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MLB player pools: Five takeaways from the rosters heading to camp ahead of shortened season

Zach Crizer
·6-min read

All 30 Major League Baseball teams have now released their initial player pools for the 2020 season. As part of the effort to play during the coronavirus pandemic, and without minor-league systems operating, each team will bring up to 60 players to camps held in two different locations in and around their home cities.

These players will be available throughout the planned 60-game season. Three of them will travel on each road trip, alongside the active roster, as a taxi squad. Each team’s announced pool can be found here.

The pools theoretically represent notable decisions, narrowing down the list of players teams will have to draw on for the whole 60-game season with no other affiliated baseball being played. In reality, it’s a little more complicated than that. The rules around roster changes nonetheless make it difficult to add or remove players from the pool without placing them on waivers for other teams to claim or releasing them, as The Athletic’s Levi Weaver detailed. Which means: Just about all of the players who would contribute if the 2020 season is played are in these pools or will be added to them soon.

Here are the takeaways from teams’ initial roster choices.

Being in a pool doesn’t mean they won’t opt out

Players listed in their team’s pool have not necessarily decided to play in the 2020 season. Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Mike Leake was listed on the team’s announcement just hours before he opted out of the season. Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman and pitcher Joe Ross also opted out after being listed in the pool.

There could well be players who make the choice to skip the season due to the coronavirus and its threat to their families even after reporting for camp or playing in games.

Many players who have health conditions that make them immunosuppressed or more vulnerable to COVID-19 symptoms are in player pools and have not yet publicly stated whether they plan to play.

You can’t have too many catchers

The most specialized position in baseball, and thus the one most terrifying to run short on, is catcher. It’s why managers are loath to pinch-hit for their backstops, and why established veterans with punchless bats stick around for years on end. Not just anyone can competently don the tools of ignorance in the majors.

Given that, one big question teams have to answer is how many catchers they will need to make it through 60 games with the coronavirus and potentially elevated injury risks.

New York Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez throws in the seventh inning of a baseball game against the Detroit Tigers in Detroit, Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2019. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Catchers are hard to replace. Even with star backstop Gary Sanchez in place, the New York Yankees are carrying five extra catchers in their player pool. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Out of the 300 team seasons in the past decade, 202 have needed at least four catchers, and only six have made it through a season using two (the most recent being the 2016 Giants). About eight clubs per season have needed five or more catchers to make it through 162 games in recent years, and most organizations have included at least four in their pools.

The Texas Rangers list seven, and that’s before counting Isiah Kiner-Falefa, who has seen time at catcher in addition to several infield spots. The New York Yankees, similarly, packed six into their allotment, including major-league mainstays Erik Kratz and Chris Iannetta, who had been inked to minor-league deals this offseason.

The Philadelphia Phillies, who employ one of the game’s best catchers in J.T. Realmuto, currently only list three. However, they have seven spots in their pool left to fill.

Teams are (mostly) leaving room for new additions

Like the Phillies, most teams have some spots left to fill. Clubs left as many as 18 spots open in their initial announcements, allowing for space to address needs via free agency — Yasiel Puig and Russell Martin are among the notable names still seeking 2020 homes.

They could also choose to add strategically from inside the organization once they see how potential opt-outs and injuries accumulate during camp.

Some teams got to adding veterans immediately once the league transaction freeze ended. The New York Mets have already brought in reliever Hunter Strickland, outfielder Melky Cabrera, infielder Gordon Beckham and swingman Erasmo Ramirez.

The Tampa Bay Rays, bursting with minor-league depth and unlikely to hand out free agent deals, did go ahead and fill all 60 spots.

The kids are all here …

Your club’s top prospect is probably headed to camp with the team. The pools all feature major league rosters, established major-league depth and collections of highly rated prospects.

Los Angeles Angels' Jo Adell runs towards second base before getting out on a force out by Brian Goodwin during the first inning of a spring training baseball game against the Los Angeles Dodgers, Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)
Elite Angels prospect Jo Adell was expected to make his MLB debut in 2020, and is included in their player pool. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

Many of the league’s most intriguing future stars — like Los Angeles Angels outfielder Jo Adell, Chicago White Sox outfielder Luis Robert and Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Nate Pearson — were destined to contribute in the big leagues in 2020 anyway, and are now in the pools. They could join MLB rosters at any time — though teams could use prorated service-time rules to manipulate their tenures to gain an extra year of control.

But even some recent draftees, selected earlier this month, are in player pools. For example, Miami Marlins pitcher Max Meyer, the No. 3 overall pick in the draft, will be added to the pool once his contract is signed, and others are expected to follow.

If their skills prove particularly advanced, and they fit their team’s immediate needs, one or more may pull off the rare feat of reaching the majors before ever playing in the minors. Leake, the D-backs starter who opted out Monday, was actually the last player to do it.

… but that doesn’t mean you’ll see them

For every prospect that gets to the majors in this abbreviated season, however, many more will remain in the player pool to work out and continue their development under team supervision.

With the minor-league season likely canceled and the idea of expanded fall leagues looking far-fetched amid the coronavirus spikes in Arizona and Florida, bringing top young talents into the player pools appears to be the best way to keep their development on course under team supervision.

That means the game’s consensus top prospect, Rays shortstop Wander Franco, is in the player pool. However, having never even taken an at-bat at Double-A — considered the first advanced minor-league level — he is extremely unlikely to see the big leagues in 2020.

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