The 2020 Major League Baseball season will be unlike any in baseball history because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The season will be only 60 games, easily the shortest ever, and the designated hitter will be used in both leagues. Also, a runner will be placed at second base to begin extra innings to avoid long games.
COVID-19 is an ongoing concern and there won't be a proper minor-league season this year, so MLB teams will have a 60-man player pool in 2020. They will need a feeder system to provide call-up options and injury (and, yes, illness) replacements, and the expanded roster provides that. Here's how the rosters will work in 2020:
- 30-man active roster first two weeks of the regular season.
- 28-man active roster next two weeks of the regular season.
- 26-man roster the rest of the regular season and postseason.
- All other players go on the available player pool taxi squad.
Taxi squad players will work out and stay game ready at a separate site away from the major-league club -- most teams are stashing taxi squad players at a nearby minor-league affiliate ballpark -- and await a call-up. It's not an ideal arrangement, but it's the best MLB and the MLBPA can do during these adverse times.
Sunday afternoon was the deadline for teams to submit their 60-man player pool to MLB. Since then, the 30 clubs have slowly been announcing their 2020 rosters (the Brewers and Diamondbacks are among the teams planning to announce their rosters Monday). Here's what you need to know about the 60-man player pools around the league.
The player pools are incomplete
First and foremost, the 60-man player pools are not complete. Every team left a few spots open -- the Orioles really abused the system and announced only 44 players Sunday -- for several reasons. Most notably, they want to retain the flexibility to sign a player another team releases in the coming days without having to go through the headache of clearing a spot for him.
Why is clearing a spot a headache? Teams can replace players on their 60-man roster, but anyone removed from the player pool must pass through waivers, even non-40-man-roster players. Put a top prospect on your 60-man roster and later realize it's a bad idea because he won't help you this year? Too bad, he has to go on waivers to be removed. Teams want to avoid that.
Spring training 2.0, henceforth known as "summer camp," is scheduled to open Wednesday, though workouts won't begin until all personnel passes a COVID-19 test. Expect teams to finish filling out their 60-man player pool in the coming days. They want to see who becomes available before committing to 60 names.
The top prospect in baseball made it
Shortstop Wander Franco, the No. 1 prospect in baseball, was included on the Rays' 60-man player pool. This is notable not only because Franco is the game's top prospect, but also because he's still only 19 and has yet to play above Single-A ball. Here's a snippet of what our R.J. Anderson wrote about Franco over the winter:
Franco checks all the boxes for projection. He has all the innate characteristics required to be an impact-level player, ranging from his strength to his speed to his throwing ability and so on. One rival talent evaluator joked during the summer that Franco probably could've held his own against big-league pitching. It wasn't meant as a serious evaluation, per se, but it speaks to Franco's polish and talent level all the same. Even if he has to move off shortstop, he might end up as one of the best players in baseball.
Franco authored a .327/.398/.487 batting line with more walks (56) than strikeouts (35) in 114 games at two Single-A levels as an 18-year-old last season. That level of plate discipline as a teenager is special. Because he's on the 60-man roster, there is a chance Franco could make his MLB debut this season. Even if he doesn't, just being on the roster tells us how advanced he is at 19.
Other top prospects made it too
Teams are using their 60-man player pools in different ways. Contenders are loading up on players who can help them this year. Rebuilding teams are skewing a little younger and going with prospects who might not see big-league time this season, but would benefit from working out with the taxi squad. After all, it's either taxi squad or sit at home all summer.
Among top prospects included on 60-man player pools other than Franco are Indians third baseman Nolan Jones, Reds lefty Nick Lodolo, Tigers righties Matt Manning and Casey Mize, Blue Jays righties Alek Manoah and Nate Pearson, and Nationals righty Jackson Rutledge. All of R.J. Anderson's top five Tigers prospects were included on their 60-man player pool.
Notably absent from the 60-man player pools are Orioles catcher Adley Rutschman and Tigers slugger Spencer Torkelson, the No. 1 picks in the 2019 and 2020 drafts, respectively. Don't freak out though. Rutschman is expected to be added to the 60-man roster in the coming days and Torkelson will presumably be added once he signs his contract.
Several 2020 draftees were included
MLB's annual amateur draft was less than one month ago and several some teams are not hesitating to carry 2020 draftees on their 60-man player pools this season. The Braves included Wake Forest lefty Jared Shuster, the 25th overall selection this year, on their 60-man roster. The Tigers are carrying second rounder Dillon Dingler, a catcher out of Ohio State.
Other 2020 draftees are expected to be included on the final 60-man player pools, including Torkelson.
Los Angeles selected Miller and Knack, two right-handed pitchers, with their first- and second-round picks this month, respectively. They want them on the taxi squad and getting pro instruction after missing most of the college season this spring. Other teams feel the same way. They don't want their 2020 draftees to fall behind developmentally.
Aquino assigned to the taxi squad
Clubs will hold summer camp at two sites: their major-league ballpark and their taxi-squad site, otherwise known as their alternate site. Some teams are already announcing which players will train where, and it stands to reason players assigned to the major-league ballpark have a better chance to make the Opening Day 30-man active roster.
Hands down, the most surprising player assigned to train at the alternate site is Reds slugger Aristides Aquino, . The guy hit 19 home runs in 56 games and can't even get an invite to the major-league park? Rough. Then again, the Reds are loaded with outfielders at the moment, and they need to prioritize players they expect to be on the Opening Day roster. Aquino is currently on the outside looking in.