Analyzing the Prospect Player Pool: AL Central

Below is another installment of my series discussing each team’s 60-man player pool with a focus on prospects. If you missed the first piece, you’re going to want to take a peek at its four-paragraph intro for some background, then hop back here once you’ve been briefed.

Updating the East

Because our world is a roil of chaos in which people often drop the ball when the stakes are high, there have been a few roster changes in the Eastern divisions, mostly related to COVID-19’s spread or the reasonable fear of it. My initial thoughts on the AL East are linked above, while the NL East is here.

Atlanta’s positive tests during intake included Freddie Freeman, Touki Toussaint, Pete Kozma, and Will Smith, while Felix Hernandez and Nick Markakis opted out. The combination of Markakis’ opt out and Freeman’s delay (Markakis cited a discussion with Freeman as part of his reason for opting out) makes it much more likely that Yonder Alonso breaks camp with the big league club because he plays first base and hits left-handed, the latter of which the Braves’ major league roster sorely lacks. The Markakis opt out also means one of the dominoes leading to a slightly premature Cristian Pache and/or Drew Waters debut has fallen.

The bullpen is thinner without Touki and Smith but still strong because of all the talented youngsters, while Felix’s opt out makes it more likely that one of young arms, most likely Kyle Wright or Bryse Wilson, ends up in the Opening Day rotation.

Meanwhile, Philadelphia’s COVID situation is already so dire that it seems likely they’ll qualify for the “extenuating circumstances” clause in Section 6 of Major League Baseball’s 2020 Operations manual:

In the event that a Club experiences a significant number of COVID-19 Related IL placements at the Alternate Training Site at any one time (i.e., three or more players), and the Club chooses to substitute those players from within the Club’s organization, MLB reserves the right to allow that Club to remove those substitute players from the Club Player Pool without requiring a release.

The Phillies only had three catchers on their initial 60-player roster. Non-roster invitee Christian Bethancourt is one of a couple Phillies currently subject to COVID-19 protocols. The team added 25-year-old org guy catcher Henri Lartigue, and 20-year-old long-term catching prospect Logan O’Hoppe to their 60-player pool. O’Hoppe was likely added due to his geographic proximity to Phillies camp (he’s from New York) rather than him actually being ahead of the other catching prospects in the system (discussed in the NL East piece) who I expect will eventually be added if the Phillies don’t address it with external options.

The bullpen, which was already pretty sketchy, has lost Héctor Neris, Ranger Suarez, and Tommy Hunter. Zack Wheeler has stated he may decide to opt out because he’s about to be a new father. Francisco Liriano is also undecided. Unless the Phillies want to immediately start Spencer Howard’s service time clock (assuming he looks good as the club tunes up), they’re also likely to patch these holes with older spot start/swingman types, like Reggie McClain, Cole Irvin, and Enyel De Los Santos, rather than big prospects.

There is relatively little to cover in the AL East (which is good). Jay Jaffe and Tony Wolfe have some notes on the Yankees situation in their respective pieces, and the only news out of Tampa Bay is that Ji-Man Choi may be flirting with the idea of returning to switch-hitting, which he briefly experimented with back in 2015 when he was a Mariners prospect.

Two potential Red Sox late-inning lefty relievers, Josh Taylor and Darwinzon Hernandez, have tested positive, making it more likely that one or two of Kyle Hart, Matt Hall, and/or Jeffrey Springs open with the big club.

In Toronto, likely bench role players Brandon Drury and Jonathan Davis, as well as relief prospects Elvis Luciano and Hector Perez, were all put on the 10-day IL for undisclosed reasons. The team claimed contact-oriented infielder Breyvic Valera (a longtime in-office analyst favorite) off of waivers. He’s a suitable stopgap replacement for Drury, though Davis will be tougher to replace since there are few center field fits in the Blue Jays player pool. Injury-riddled and whiff-prone Anthony Alford, and former second baseman Forrest Wall, who has the wheels for center and played there all last year but went unselected in the Rule 5, are the only two.

Okay, on to the AL Central.

Chicago White Sox

Prospect List / Depth Chart

The White Sox initial player pool announcement only included 44 players and omitted several guys already on the 40-man (Seby Zavala, Blake Rutherford, Micker Adolfo, Bernardo Flores, Matt Foster and Zack Burdi), so I expect several players will eventually be added both from within the org and perhaps externally (the Sox could use lefty relief depth) as other clubs shed 60-man players for various reasons.

I think a contending White Sox team has an actualized Luis Robert in center field, Nick Madrigal at second, and Leury García as a super utility type, but it’s possible service time considerations push Chicago to hand the opening day second base job to García or utility infield prospect Danny Mendick, if only for a while.

I’ve mentioned this elsewhere but it bears repeating: I think it’s important for the White Sox to roster a couple players with high-end defensive versatility since so much of the rest of the roster is landlocked at 1B/DH, or is a defensive liability in the outfield. García and 34-year-old Andrew Romine are the only two in the player pool who qualify.

Of the prospects competing for playing time, Zack Collins and Yermin Mercedes occupy the same role (bad defensive catchers who rake enough that you want to 1B/DH them occasionally) but Collins’ handedness likely gives him an initial edge to win a bench spot as Nicky Delmonico is the only other lefty stick in the player pool right now.

The 1B/DH clog also makes it very unlikely that Andrew Vaughn sees big league time this year, and I think exciting relief prospect Codi Heuer, who doesn’t have to be put on the 40-man until the end of 2021, is also unlikely so long as the club adds more pitchers to the 60-man player pool at some point.

It’s in his scouting report on The Board, but is worth repeating here that Dane Dunning’s fastball was living in the low-90s during his pre-shutdown bullpens as he comes off of Tommy John. He’s more likely to see big league action due to the uncertainty surrounding Michael Kopech, who is attending to a personal matter.

Cleveland Indians

Prospect List / Depth Chart

The top-ranked prospect likely to break camp with Cleveland is reliever James Karinchak, who is one of the few relief-only prospects on my top 100 and who I expect will quickly become the club’s best reliever.

As always, Cleveland is likely to platoon in the outfield and probably at DH. They have countless options:

All but Santana still have at least one option remaining, so the way this group looks could change pretty significantly throughout the summer. Bauers is actually the youngest of this group but has more experience than most of it. I think Johnson and post-prospect, injury-riddled Zimmer are the most talented of the group and their actualization gives Cleveland the best chance of competing within the division.

Cleveland’s offsite roster also includes an unusually high number of teenagers. Outfielder George Valera and 2B/LF Aaron Bracho are highly unlikely to see big league time but because of the confluence of pitcher injuries and the potential for COVID-19 infection, I think there’s a small chance we see one of either Ethan Hankins or Daniel Espino. Mike Clevinger gets hurt a lot and Carlos Carrasco has an underlying health condition, so the chances that Cleveland dips into the offsite camp for multiple spot starters is pretty high. Of those, you’ve got Triston McKenzie (who hasn’t pitched in a while), Scott Moss (who I’m not sure throws enough strikes to start), Sam Hentges (both, but has huge stuff), Jean Carlos Mejia (also has been hurt), and Logan Allen on the 40-man. I think they’d make a 40-man move to throw Eli Morgan or even long relief types like Nick Sandlin and Kyle Nelson into the fire rather than the young kids Hankins and Espino, but if what has already happened in Philly happens in Cleveland, you can see how this could be a close shave, even with the aforementioned ops manual clause.

Detroit Tigers

Prospect List / Depth Chart

It’s going to be impossible to truly know how Spencer Torkelson looks taking grounders at third without scouts or media allowed to attend offsite camps.

Which of the Tiger prospects actually debut will likely depend on who ahead of them on the depth chart is dealt. Matthew Boyd makes sense. I don’t know if either Iván Nova or Jordan Zimmermann can pitch well enough in a span of four or five starts to create real trade value for themselves (which is probably good?) nor do I think a contending team could suffer a rash of injuries so severe in a five-week span that they might be compelled to trade for them anyway. The bullpen is made up of hard throwers in their mid-20s who’ll probably hang around for a while. Maybe one of the NRIs ends up making the team and becomes a July trade chip (Hector Santiago or Zack Godley, perhaps?) but, even though pitching is in demand every deadline and the Tigers clearly have the posture of 2020 sellers, Boyd may be the club’s only prospect piñata.

Their veteran hitters who might be six-week band-aids for contenders (C.J. Cron, Jonathan Schoop, Austin Romine) will be tradeable only if they a) hit and b) are the right fit for said contenders. You want Willi Castro, Jake Rogers, Daz Cameron, Isaac Paredes to play every day if you promote them, and it probably takes a trade (or someone underperforming and being released) to really clear a path.

I think it’s very likely we see the debuts of young pitchers who are currently on the 40-man (Beau Burrows, Anthony Castro, Kyle Funkhouser, the oft-injured but very talented Franklin Perez) as well as some of the older NRI’s (minor league free agent Shao-Ching Chiang and sidewinding reliever Nolan Blackwood) but wouldn’t count on Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal, or Matt Manning just yet.

Kansas City Royals

Prospect List / Depth Chart

The giant scouting blindspot created by the pandemic is most frustrating as it pertains to Kansas City, which has several prospects who, ideally, would have shown statistical progress in order to recoup industry standing. Nick Pratto, Seuly Matias, MJ Melendez and Khalil Lee all had statistically concerning 2019s and now there’s now way of knowing if any of them have found a remedy.

I think we’re still probably a year away from seeing some of Kansas City’s big pitching prospects (Daniel Lynch, Kris Bubic, Brady Singer, Jackson Kowar, Austin Cox). Instead, this year we’ll get some long-term bullpen options (Josh Staumont, Richard Lovelady) and backend/long relief types (Scott Blewett, Foster Griffin, Rule 5 pick Stephen Woods Jr.)

With both Salvador Perez and Meibrys Viloria on the IL right now, the club’s catching depth is already being tested. I kind of dig 25-year-old Freddy Fermin as an athletic, catch-an-throw backup with some feel for contact.

Minnesota Twins

Prospect List / Depth Chart

Because the starting corner outfielders also hit left-handed and the toolsier Jake Cave is around, it’s tough to see a path to playing time for LaMonte Wade Jr, who I think will be a target of teams like San Francisco and Toronto that have scooped up teams’ roster overflow guys in recent years. Soon-to-be 26-year-old Brent Rooker, who isn’t on the 40-man, provides a more interesting compliment to the players on the roster, especially in light of Miguel Sanó and Willians Astudillo starting on the IL.

Pitchers Jhoan Duran (63rd overall) and Lewis Thorpe are both on the 40-man and very likely to take at least a turn or two in Minnesota’s rotation at some point this summer. Also keep an eye out for Dakota Chalmers, who has three plus pitches and 20- or 30-grade control.

I think it’ll still be another year before we start seeing Minnesota’s premium hitting prospects. Royce Lewis, Alex Kiriloff, and Trevor Larnach are all top 100 guys who’ll be at the offsite camp, and Gilberto Celestino is on the 40-man but is just barely 21 years old and too green for the bigs in my opinion. He and catcher Ryan Jeffers, another potential long-term everyday player, would only get a look if a string of injuries necessitated it.

We hoped you liked reading Analyzing the Prospect Player Pool: AL Central by Eric Longenhagen!

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Eric Longenhagen is from Catasauqua, PA and currently lives in Tempe, AZ. He spent four years working for the Phillies Triple-A affiliate, two with Baseball Info Solutions and two contributing to prospect coverage at ESPN.com. Previous work can also be found at Sports On Earth, CrashburnAlley and Prospect Insider.

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Just so I’m up to speed with the new convention: when a team puts a guy on the 10-day IL for “undisclosed reasons” (eg Toronto) or “illness” (eg Willians Astudillo) is the correct interpretation “we’re not saying it’s COVID-19… but it’s COVID-19”?