Top prospect Zack Wheeler sidelined by oblique strain

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The Mets scratched right-hander Zack Wheeler from his scheduled outing Wednesday because of a strained oblique suffered while hitting in the cage.

Wheeler didn’t believe the injury was serious, saying he hopes to make his next start. The Mets, though, figure to be extra cautious with the 22-year-old, who rates among the game’s top five pitching prospects. Wheeler is already locked in to starting the season in Triple-A, so there’s no reason to take any chances and have him risk a setback.

Wheeler was due to make his first spring start today after throwing two scoreless innings out of the pen Saturday against the Nationals. He was a bit wild in that one, but he topped out at 97 mph.  Had he pitched against the Cardinals today, Wheeler would have had a chance to face Carlos Beltran, the star the Mets gave up to acquire Wheeler from the Giants in 2011.

Royals sign Michael Saunders to a minor-league deal

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Free agent outfielder Michael Saunders has agreed to a minor-league contract with the Royals, the team announced Friday. While the move comes just two days after Saunders agreed to terms with the Pirates, he allegedly asked for his release after the club acquired outfielder Corey Dickerson in a multi-player swap with the Rays on Thursday. MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan adds that Saunders will make $1.5 million upon reaching the majors, with a potential $500,000 in bonuses.

After earning his first spot on an All-Star team in 2016, Saunders followed up a solid campaign with a career-worst performance in 2017. The 31-year-old split the season between the Phillies and Blue Jays’ camps, batting a combined .202/.256/.344 with six home runs and -0.7 fWAR in 234 plate appearances. Although he remained healthy throughout the year, with no sign of the lingering hamstring strain that has plagued him on and off since 2013, he wasn’t productive enough to merit a full-time role on either roster.

With Dickerson slated for a starting role in Pittsburgh, it was unlikely that Saunders would have commanded anything other than a backup role in 2018. Now, however, he’ll compete for playing time amid a slew of outfield options, including Alex Gordon, Cody Asche, Jorge Bonifacio, Tyler Collins and Paulo Orlando.