I had an idea to start an annual Pitcherlist competition for our writers to draft the 10 prospects — pitchers or hitters — with the best chance of playing in the majors. Then we kept score. The rules were simple:
- All players drafted must have rookie eligibility on as of Opening Day, March 26, 2020.
- Each manager can draft any 10 players (positions don’t matter).
- The highest total of GP + IP will win.
- Only regular-season totals count (no playoffs).
There are no pickups. This league is only interested in how well you can predict rookies’ playing time. Little did we know what a prospect crazy 60 games were ahead of us in 2020. To be fair, we drafted in January, before there was even a hint of a league shutdown or postponement. We all thought there would be 162 games. I am positive if we would have done this draft knowing there would only be 60 games, an alternative site, and expanded rosters, it would look quite different. Which isn’t to say that it would be better. Just different. I don’t think it was possible to know how teams would respond to the new roster rules and schedule that came with COVID-19. The final draft is below. If you are interested in reading the reasoning behind why we did this, and why it might be beneficial to you in 2021, be my guest.
There were maybe 30 picks who we knew were going to get playing time in some shape or form from the first day of the schedule. The rest were pure speculation based on roster configuration of a prospect’s MLB team, the prospect’s MiLB service time, and the prospect’s MiLB performance. Not many rookies checked all three of those boxes. For example, while Luis Robert had played every level of the minors, and played well, he wasn’t exactly on a rebuilding team anymore. He needed to perform to keep his spot in 2020 since the White Sox were really pushing to make the playoffs. Pitcher-wise, the same could be said about Dustin May. In hindsight, I think we all underestimated how important roster needs/organization status was for a prospect — except Nick Randall.
First of all, congrats to Nick Randall. Second, I hate Nick Randall.
It goes without saying that Jake Cronenworth was the pick of the draft. In the 10th and final round, he nabbed San Diego’s utility rookie, who played almost every game this season. That’s a huge boon. Nick was one of just a few managers who only had one player in their 10 not play in a game this season. That is key. If you want to win, you can’t be firing blanks here, which is what I did. I followed what I will now consider a rule: ignore talent. Talent is all well and good, but it is completely beholden to the state of the prospect’s franchise (rebuilding/contending) and the willingness of the general manager to quickly bring up young talent. That mistake led me to get zero games played or innings pitched from Forrest Whitley (Round 3), Trevor Larnach (Round 6), and Nick Gordon (9). That said, I also took zeros for Andrés Muñoz due to injury and José Rojas for no real reason. It’s not like the Angels weren’t lacking anywhere but centerfield and third base this season.
If you’d like to view the scoring breakdown for each team, check out our draft spreadsheet.
Below are a few other thoughts I have about this, which was every bit as fun as I’d hoped. And we will do it again next season.
Points Left on the Board
If this is an exercise in judging how well 12 managers can predict what rookies get the most playing time, as a league we did pretty well, but that we didn’t collectively have a few misses. The top nine batters were selected in the draft, with Andrés Giménez (49 games) being the lone top hitter to not be rostered. Despite being young (21 at the time of his callup), we could have seen this coming. Giménez hit well in both High-A and Double-A in 2019, and the Mets were desperate to make the playoffs.
There were a few other surprises: Luis García, Tim Lopes, Andrew Velazquez, and Ryan McBroom all played more than 35 games and were not grabbed. I don’t think many expected the 20-year-old García to get the call. Yes, he did play all of 2019 in Double-A at 19 years of age. That alone is impressive, but it isn’t as if he set the league on fire, slashing .257/.337/.617. I believe in may evaluators’ opinions, he was trending downward at the time. The thinking was he’d either need more time to develop, or his bat may not be as good as originally thought. He must have impressed early on in the alternate training site to get a callup. And once he was up, he hit pretty well.
Looking back at it, I have no idea why Lopes wasn’t picked. He played 40+ games in 2019 and hit decently. More importantly, he could field many positions for Seattle, which is still rebuilding and was full of empty rosters spots. The same could be said for Velazquez and McBroom. All three of these guys were on teams that either have an extreme lack of options for big leaguers or are looking for players to fill in this year while they develop more promising prospects.
As far as pitchers are concerned, nobody saw 23-year-old Cristian Javier throwing 54.1 innings. It’s not that the talented righty wasn’t ready in this case, as he soared through three levels of the minors in 2019 pitching more than 100 combined innings in High-A, Double-A, and Triple-A — all with a sub 2.50 ERA. It’s because the thought was that even though they lost Gerrit Cole to free agency, the Astros had too many options at starter to let a rookie not named Jose Urquidy or Whitley in the rotation. Then Lance McCullers got hurt, Justin Verlander got hurt, and Josh James straight-up disappointed — then got hurt.
Kris Bubic was a shock. Maybe the Royals don’t know they are rebuilding? That is the only explanation to promote your 2018 first-round pick who hadn’t pitched above High-A. Yes, he was good in High-A, but so are a lot of prospect — most of them not ready for big-league hitters.
In hindsight, we should have seen JT Brubaker. At 26 years of age, the Pirates had to be thinking it was just time to see what they had in their 2015 sixth-round pick. He threw almost 50 innings with a sub-5 ERA. It could have been worse.
It Never Happened
Despite the incredibly high number of prospects called up, there were a number of top prospects who just didn’t get a chance. The two most anticipated prospects not to be called up had to be pitchers MacKenzie Gore and Whitley. There is a lot of speculation as to why Gore, who many believe is the top pitching prospect out there, didn’t get the call, especially since fellow Padres youngster Luis Patiño was called up about halfway through the year. Many believe that the Pads don’t want Gore to be in the bullpen at all, and they wouldn’t have a spot for him in the rotation this year. Some believe that he might not have been as advertised in the alternative site. Maybe it’s both. As far as Whitley is concerned, there were both injury possibilities and control issues. It’s obvious the Astros believe he needs to fix glaring holes in his repertoire. There have been reports that a few of his pitches have been devalued due to lost movement/velocity. Whatever the reason, he’s just too talented to rush. It makes sense, but it really left a hole in my roster.
It’s clear nobody expected all-world prospect Wander Franco to be brought up, as he wasn’t picked in our 120-pick draft. That was a correct assessment. Having not played above High-A and just 19 years old, the Rays are going to be conservative in cultivating his insane talent. If Franco were in another org, like say the Padres or the Nationals, he might already be up by now. But he’s on the Rays, and it’s doubtful Franco is brought up in the playoffs too. He’s more likely to be a 2021 midseason call-up.
Image by Michael Packard