The delayed start to the 2020 season will obviously have a wide range of massive effects on Major League Baseball. Among them: a totally different promotional timeline for some of the game’s most exciting young players. We will never know how things would’ve unfolded. And we don’t yet even know what the parameters are for an altered season. But there’s no doubting the impact.
Typically, opportunities open as rosters evolve over the course of a grueling, 162-game season. Some top prospects force their way up to the majors; others are called upon because a need arises. In a shorter campaign, there’ll be less attrition … though we may also see relaxed roster rules and changes to allocation of service time that could create opportunities.
Still, with more time to examine rosters and think about the state of the game, there’s an opportunity to stop and appreciate the young talent on the cusp of the majors. We’ll run through the most interesting prospects pressing for near-term MLB action. Having already looked at the American League West, let’s head to the AL Central:
Third baseman Nolan Jones won’t be tasked with a big league job out of the gates, but could be an option if there’s a need and/or he develops as hoped. Soon to turn 22, Jones has done nothing but produce in the minors. He’s due for a bit more seasoning at Triple-A but is close to ready.
Otherwise, most of the best-regarded Cleveland farmhands are further off. But there are some other prospects of note who are immediate factors. Relievers Emmanuel Clase and James Karinchak could hold key bullpen roles, though the former will first need to get to full health. Southpaw Logan Allen is a swingman option. First baseman Bobby Bradley and outfielder Daniel Johnson are both on the 40-man roster and ready for MLB chances after strong seasons in the upper minors. (Bradley also made a brief 2019 debut but struggled in the bigs.)
The rebuilding Royals need not be in any rush, but top pitching prospects Brady Singer and Jackson Kowar could force the organization’s hand. The former sprinted to Double-A in his first professional season; the latter in his second. They both looked plenty comfortable at the penultimate level of the minors and will likely dictate their own timelines.
Otherwise, there are only a few players with significant “prospect” billing who seem likely to be near-term options. Outfielder Nick Heath and third baseman Kelvin Gutierrez are both on the 40-man roster, so could be called upon to fill any injury gaps. Outfielder Khalil Lee is considered a higher-upside young player, though he’ll need to polish some things up if he’s to force his way onto the MLB roster in 2020. The pitching staff could call upon inexperienced arms including Scott Blewett, Chance Adams, and Richard Lovelady.
The Minnesota organization just keeps getting more intriguing. Depending upon the development of some top prospects and needs at the MLB level, it could be another year for interesting graduations … or one to watch and wait.
Top prospects Royce Lewis and Alex Kirilloff both have the ability and the positioning to press for the majors in the near term. But will they force the issue … or will there be an opening? The Twins aren’t in need of help at shortstop or in the outfield, at least on paper, but both have star-level upside and will get their chance when the time is right.
Outfielder/first baseman Brent Rooker doesn’t have a clear path to the bigs just yet but could get a look if a need arises. Though he is no longer considered an elite prospect, infielder Nick Gordon is also a near-term option. His situation is helped by the fact he already has a 40-man roster spot. Likewise, having already debuted, lefty Lewis Thorpe is perhaps the best-regarded Minnesota pitching prospect who’s an immediate possibility for the majors, though we’ll surely see fellow lefty Devin Smeltzer and right-hander Randy Dobnak in 2020 as well. Both impressed in their 2019 debuts. Flamethrowing righty Jorge Alcala allowed two runs in 20 innings between Double-A, Triple-A and the Majors after moving to the ’pen in late July.
The Detroit organization is banking on its pitching factory. We’ll begin to see the results in the immediate future. Top starting prospects Matt Manning, Casey Mize, Beau Burrows, and Alex Faedo are all nearing readiness. And the team also has some promising relievers on tap, including Bryan Garcia, Anthony Castro, and perhaps Rule 5 choice Rony Garcia. Precisely when and how these arms will be slotted into the MLB staff remains to be seen. In the starting staff, especially, the organization has others in line first. But mid-season movement is highly possible (depending, in no small part, upon what shape the 2020 season takes).
Though the position-player side of the farm isn’t as loaded, there are quite a few near-term candidates for MLB roles. Infielders Isaac Paredes, Willi Castro, and Sergio Alcantara all have 40-man spots and can be called upon as soon as there’s a need or desire to do so. Ditto outfielder Daz Cameron, a player who has had ups and downs in the minors but still possesses a fairly lofty ceiling. Catcher Jake Rogers had an abysmal debut with the bat but hit well in the upper minors last year and is considered a quality defender.
Last but certainly not least … the South Siders are stacked with young players who’ll be given MLB trials in the near term. Recently extended center fielder Luis Robert leads the charge as one of the game’s most touted prospects. But there are other blue-chippers as well. Given the delay in the season, high-upside righty Michael Kopech will have a chance to finish rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. And recent first-rounder Nick Madrigal has little left to show in the upper minors. He could take over at second base and push Leury Garcia into a utility role.
Those are the big names, but there are others as well. Infielder Danny Mendick had a nice cup of coffee last year and could also be a platoon option at second base or take on a utility job. With a 26th roster spot to work with, bat-first catchers Zack Collins and Seby Zavala could play interesting roles. Righties Zack Burdi and Ian Hamilton will have to overcome health troubles but could end up playing significant roles in the bullpen if they’re able.