On Tuesday, Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball announced that there will be no 2020 season. It’s not an unexpected development, but it’s still a kick in the gut for anyone that considers them a prospect aficionado to someone who just likes to watch a cheap baseball game in their small town.
The ramifications of the cancelation of the season are considerable, and while it may not be the first thing that comes to mind, there’s no denying that this impacts fantasy baseball in both the short and long-term. Whether you play in a dynasty format or a re-draft league, the cancelation of the MiLB season is going to play a part in how your 2020 season unfolds.
Here’s a look at the types of prospects who are hurt -- and in some rare occasions, helped -- by these developments.
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Hurt: Honestly, almost everyone
Look, it’s impossible to know how much this is going to hurt prospects because we haven’t seen anything like this before. That being said, it’s pretty obvious that this development is going to hurt prospects, well, development. Yes, the big-name prospects are going to be put on a “taxi-squad” and get a chance to work out in that regard. But you cannot simulate the at-bats an innings pitched that these players lose. Even if you could, you’d be seeing it at a rate that is significantly lower than you typically would, but it certainly looks like that’s not going to take place. Names that were likely to play at lower levels are particularly hurt; names like Bobby Witt Jr., Adley Rutschman, CJ Abrams and pitchers like Greyson Rodriguez and Shane Baz are unlikely to get “real” at-bats or innings in 2021 outside of perhaps some Spring Training 2.0 looks.
You can also argue that the playing field is leveled, but in terms of getting prospects ready to help in the coming years, this is pretty clearly -- for lack of a better term -- a bummer.
Helped: Prospects at the higher levels
According to the calculator on my laptop, 60 goes into 162 a total of 2.7 times. That means that assuming we do, in fact, have a 60-game campaign, each game has 2.7 times as much value as a game in a normal year would.
So, a team competing for a playoff spot -- and that should be the majority of teams, now -- will want to put their best lineup on the field. Yes, there will still be some service-time manipulation because that’s not ever going away until a Collective Bargaining Agreement makes it impossible or unnecessary, but instead of missing three-plus weeks, it’s likely that we’re only seeing players held down for a week, at most.
So, that means prospects like Carter Kieboom -- who Nationals manager Davey Martinez already essentially named the starting third baseman for the 2020 season -- and Nate Pearson along with a host of others are likely to play in a higher percentage of games than they would have in a 162-game schedule. I’d also say stock up for Dylan Carlson, Brendan McKay and Nick Madrigal; just to name a select few.
Hurt: Prospects at the higher levels
The same thing that helps some higher-level prospects could also be considered a detriment. I believe scholars call this a double-edged sword. Because each game is now so much more significant, you can also make the argument that putting a prospect in the everyday lineup or rotation adds significantly more risk. For instance, let’s take Jo Adell. Adell is unquestionably one of the most talented prospects in baseball, and in theory, makes the Angels better in 2020 with his bat in the lineup. But if Adell doesn’t look ready in ST 2.0 and Los Angeles believes they’re ready to compete for a playoff spot this summer, do the Angels add him to the roster? Same question for Cristian Pache or Drew Waters for the Braves, or Dustin May -- more in terms of role for him than playing -- for the Dodgers.
Let’s also remember that if these prospects struggle, there’s no putting an Adell, Waters or May in Triple-A for a couple of weeks to work on things or help gain confidence. Baseball is really hard, and it’ll be interesting to see how teams go about putting their top prospects at the highest level this summer.
Helped: Pitchers with inning limits
This is a bit of a sidebar, but I always found inning limits to be weird. Not because I don’t believe in protecting pitchers. On the contrary. I just believe it makes more sense to have a limit on pitch counts than on the number of innings. To me, a 37-pitch frame and a six-pitch inning having the same value is foolish.
That mini-rant over, there’s no doubt that pitching prospects who were reportedly going to be working on an inning limit. The name that immediately comes to mind is Jesus Luzardo, who now should be all systems go for the truncated campaign. This also applies to Michael Kopech; a hard-throwing right-hander who is coming off Tommy John surgery but now is likely to open the season in the rotation. Yes, it’s possible these pitchers are going to be pitching in a six-person rotation to begin -- and possibly end -- the season, but these hurlers still should be able to miss plenty of bats and help in other categories outside of innings pitched. On paper, anyway.
Hurt: Prospects who struggled the previous season
Every year, there are prospects of high-regard that struggle the previous year and are predicted to have a bounce-back campaign. This year would have been no exception, except there’s now a giant exception: There’s no minor league season to bounce back with. The first prospect that came to mind was Royce Lewis; the first-overall pick of the 2017 draft who showed great promise in his first two years in the system, but was overmatched in Double-A. It seems unlikely that we see Lewis in the majors this year, so he doesn’t get a chance to show off his talents again until 2021. The same can be said for infield prospects like Andres Gimenez and Luis Garcia of the Mets and Nationals, respectively, and pitchers like Cole Winn or Adonis Medina who were far from statistically dominant last season. Again, you can argue the level playing field, but I believe there’s added volatility for prospects who struggled last year because of the time off.
It’s worth mentioning that this is all a hypothesis -- you could argue that all prospect-writing is a hypothesis, but that would be another digression -- because you and I have absolutely no idea how this is going to work. Calling all of this new territory is the understatement of understatements. That being said, there’s no denying that the cancelation of the minor league season is going to have significant ramifications for both the 2020 season and beyond. We’ll just have to wait a few weeks/years before we find out how significant they were.