The Opener: WBC, Soto, Astros

With just ten days until Opening Day, here are three things we’ll be keeping an eye on around the baseball world throughout the day today:

1. WBC Update

Last night, Team USA (5-1) trounced Team Cuba (3-3) by a score of 14-2 to move onto the World Baseball Classic Finals. Their opponent will be decided tonight, as Team Japan (5-0) faces off against Team Mexico (4-1). Patrick Sandoval (1 ER in 3.0 IP) will take the ball for Team Mexico, facing off against Team Japan’s 21-year-old phenom, Roki Sasaki (0 ER in 3.2 IP). In addition to a strong pitching matchup, both clubs have an MLB star on a hot streak at the plate, with Randy Arozarena (1.566 OPS in 17 PA) and Shohei Ohtani (1.438 OPS in 16 PA) both standing in the top 10 of all WBC batters in terms of OPS. The game begins at 6pm CT and will air on FS1.

2. Soto injury update on the horizon?

Last night, the Padres revealed that superstar Juan Soto suffered a mild oblique strain, but few details were made available about the situation. More information could come to light regarding Soto’s situation as soon as today. Should Soto indeed miss time, Jose Azocar and Adam Engel are among those who could stand to garner some additional playing time, while a player such as David Dahl or Brandon Dixon could be called upon to fill out the Padres bench.

3. Without Altuve, where can the Astros look for middle infield depth?

Yesterday, it was announced that Astros star second baseman Jose Altuve would undergo surgery after sustaining a broken thumb while playing in the WBC. The team did not provide a formal timetable for Altuve’s return. It seems that David Hensley and Mauricio Dubon will handle second base duties until Altuve has recovered. Beyond that pair, Houston has former Orioles and Dodgers prospect Rylan Bannon on the 40-man roster and journeyman Dixon Machado in camp on a non-roster deal.

If the Astros want to add some further depth to protect against injury to one of of Hensley, Dubon or shortstop Jeremy Pena, the free-agent market still has a handful of experienced veterans, with Andrelton Simmons, Jonathan Villar and Alcides Escobar all unsigned at the moment. There will also surely be some middle infielders who’ll be designated for assignment over the next ten days or so as other teams select the contracts of prospects or veterans on minor league deals, which could create the opportunity for some minor trades or waiver claims for the ’Stros. The corresponding 40-man move could be rather straightforward, assuming the Astros feel Altuve will require a stint on the 60-day injured list while he recovers from surgery.

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