There is no precedent for the brand of baseball we're getting in 2020. We can all speculate how certain elements of it will play out — namely by considering what we, with our vague understanding of the rules, would do — but we'll all be wrong to some degree. How, we'll have just have to wait and see.
So when I say that I don't expect to see many high-end prospects promoted midseason, I still want to safeguard against the possibility I'm wrong.
True, the whole season is only about two months' time, and yes, those prospects will only be scrimmaging against each other and not playing actual competitive games. In that environment, over that span of time, could one realistically do something that makes his parent club reverse course from just a few weeks earlier and say "forget next year, we have to have him now?" I wouldn't count on it.
Then again, players will get hurt and need to be replaced. Teams will find themselves in contention and need that extra boost. Circumstances will arise that make it possible and perhaps even likely. They will arise less often and with more complications, but they will arise.
And then there's this:
Passan notes on Writers Bloc that if the Blue Jays hold Nate Pearson down for 7 days, then they'll get an extra year of control. HAVE AT IT TWITTER.— Alex Seixeiro (@alexfan590) June 24, 2020
It hasn't been widely reported or even verified to the degree I'd like, but yeah, Jeff Passan of ESPN apparently went on a podcast and pointed out that service time manipulation is still in play. So any prospect who doesn't make the cut on opening day could be up just a week later.
Thus, even in a flawed season such as this one, it's still well worth speculating which prospects will arrive later.
I won't bother with the ones we already expect to be there from the start. Maybe they technically won't be for reasons having to do with service time, but at this point, no one is sweating the 2020 relevance of these prospects:
- Jesus Luzardo, SP, Athletics
- Luis Robert, OF, White Sox
- Gavin Lux, 2B, Dodgers
- Jose Urquidy, SP, Astros
- Mitch Keller, SP, Pirates
- Sean Murphy, C, Athletics
- A.J. Puk, SP, Athletics
- Nick Solak, DH, Rangers
- Dustin May, SP, Dodgers
- Carter Kieboom, SS, Nationals
- Sam Hilliard, OF, Rockies
- Brendan McKay, SP, Rays
- Evan White, 1B, Mariners
And no, it's not a complete list.
But among those you can't already pencil in, who can you still hope will make a worthwhile Fantasy contribution in 2020? Here are 12 names, ranked by likelihood of contributing:
1) Nate Pearson, SP, Blue Jays
2019 minors: 5-4, 2.30 ERA, 0.89 WHIP, 101 2/3 IP, 27 BB, 119 K
Pearson should be the Blue Jays' fifth starter from Day 1. There's no longer a need to ease him in or manage his innings, and as effortlessly as he was mowing down big-league hitters in spring training, the countdown for his arrival had already begun. Maybe it's easy enough to skip him for just one turn through the rotation and pick up a year of control, but any longer than that raises serious questions about the Blue Jays' intentions. With an 80-grade fastball and whifftastic slider, Pearson would be a must-have in Fantasy leagues from the jump.
2) Dylan Carlson, OF, Cardinals
2019 minors: .292 BA (489 AB), 26 HR, 20 SB, .914 OPS, 58 BB, 116 K
If Pearson was the pitching prospect getting all the attention in spring training, Carlson was the hitting prospect, and now that the DH is in the NL, his path to a spot should be easy. But are these decisions ever easy? Matt Carpenter figures to get most of the starts at DH, which creates an opening in the infield rather than the outfield and leaves Carlson still battling with Tyler O'Neill for the left field spot. Maybe the Cardinals give O'Neill a one-week trial and then replace him with Carlson. Maybe they just stick with O'Neill. Maybe right fielder Dexter Fowler moves aside to accommodate both. But at 21 and with only 18 games at Triple-A, Carlson is owed nothing.
3) Nick Madrigal, 2B, White Sox
2019 minors: .311 BA (473 AB), 4 HR, 35 SB, .792 OPS, 44 BB, 16 K
The White Sox were already looking to turn the corner from rebuilders to contenders, and a 60-game schedule makes it all the more possible. So why oh why would they stick with Leury Garcia at second base when one of the top draft picks of their rebuild effort is exhibiting the sort of polish that results in just 16 strikeouts over a full minor-league season? That sort of contact rate is unheard of in today's game and makes Madrigal a surefire asset even if he does't develop power. Presumably, it's why the White Sox didn't bother to upgrade from Garcia this offseason, but Madrigal still has to do something to earn the spot. He had yet to when spring training was interrupted.
4) Nico Hoerner, SS, Cubs
2019 minors: .292 BA (288 AB), 3 HR, 17 2B, 8 SB, .752 OPS, 22 BB, 32 K
2019 majors: .282 BA (78 AB), 3 HR, 1 3B, 1 2B, .741 OPS, 3 BB, 11 K
Hoerner is kind of a less extreme version of Madrigal in that his game is mostly about contact but with some small hope of him developing power in the future. His path to the bigs should be an easy one given that he already made an impression as a fill-in for Javier Baez late last season (striking out just 13.4 percent of the time in his first look against major-league pitching) and that the Cubs don't really have an answer at second base. Non-roster invitee Jason Kipnis is the presumed front-runner, but only until the Cubs become convinced Hoerner is their best option.
5) Brendan Rodgers, 2B, Rockies
2019 minors: .350 BA (143 AB), 9 HR, 10 2B, 1.035 OPS, 14 BB, 27 K
2019 majors: .224 BA (76 AB), 2 2B, .522 OPS, 4 BB, 27 K
The arrival of the DH spot to the NL and the removal of Ian Desmond from the Rockies' 2020 plans frees up much of the talent that had begun to bottleneck at the major-league level and creates a path for Rodgers, still widely considered the team's top prospect. Daniel Murphy now becomes the obvious choice to man DH, leaving first base for Ryan McMahon, which leaves second base for ... Garrett Hampson, maybe? But if the Rockies would prefer to keep Hampson, who's also a capable outfielder, in a super utility role, then Rodgers becomes the obvious choice there, and it would be a long time coming for the third overall pick in the 2015 draft.
6) Ryan Mountcastle, 1B, Orioles
2019 minors: .312 BA (520 AB), 25 HR, .871 OPS, 24 BB, 130 K
Mountcastle was named MVP of the International League last year with numbers that would suggest he has nothing more to gain at Triple-A, so he seemed like one of the obvious candidates for a big-league debut sooner than later. But the Orioles threw us all a curveball by leaving him out of their initial player pool. They eventually added him, with one beat writer even saying he's expected to make his debut this year, but since the Orioles don't have a real hope of contending this year, how certain can we be?
7) MacKenzie Gore, SP, Padres
2019 minors: 9-2, 1.69 ERA, 0.83 WHIP, 101 IP, 28 BB, 135 K
Beat writer Dennis Lin of The Athletic suggested back in May that in the case of a shortened season, the Padres might be willing to turn over a rotation spot to the game's top prospect right away. Well, that shortened season has arrived, and with the mounting pressure for the Padres to contend and the success they had in hurrying Chris Paddack to the big leagues this year, that option is still on the table. They do have a full rotation without Gore, but it's filled out by guys like Joey Lucchesi and Zach Davies. Still, they may be enough to justify holding Gore down for a turn or two, if not longer.
8) Spencer Howard, SP, Phillies
2019 minors: 3-1, 2.03 ERA, 0.83 WHIP, 71 IP, 16 BB, 94 K
Howard's case isn't mere conjecture. General manager Matt Klentak is actually on record having said the 23-year-old would "be pitching meaningful innings for this team in the second half of the season and maybe before that." Granted, he said it still presuming Howard would have another half-season of minor-league ball under his belt, but there isn't a need to safeguard his innings anymore. And he would be a shot in the arm for an expected contender with a rotation shortage. "I think the fact that he is part of this 53-player group should reflect that we view him as a candidate to compete for us in our 60-game season," Klentak said more recently.
9) Kyle Wright, SP, Braves
2019 minors: 11-4, 4.17 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 112 1/3, 35 BB, 116 K
2019 majors: 0-3, 8.69 ERA, 1.88 WHIP, 19 2/3 IP, 13 BB, 18 K
Wright won a rotation spot at the start of last season, but it went so disastrously that his prospect stock hasn't fully recovered. He was looking good in spring training, though, striking out 15 in 13 1/3 innings with a 2.03 ERA and 0.75 WHIP, and ended last year's minor-league season on a high note. Scouts are generally still high on the former fifth overall pick, who offers a legitimate four-pitch arsenal and some of the best stuff in the organization but is still working on command and sequencing. He would likely be first up should a rotation opening develop.
10) Bobby Dalbec, 3B, Red Sox
2019 minors: .239 BA (472 AB), 27 HR, .816 OPS, 73 BB, 139 K
Power remains Dalbec's calling card, but he actually made some strides as a contact hitter last year that didn't show up in the batting average, cutting his strikeout rate from 32.4 the year before to a respectable 24.7. He's showing signs of being a finished product at age 25, and if Michael Chavis settles in at second base for the big club, it means the Red Sox are looking at another year of Mitch Moreland at first base. Dalbec should be able to push him aside in short order, even if it's not right from the jump.
11) Alec Bohm, 3B, Phillies
2019 minors: .305 BA (475 AB), 21 HR, 30 2B, .896 OPS, 57 BB, 73 K
Bohm made big strides at the plate between three levels last year, developing a power stroke to go along with a strong hitting base highlighted by first-rate plate discipline. And seeing as he's closing in on his 24th birthday, it wouldn't at all be a rush job getting him to the big leagues this year, especially since the Phillies could easily move around some of their position players to clear a spot for him at third base. Still, it doesn't sound like it's a serious consideration at the start of the season, and since this season will pass by in the blink of an eye, we can't assume it will have time to become one.