This Sunday at 4 p.m. ET is the expected deadline for teams to submit their player pool of 60 names for the 2020 season. It is from this group of 60 that 30 players will be active on opening day. The active roster will be reduced to 28 after two weeks and to 26 after four weeks.
It’s safe to assume that some teams will include several of their top prospects among the pool of 60 players, and that some will wind up on taxi squads when play begins. Teams will put some players on their taxi squads with no or little intent to ever put them in a game. There would be a few reasons to do this. One would be that, during a time when we do not expect to see minor league baseball, those players would be getting some reps in practice and would rub elbows with the big leaguers. There are things to be gained in what could potentially be an otherwise lost season for some players on the farm.
We should point out that we could later see teams sending players to an expanded Arizona Fall League, a potential Florida Fall League, their own instructional leagues or their own spring facilities for workouts and intrasquad games. Nothing is announced or finalized. All options remain open. It would be a mild surprise if teams, pending Major League Baseball’s approval, don’t find some way to get at least some prospects on the field this summer. So stay tuned for more information in that regard.
But while teams may want to put young players on their taxi squads, they might resist putting them into games and having them use service time. Orioles top prospect Adley Rutschman could be someone in this group.
In one respect, asking teams to announce their roster of 60 right now forces them into this decision: Is it better for a top prospect to be in the group of 60 now, or is it better to wait to see if something is resolved later allowing them to play in some games. Most teams would choose to have their prospects get into games as more important, but what if they keep someone off the 60 with that in mind and find out later there is no chance for games?
It seems possible that MLB could realize this quandary and if the fall league concept gets underway later in the summer, then let teams take players off the 60-man player pool and go to play in those games. But as of today, a player on the 60 has to stay on the 60 all year unless removed from a roster, as in being waived, released, hurt or traded.
So choosing this group may be harder than you think. While Sunday has been listed as the date for teams to settle on their 60-man player pools, I’ve heard it’s possible that not all 60 players have to determined on that day. But with camps starting Wednesday, they will need to be settled pretty soon.
So let’s look at some O’s young talent and ponder whether they make their way onto the 60-man player pool roster as spring 2.0 is set to begin.
First, here are the club’s current MLBPipeline.com top 10 prospects, and that does not include players from the 2020 draft.
1) Adley Rutschman: He seems a strong candidate for the taxi squad. Let him continue the education that he started in Sarasota in February in major league camp. But there is little to no reason to put him on the 40-man roster yet, or play him in a game this year. Sure, that would be fun, but the long-term plan for him should still be in effect. He hasn’t even played his first full minor league season.
2) Grayson Rodriguez: As with Rutschman, Rodriguez seems a strong candidate for a taxi squad but very unlikely to take the field for the Orioles yet. He was scheduled to pitch this year at Single-A Frederick before the baseball shutdown.
3) DL Hall: See above. Taxi squad, yes. Pitch in an O’s game in 2020, doesn’t seem a good idea. He doesn’t have to go on the 40-man to be protected from the Rule 5 draft until December 2021.
4) Ryan Mountcastle: He made the 40-man roster last fall, and the 2019 International League MVP and Orioles Minor League Player of the Year should make his MLB debut this summer. You could make a strong case to put him in the outfield in Trey Mancini’s absence and let him play a full season. But if that happened the club would still likely hold him out enough games to ensure he’s an Oriole for at least seven seasons before free agency.
5) Austin Hays: He’s still on prospects lists? He is, and that is because he still qualifies for the Rookie of the Year award. He’ll be on the MLB roster, not any taxi squad. We’ll begin to find out if his strong September was an outlier or a precursor of things to come. He’s the opening day center fielder and likely leadoff hitter.
6) Gunnar Henderson: Without even one full season on the farm under his belt, it may not even make sense for him to be on the taxi squad. It’s possible and it could be of benefit for him, of course. The club will just have to determine how many players can be among the 60 that will not be guys that will be put on the MLB roster in 2020.
7) Yusniel Diaz: He seems certain to at least be a taxi squad player. He was already among 50 players on the O’s spring training roster when play was stopped in March. He was ticketed to start at Triple-A this year with a chance to break the big league roster during the year. That could still happen, and he needs to be added to the 40-man ahead of this coming December’s Rule 5 draft, so his big league debut could be close.
8) Michael Baumann: His performance at Double-A in the second half last year was special. He has one of the best arms in the organization. Like Diaz, he would be put on the 40-man in December anyway, so he seems a strong candidate for at least the taxi squad. Should they throw him out there for a few big league games? It would be fun to watch.
9) Dean Kremer: The right-hander who led all of the minors in strikeouts in 2018 was added to the 40-man last November. He has a great chance to debut in the bigs this summer.
10) Zac Lowther: Another pitcher that will have to be added to 40-man in December, so that could improve his odds to be in the majors during this coming 60-game season. At worst, a strong taxi squad candidate.
Outfielder Ryan McKenna is on the 40-man roster, although he had already been sent to the minors when baseball was stopped in March. He should be a strong taxi squad candidate. Lefty Keegan Akin, ranked as the club’s No. 11 prospect, is also on the 40-man roster, which means he has a strong chance to both make it on the player pool of 60 and make his MLB debut this summer.
Others who could make the taxi squad include Alexander Wells, Bruce Zimmermann, Rylan Bannon, Mason McCoy, Adam Hall and maybe even top draft pick outfielder Heston Kjerstad. Wells, Bannon, McCoy and Zimmermann were non-roster invitees to spring training earlier this year. The first three were sent to the minors but Zimmermann was among the 50 still on the spring roster as baseball was halted by the virus. Kjerstad would have to be officially signed by Wednesday to make the 60-man player pool.
The Orioles have a lot of candidates for the taxi squad. It will just be a matter of how many players they can afford to have in that group that they don’t intend to actually play in an MLB game this summer.