The delayed start to the 2020 season will obviously have a wide range of 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 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 will 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 reaching 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 or he develops quickly 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 this season but is close to ready.
Otherwise, most of the best-regarded Cleveland farmhands are further off. But there are some prospects of note who could be 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 made a brief 2019 debut but struggled in the bigs.
The rebuilding Royals are not in a 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 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 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 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 iss an immediate possibility for the majors.
Detroit is banking on its pitching factory. We’ll begin to see the results in the immediate future. Top pitching prospects Matt Manning, Casey Mize, Beau Burrows, Tarik Skubal and Alex Faedo are all close to ready. And the team 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 Tigers have others in line first. But mid-season movement is highly possible for some of this group (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. 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 will be given MLB trials in the near future. 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.
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Only one of these teams remain in MLB exactly as they were originally named. The other seven either had a nickname change, a location change or both.