Assuming MLB is able to effectively navigate the COVID-19 pandemic and complete a season in 2020, baseball analysts David Schoenfield and Joe Sheehan believe the Orioles would be well-served to play near-ready prospects like Ryan Mountcastle so they can develop against major-league competition.
MLB recently announced plans for a 60-game season starting July 23 or 24, with players reporting to their home cities for a second spring training July 1. Clubs will pick out 60 players who will be eligible to play for the big-league team in 2020. That list will initially include those on the 40-man roster and taxi-squad players.
To prepare for the season, those players will work out at their club’s big-league stadium or at a satellite camp held nearby, like at a minor-league affiliate’s facility or on a college campus. That satellite camp will serve as the team’s home for taxi-squad players throughout the season. Each team will start with a 30-man active roster in late July, but that’ll eventually shrink to 26. At that point, taxi squads could have as many as 34 players. Taxi-squad players won’t receive big-league service time.
With the minor-league season all but canceled, one of the questions facing a rebuilding team like the Orioles is how to ensure prospects get something out of 2020. The Orioles have several prospects with plenty of experience at Double-A or Triple-A, such as outfielders Mountcastle and Yusniel Diaz and pitchers Keegan Akin, Dean Kremer, Zac Lowther and Bruce Zimmermann.
Should the Orioles just give those players a 60-game trial in the big leagues as part of the next phase of their development?
“Teams like the Tigers, the Orioles, the Royals that have a lot of these guys and the team’s not going anywhere, I certainly think it’s worthwhile to get some of those players that experience – certainly better than not playing baseball for a year,” ESPN’s Schoenfield said on Glenn Clark Radio June 25. “That’s certainly not good for their development time. So I think we will see those types of players on bad teams in the majors.”
The author of the Joe Sheehan Baseball Newsletter agrees with that notion. Sheehan noted that if prospects don’t perform well, teams could simply take them off the active roster in order to regain a year of service. Though it’s unclear how exactly service time will be calculated this year for those not already on major-league contracts, it appears teams will be still able to manipulate service time for young players.
“They don’t play well, you put them back on the [taxi squad] and you don’t have them up for the start of next season. You manipulate his service time next year,” Sheehan said on GCR June 23. “And I’m not endorsing that. I’m saying that’s what teams are going to do. But you still have the option to do that in the case that it doesn’t work.”
All 30 teams will face decisions with prospects who are close to big-league ready. For example, the Tigers are in the midst of a similar rebuild as the Orioles, and they’ll need to decide whether to use the 60-game season as development for high-end pitching prospects Casey Mize, Matt Manning and Tarik Skubal.
Another option would be to populate taxi squads with prospects, whether they’re close to the big leagues or not, and try to get them into games later this year in an extended fall league or instructional league setup. Sheehan would rather see near-ready prospects in the big leagues.
“I think the quality of play is also a question, so Mize, Manning and Skubal – these three great pitching prospects – might not be facing quite the same level of competition in the majors that they might’ve in a typical major-league season,” Sheehan said. “There are choices that teams like that … might have developmental reasons and competitive reasons just to push them to the major leagues now.”
Playing near-ready prospects would also give fans of rebuilding teams something to watch. Plus, it’s unclear how next year’s draft order will be determined, so keeping prospects down in order to better position oneself for the 2021 MLB Draft might not make much sense.
“If you’re one of these teams that weren’t expected to compete this year, you have a chance to give the people in your city something to be excited about in the middle of everything that’s going on,” Sheehan said. “This isn’t, ‘Baseball is going to save America’ argument. It’s a, ‘The Orioles could make Baltimore baseball fans feel a little bit better for a little while.’ I think that’s worth it.”
Major leaguers and near-ready prospects won’t be the only players on 60-man rosters this year. Mariners CEO John Stanton said young prospects like Jarred Kelenic and 2020 first-round draft pick Emerson Hancock will be on Seattle’s taxi squad so they can get some work in. For the Orioles, that would mean prospects like catcher Adley Rutschman, outfielder Heston Kjerstad and pitchers Grayson Rodriguez and DL Hall working out with the taxi squad throughout the season.
Teams will also be allowed to bring three taxi-squad players on road trips, including one catcher. Those players won’t receive service time. As such, the Orioles could bring Rutschman along on road trips so he could be around the Orioles’ coaches and work out with big leaguers.
“We’re going to see a lot of top prospects on these taxi squads, which doesn’t necessarily mean they’re ever actually going to get into a game,” Schoenfield said. “You want your best players and your best prospects in particular playing some baseball, so even if it’s intrasquad games on back fields or on a college field, wherever these taxi squads are going to be practicing, that makes sense.”
For more from Schoenfield, listen to the full interview here:
For more from Sheehan, listen to the full interview here:
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