wasn’t interacting with a lot of people there,” Moncada said of his sessions in Florida. “The last couple of weeks I started lifting a little bit. I was hitting with limitations that we had during this situation. But I feel good. I’m ready to go.”
Much like other clubs, the White Sox intend to split their 60-man roster into two groups, one working out in the morning and the other in the afternoon. All players will have their temperatures checked multiple times each day, observe increased social distancing and get accustomed to stringent safeguards that MLB has put into place for the season.
“That’s going to be different to see and feel as a team,” Moncada said. “We’ll have to wait and see Friday how it goes.”
The Yankees won’t hold their first full-team workout until Saturday, even though manager Aaron Boone said players began intake testing Wednesday. That’s when he plans to address the team for the first time — also in waves.
“We’ll have to get creative with how we communicate,” said Boone, who plans to make the same speech three or four times.
Faced with the prospect of playing 60 games in 66 days, time-consuming safety protocols, the responsibility to remain diligent health-wise off the field and the general anxiety of working amid a pandemic, Boone believes focus and toughness can be as important to a team this season as baserunning and bullpen management.
“How do you deal with that mentally and emotionally?” Boone asked. “How you’re able to separate that out when you take the field each and every night? There’s an advantage to be had there.”
After gauging workloads for pitchers during the shutdown, Boone expects his starters will be ready to face live hitters on the first day of summer camp. He plans to stay flexible on usage and may consider using a six-man rotation or openers, but nothing has been determined yet as all teams adjust to a new norm.
“An injury can wipe out a season in a hurry,” Boone said, adding that he’s likely to be cautious with players early after New York placed a major league record 30 players on the injured list a total of 39 times last season.
Orioles general manager Mike Elias said there had been no positive tests for COVID-19 among players and staff who were examined Wednesday, but he acknowledged that “it’s going to be an ongoing process.”
Elias has thus far named only 44 players of the 60 available to participate in the preseason workout. He will decide later which prospects will fill out the preseason roster in advance of a projected season opener July 23 or July 24.
And despite rising numbers of COVID-19 cases across the country and a few players opting out, most players and executives have been bullish on the season taking place. They believe in protocols hammered out during lengthy negotiations between MLB and its players’ association and are eager to provide fans with some much-needed diversion.
“We’ve got to make sure we understand best practices in social distancing, make sure we know we are keeping ourselves not only apart from one another but also behaving in a way that’s consistent to what’s going to keep us all healthy,” Mets general manager Brodie Van Wagenen said. “Provided we can all work together to comply with these protocols and respect — as I said earlier — respect each other and respect the rules, I’m optimistic that we can make this happen.”