MLB announced Friday that 31 of its players had tested positive for the coronavirus. While the league didn’t name any specific players in its press release, Braves manager Brian Snitker confirmed Saturday that All-Star first baseman Freddie Freeman was among the 31 positive tests. Three of Freeman’s Atlanta teammates including Will Smith, Touki Toussaint and Pete Kozma have also been diagnosed with COVID-19. Snitker acknowledged Freeman is battling a fever and it could be “a while” before he's able to suit up.
A four-time All-Star who finished eighth in NL MVP voting last season, Freeman is easily the highest-profile name of any big-leaguer to contract the virus. Others include Rockies outfielder Charlie Blackmon, Delino Deshields Jr. of the Cleveland Indians and Texas Rangers reliever Brett Martin. Red Sox 19-game winner Eduardo Rodriguez has been absent from training camp after being exposed to someone with COVID, though he’s still awaiting his own results.
The Braves’ mini-outbreak is precisely why MLB has employed expanded rosters with up to 60 players available for each team. The canceled minor-league season has made it easier for teams, particularly those hard-hit by the virus, to call on reinforcements.
Obviously, the string of confirmed cases in Atlanta is concerning (Freeman, Smith, Toussaint and Kozma each consented to have their names released), though the overall results of MLB’s first round of testing were fairly encouraging. Including club staffers, just 1.2 percent of the league’s 3,185 test samples came back positive. That’s well below the current national average of 8.7 percent.
Freeman now finds himself in a race against the clock with just three weeks before the league’s scheduled Opening Day. Losing Freeman, who belted a career-high 38 home runs last season (he also paced Atlanta with 121 runs driven in), for any amount of time would be a major blow to the Braves’ postseason aspirations. Atlanta earned its second straight NL East title last season but was bounced in the Division Series, bowing out to the Cardinals in five games. Corner infielders Austin Riley and Johan Camargo could both see increased reps at first base should Freeman’s absence stretch into the regular season.