On Tuesday, Minor League Baseball officially cancelled the 2020 season
after being informed that MLB would not supply players due to the pandemic.
Texas’s last minor league game was September 13, 2019, when low-A Hickory lost to Lexington in the South Atlantic League finals. The next, at least as currently scheduled, will be April 8, 2021. The midway point between those dates was a week ago.
I worried about the possibility of holding a season back on March 30. Unlike MLB, the minors are totally dependent on attendance to be economically feasible. As we’ve learned since then, gatherings are relatively lower in risk if held outdoors, and perhaps under better circumstances, teams could have welcomed a limited number of fans. Better circumstances would have required strong, coordinated government leadership and widespread public buy-in of containment measures. Instead, we have what you see before you today.
What we have in terms of minor league ball are thousands of lives altered for the worse, millions if you include fans. Furloughs, layoffs, seasonal jobs never filled, distressed or insolvent teams memories with families and friends never made. All under the looming threat of contraction. For many players, coaches, scouts, other employees, and fans, baseball is never coming back. As an institution, minor league ball has never been in worse condition.
Meanwhile, the expanded Texas Collegiate League is in trouble just days after it started. In response to a virus outbreak in the front office, Frisco has canceled its opening series
that was to begin today, excluded fans from the next series, and is “in active discussions with the TCL over the fate of the RoughRiders 2020 season.” Part of me thinks it’s ridiculous to even attempt sporting events under these circumstances (and that definitely includes Major League Baseball), but I guess I can’t blame anyone for giving it a shot. Frisco (along with Amarillo, Round Rock, San Antonio and Tulsa) announced its participation in early June, when case counts were slightly elevated compared to May but seemingly under control.
I hope everyone in the Frisco front office is okay. The same applies to the Texas front office, which had a far more notorious outbreak
The Mexican League is also canceled. The independent Atlantic League hasn’t given up on 2020 yet but doesn’t appear enthusiastic. Sugar Land has forged its own path by hosting a four-team professional league beginning today. The Beginning
Team workouts begin today for the upcoming MLB season. Clubs have a 60-player pool from which they will create active rosters that start at 30 and eventually decrease to 26. 40-man roster and option rules still apply, and clubs can’t move players in and out of the pool at will. Far from it. With a few technical exceptions, removing a 40-man member from the pool will require designation for assignment, trade, release, placement on the long-term disabled list (shortened from 60 to 45 days this season), or placement on the special COVID-19 injury list. The same applies to non-40 pool players aside from being designated for assignment. Minor league players outside the pool can’t be traded, which could limit the number and quality of deadline trades.
Let’s have a look at the rookies and prospects the Rangers included in the pool. Numbers in parentheses are team prospect rankings by MLB.com and Baseball America. The last line in my email signature has a link to my organizational charts, which have been updated to include the pool.
Rookies On the 40
LHP Kolby Allard – Allard actually lost his rookie status last year but fits here in practical terms. As of now, he’s first in line for starts should one of the top five falter or get hurt.
LHP Taylor Hearn (NR/28) – Although he didn’t pitch after his MLB debut in 2019, Hearn avoided Tommy John surgery and seemed no worse for wear in March. He’s in line for a long relief.
LHP Joe Palumbo (9/7) – Next in line behind Allard for starts, could also fill a long role.
RHP Demarcus Evans (22/16) – An offseason 40 addition, Evans would have needed an enormous spring to warrant an active roster spot on Opening Day, but he would have been, and will be, on the short list for relief assistance.
RHP Jonathan Hernandez (25/17) – Hernandez appeared to have earned an active roster spot back in March. With expanded rosters, that seems nearly assured.
RHP Tyler Phillips (24/30) – Phillips would have headed back to AA under ordinary circumstances. He’s being groomed as a starter, and his well-rounded repertoire doesn’t transition to relief as well as many of his teammates, so he’s less likely to make his MLB debut in 2020.
C Jose Trevino – Third catcher? Second? Despite the shortened schedule, Trevino has a great opportunity to stake his claim on a 2021 role.
IF Sherten Apostel (10/11) – Like Sam Huff and perhaps Anderson Tejeda, Apostel was destined for his AA debut back in March. I’d be surprised if he played, but in this unprecedented situation, it’s possible. Prospects like Apostel are in the pool primarily for development, not hurried MLB debuts.
IF Anderson Tejeda (8/18) – Tejeda began 2019 repeating high-A because he’d undertaken switch-hitting. He ended up missing most of the season to injuries and might have headed back to Down East, at least for a short while, if not for the pandemic.
OF Scott Heineman – A reserve outfielder, somewhere from fourth to sixth in line depending on how you characterize Nick Solak and Shin-Soo Choo.
OF Nick Solak (5/4) – He’s listed as an outfielder but could play several positions in order to get his promising bat into the lineup more often. The Rangers have expressed more enthusiasm about his defensive flexibility than his two previous organizations, and 2020 will be an opportunity to see where he fits.
OF Adolis Garcia – Garcia garnered praise in Surprise and has a chance to make the initial 30-man roster, but as it decreases to 28 and then 26, his spot would be in jeopardy. Texas isn’t lacking for outfielders.
OF Leody Taveras (3/3) – As originally scheduled, the Rangers would have played their first game a full two weeks before the start of the minors. Back then, I pondered the idea of Taveras joining the Rangers for a week or two as a defensive sub and pinch-runner. The idea is no less practical today. Probably not, but fun to think about. Rookies Off the 40
LHP Wes Benjamin – Benjamin’s AAA stats weren’t pretty but he improved down the stretch, posting a 3.29 ERA in his last seven starts. He’s well down the depth chart but could get a look with impressive practice sessions and injuries to others.
RHP Wei-Cheih Huang – He looked terrific for AAA Nashville early last year but was waylaid by a sore back and designated for assignment after the season.
RHP Alex Speas – You may remember Demarcus Evans’ summer 2018 breakthrough. Speas was Evans before Evans, striking out low-A hitters at an enormous rate and exihibitng improved control until elbow trouble shelved him. Following surgery, he reportedly touched 102 in a couple of 2019 rookie league appearances, after which the Rangers decided to apply the brakes. In an ordinary 2020, he could have followed Emmanuel Clase’s lightning-fast path from the low minors to the Majors. As it stands, he still has a chance of pitching in Arlington, meaning he’d have skipped three levels of the minors.
C Sam Huff (2/2) – Huff will be Rule 5-eligible if not protected on the 40 this winter. Obviously, he will be, but the point is a late call-up in 2020 wouldn’t create a messy option situation down the road. He hasn’t played above high-A, however, so facing a Houston or San Diego pitcher in 2020 would be an enormous jump.
IF Andy Ibanez – Ibanez didn’t receive a 40 spot over the winter but merits consideration for a utility role. His defensive reputation suffered while transitioning to third in AA but has improved in AAA.
IF Josh Jung (1/1) – Jung finished last year in low-A and was probably headed to high-A Down East. He’s here to develop, not to challenge Todd Frazier.
OF Eli White – Converted to full-time outfielder in the spring, White would personally be better served if the Rangers remember he can play the middle infield. Strictly as an OF, he’s blocked by a host of outfielders already on the 40. The Rest
Most of these players are offseason signing intended to fill out the depth chart and replenish the AAA roster. Several of the pitchers could join the active roster immediately or later. Only Ariel Jurado is already on the 40.
Pitchers: Cody Allen (now at full stretch, per local reports), Luis Garcia, Ian Gibaut, Jimmy Herget, Ariel Jurado (on the 40), Derek Law, Juan Nicasio, Edinson Volquez
Catchers: Nick Ciuffo, Tim Federowicz, Blake Swihart
Infielders: Yadiel Rivera
Outfielders: Rob Refsnyder Notable Omissions
The Rangers still have three available spots.
The list of omitted players contains one genuine surprise, in my opinion: RHP Kyle Cody. He’s barely pitched in real games since September 2017 and underwent Tommy John surgery in July 2018. Nevertheless, he earned a 40-man spot last fall and would have been on the fast track to Arlington if employed in relief.
Cody is one of three 40-man members who aren’t in the initial pool. The second is injured righty Brock Burke, out for the season after shoulder surgery and placed on the long-term disabled list. Third is lefty Yohander Mendez, who was also nursing a shoulder malady in the spring and was placed on the restricted list for seeking unapproved medical advice. I don’t know of his present health. He still has an option, as he has for the past half-decade. It’s a long story.
Also out are several noteworthy relievers. LHP Kyle Bird was part of the Jurickson Profar trade and pitched 12.2 innings for the Rangers last year before being outrighted. He’d had an unusual spring: of 22 batters faced, he struck out eight but allowed eight runners and four runs. RHP Joe Barlow nearly reached the Majors last summer and was a possible 40-man addition last fall. In March, he continued to display the wildness that sabotaged his final weeks of 2019. Outside of AAA, pitchers that come to mind are high-A relievers Cole Uvila and Scott Engler.
Among position players, I don’t see any surprises. Every hitter on the 40 is in the pool. AAA-experienced batters left out are 1B Sam Travis and outfielders Jim Adduci, Hunter Cole and Jim Adduci. The rest are either too low in the prospect rankings or too inexperienced. The Draft
The Rangers have signed all of their draft picks, who will be encased in carbonite until the pandemic ends. I’d seen conflicting ideas about some of Texas’s unusual picks, with suggestions that Texas’s draft was geared toward thriftiness as much as talent acquisition. That is definitely not the case. Per local media, Texas exceeded its allotment by about 3% and will pay a penalty tax. 1st-round infielder Justin Foscue and 2nd-round OF Evan Carter signed for under slot, with that money and more lavished on the latter three picks.
Overall draft spending will be lower, of course. The Rangers have signed nine undrafted free agents, none for more than $20,000. If they’re done, the Rangers will have acquired 14 new players, about one-third to one-half of the intake in previous seasons. Also, over 90% of the bonuses for the drafted players will be deferred to 2021-2022.