How Will the Texas Rangers Utilize a 50-Man Roster in a Unique 2020 Season?
A baseball season in 2020 is not guaranteed. Optimism is growing, but health and safety protocols and an economic structure are two major roadblocks that have to be navigated before public health officials even give the "all clear" for baseball to return.
That being said, I'm an optimistic person. I think if push comes to shove, a baseball season will be played in 2020 as long as public health experts deem it safe enough. Neither Major League Baseball nor the players union can afford to lose an entire season. The consequences of that would be catastrophic for the game of baseball.
Erring on the side of optimism, let's just say there will be a baseball season this year. It will look very different, but a modified baseball season is better than no season at all.
The length of the season will be essentially be cut in half to 82 games and teams will be given 50-man rosters with active rosters expected to be around 30 players. The remaining 20 players will be assigned to a taxi squad to give teams added depth to help navigate a condensed season.
While it's not etched in stone quite yet, the general consensus in the game is there will not be a minor league season. With 50 roster spots at each club's disposal, many are beginning to wonder how teams will utilize these taxi squads. Will we see any of the game's top prospects put onto these rosters? Will there be a contingency put into place for the multitude of minor league players left off these rosters so their development isn't hindered?
Regarding the Texas Rangers, two of their top-10 prospects on MLB Pipeline will very likely be on the 50-man roster. Nick Solak was the team's Rookie of the Year in 2019 while Joe Palumbo also got to dip his toe into major league waters last season. Before the three acquisitions that bolstered Texas' starting staff, Palumbo was considered a legitimate candidate for a spot in the starting rotation. Both players are not only capable of helping the major league roster, but could play significant roles if they take steps forward in their development rather quickly.
The remaining top prospects, including Anderson Tejeda, Hans Crouse, Cole Winn, Leody Taveras, Sam Huff, and top prospect Josh Jung, could also benefit from even being on the taxi squad for the entirety of the 2020 season. Playing, or even practicing, among major league talent could possibly be a huge benefit. However, none of them are viewed as players that were going to get the call to Arlington in 2020, even if the season wasn't derailed by the novel coronavirus.
Looking outside the organization, San Francisco Giants' manager Gabe Kapler mentioned in the team's latest Chalk Talk at Home episode that they may utilize some of their top prospects on their taxi squad, which possibly opens the door for the team's top prospect Joey Bart to get major league action in 2020.
"We have to operate as if there are not going to be any other developmental opportunities this year," Kapler said. "And for that reason I think we have to look at our prospects and say, even if we're not sure they're going to make an impact on our major league roster in 2020, if we think they might in '21 or '22, and we think that their development is critically important to the health of our minor league system and our organization, we have to find a way to at least consider them getting reps in a stay-hot style of camp."
So the question then becomes will the Rangers reserve any spots on the 50-man roster for their top prospects?
“It’s unlikely that we will have guys on the taxi squad that we would not be comfortable with at least considering for major league time this year,” Rangers General Manager Jon Daniels said this week. “I don’t think we’re comfortable taking up many spots, if any, with players that can’t help the big league team this year. It’s likely we’ll have a more condensed schedule, maybe fewer off-days, maybe some doubleheaders potentially in there. To limit yourself and have fewer players to choose from, that could be a major limitation.”
Daniels is looking at it as their pool of eligible players for the 2020 season will be limited to this 50-man team, as if it were their Triple A club. He did mention some potential flexibility for unique circumstances, but it's largely why they don't want to commit too many spots for players that aren't going to be able to contribute. Outside of Solak and Palumbo, none of the club's top-10 prospects were expected to start any higher than Double-A Frisco.
This doesn't mean the 50-man roster will be void of top prospects. The Rangers' No. 22 prospect Demarcus Evans is a legitimate candidate to be one of the 50. Jon Daniels drew up a scenario where a prospect like Evans could not just be selected to the 50-man roster, but eventually become a regular player on the active roster.
"We may take a player that we wouldn't think is ready July 1, but could be ready during the season," Daniels said. "Last year, Emmanuel Clase came up in August, and he wasn't ready at the beginning of the season, but you could see it in spring training — 'Hey, this guy's got a chance if things go well.'"
Things went very well for Clase. He raised some eyebrows with his electrifying stuff and Daniels capitalized on his stock by centering a trade around him that brought Corey Kluber to Texas. As Clase did last spring, Evans forced his way into the discussion for one of the final spots in the bullpen. He impressed enough people where manager Chris Woodward said that Evans was "going to help us at some point" in 2020.
Regarding the top prospects, management remains steadfast that many of them aren't quite ready for big league action. Leody Taveras' defense is deemed major league-ready by Woodward, but his bat is still not quite ready. Jung, Huff, and Crouse also have to check off other developmental bullet points before they can be assets in Arlington. However, Daniels is hopeful something will be contrived so top prospects throughout baseball don't suffer the consequences of a pandemic-forced cancellation of the minor league season.
"I think we're on an even playing field there with everybody in the league, so I'm hopeful that there will be a developmental program of some sort," Daniels said. "Exactly what that looks like, I don't know at this point. I don't think anybody 100 percent knows, but I think across the board, we're all hopeful we can put something together to allow the best young talent some game reps and an opportunity to develop."
There's no cut-and-dry way to construct a 50-man roster. What makes the Rangers' case unique is the amount of non-roster invitees that were in Surprise. Decisions still loom regarding pitchers like Cody Allen, Edinson Vólquez, Luis García, and Juan Nicasio, as well as position players like Greg Bird, Matt Duffy, and Blake Swihart. The opt-outs that some of these players possess could complicate those decisions as well.
“We feel we have our arms around what the decisions are,” Daniels said. “We haven’t made them yet. There is still more information to gather. But, for the most part, we feel our guys are in a pretty good spot, which should make the decisions easier.”
Clubs are still awaiting final decisions on how they would be allowed to manage their taxi squads. A key question is how often will players be shuffled back and forth between the active and taxi squads? With nothing yet defined, the fluidity of the situation could change the Rangers' approach to how they construct a group of 50 players to navigate a very unique 2020 season.
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