We knew expanded rosters would be a given whenever play began for the 2020 MLB season. However, when it comes to the impact that might have for Fantasy baseball, we may have let our imaginations get the best of us when we were thinking it could lead to a sudden, unexpected influx of top prospects.
In the time before MLB announced a return, the number most often cited for expanded rosters was 30, as in four extra roster spots per team. It would have been enough room for an extra prospect or two while still allowing for added bullpen depth. And with the need to distinguish itself over 60 games, why wouldn't a team take advantage?
Turns out rosters will only be expanded to 30 for just two weeks, though, as Jayson Stark of The Athletic reports. That's for the first two weeks following an abbreviated spring training — a time when teams would be most interested in expanding their bullpen depth so as not to overtax their starting pitchers. It would seem that's the entire point, in fact.
In Weeks 3 and 4 — when starting pitchers would still be under-stretched, quite frankly — rosters would still be expanded, but only to 28. That's two extra players. I'm thinking most teams would still opt for bullpen depth.
Hypothetically, even if one decided to throw caution to the wind and turn over one of those extra roster spots to a prospect it wasn't totally sure was ready, would two weeks of part-time play be enough to win hearts and minds? Maybe four would, if the prospect survived the first cut, but again, it's asking a team to overlook more pressing needs.
Still, the short season itself incentivizes teams to make bolder call-up decisions. With only 60 games to sort out playoff positioning, every team will be all the more motivated to field its best possible lineup from Day 1. It's why I still expect to see the Blue Jays' Nate Pearson and the Cardinals' Dylan Carlson on the major-league roster, if not also the Padres' MacKenzie Gore, the White Sox's Nick Madrigal and the Orioles' Ryan Mountcastle. But with rosters not actually expanded so much, teams won't be as willing to gamble on a young player's major-league readiness. If they're not convinced he's the difference, his spot will probably go to someone else.
The revelation Tuesday that there will be some semblance of minor-league ball only furthers this idea. Don't get me wrong: There won't actually be minor-league games. But every team will have a taxi squad of about 30 players working out at a nearby minor-league venue.
To break it down further, there's the active roster, which forms part of the 40-man roster, which forms most of the 60-player pool that will make up an organization's entire talent base for 2020. Of that 60-player pool, those not on the active roster will comprise the taxi squad, giving each organization a stable of injury replacements while allowing it to further the development of its most prized prospects — up to 20 that aren't already on the 40-man roster.
So yes, even after the season starts, teams will have a way to gauge their top prospects' major-league readiness. They won't have the benefit of actual games, but presumably, taxi squads will be holding scrimmages that will function much the same (the players have to stay game-ready, after all). And while the data from those scrimmages won't be publicly available, you can bet the organizations themselves will be keeping track.
Midseason promotions remain a possibility, in other words, particularly if a rash of injuries strikes a contender. It'll make for a suboptimal service-time situation, but with a championship on the line, those concerns typically go out the window.
Bottom line is we shouldn't declare a prospect-palooza just because rosters will be slightly expanded for a brief portion of the season. I'm not sure we should approach prospects so differently at all, taking a flier on the ones we think could actually win a job while keeping a close eye on the ones who could make an impact down the line.
If you want me to guess which prospect from each team has the best chance of earning one of those extra spots, I refer you to this piece.