Before reporting to Spring Training this year, Gavin Lux had established himself as a rising five-tool player. In 2019, the top Dodgers prospect batted .347/.421/.607 between Double-A and Triple-A before earning his first crack at the Majors. Eight days after his callup, the Dodgers clinched their seventh straight National League West
Before reporting to Spring Training this year, Gavin Lux had established himself as a rising five-tool player. In 2019, the top Dodgers prospect batted .347/.421/.607 between Double-A and Triple-A before earning his first crack at the Majors. Eight days after his callup, the Dodgers clinched their seventh straight National League West title and Lux was plunged into postseason action -- even slugging a solo homer in the opening game of the National League Division Series.
However, with baseball on hold for the foreseeable future due to COVID-19 concerns, Lux was presented with an opportunity to add one more "tool" to his repertoire.
That tool would be virtual baseball -- and, OK, it's not exactly crucial in evaluating overall skill -- but it's fun to watch nonetheless. Early this month, Major League Baseball launched its MLB The Show Players League, a competition being played online through Sony Interactive Entertainment's PlayStation 4 video game and featuring one representative from each of the 30 big league clubs. Through April, players face off against one another playing as their respective teams. They broadcast their individual games through their social media platforms or the popular streaming platform Twitch, where fans can watch the games and comment or chat with players in real time. It's a round-robin format, and the best eight records will move on to a playoff in May.
When their respective agents approached them with the concept of playing, both Lux and Jesus Luzardo, the A's top prospect, were eager to jump on board.
"A bunch of the guys that I play with or talk to were going to [participate]." Lux said. "It seemed like a good idea and a fun idea to still be able to interact with fans."
This year's version of the game is the first to feature full rosters of Minor League teams, so it's fitting that Lux -- MLB.com's No. 2 overall prospect -- and Luzardo (No. 12) are in on the action. Beyond the obvious fun of the tournament, it presents them with opportunities to interact with big league veterans and players across the Majors with whom they don't usually have much chance to talk. For Lux, it's one of the best parts of participating.
"I think I've gotten closer with guys like Blake Snell and Joey Gallo, and guys that I probably wouldn't have talked to too much outside of baseball," he said. "We're not on the same team or in the same league, so we wouldn't be playing each other too much."
"I was excited to be a part of this and to make new connections with guys that I probably would've never talked to," Luzardo added. "Having some level of competition at this time is fun. So is being able to play against guys I know, like Juan Soto and Fernando Tatis Jr. At the same time, I also play against guys like Hunter Pence, who I never would've talked to if I didn't meet him through this tournament.
"So far, the most exciting person I've played against was Pence. Pence was a guy that when I was growing up, he was coming up. That's a guy that you look up to. Being able to talk to him and seeing how good of a person he actually is -- he's an awesome dude -- now you get to build that connection."
The Players League doubles as a charitable event, as Major League Baseball pledged $175,000 to various Boys and Girls Clubs throughout MLB communities in the U.S. and Canada. The winner of the tournament will score a $25,000 donation to the Boys and Girls Club affiliate in his community.
With the date of baseball's return is unknown, the tournament is a welcome reprieve for both the players and fans. The live streams provides fans with a peak at the personalities of players in a setting and media format more casual and individually focused than TV telecasts or ballpark visits ordinarily provide during the grind of a 162-game season.
"I'll be playing video games at night, anyway, so it doesn't really change my daily routine," Lux said with a laugh. "Being able to talk to fans in the stream, seeing all the support that Dodgers fans show, even in a video game, is pretty cool."
From Luzardo's standpoint, the Players League lets him show how his competitive spirit carries over to off-the-field fun.
"Fans are seeing how guys truly are," he said. "When you're on the field, it's a little different. You're still competitive, but it's a different mindset. It gives fans an inside view."
However, the left-hander admits that it's weird to see himself -- and play as himself -- in video game form. The software mimics him [and the other players] completely, from his appearance to his delivery.
"It's definitely weird," he said. "In the beginning, it was really weird to comprehend. It's a little better now, but it is kind of frustrating giving up runs being myself because you can't blame anyone ... but yourself. It's funny."
The inaugural event has been widely successful and select player matchups have even been picked up by television networks in the absence of real sporting events. ESPN 2, MLB Network and Fox Sports are slated to air games, and ESPN will show the Championship Series -- a best-of-5 event -- on May 3. Viral clips showing extravagant celebrations [and, sometimes, devastation] continue to circulate on the internet.
"From the feedback I've seen on social media and Twitch, the fans are really into it, and I think they appreciate that they can see the other side of us, but at the same time see us playing baseball and competing," Luzardo said. "I think that goes for the players, too. I would be cool with seeing this every year, not during baseball season, but maybe as an offseason thing."
With the "regular season" winding down on Monday, Lux has all but locked up a playoff spot. With four games remaining, his magic number to clinch a playoff berth is three. Luzardo finished regular-season action with a 14-15 record. The eight players with the best records advance to the postseason: the quarterfinals and semifinals are best-of-3, while the championship series is best-of-5.
Fans can check out the schedule and standings and find links to watch their favorite players' live streams here. The playoffs begin Friday and run through May 3. The streams also will be broadcast on ESPN, ESPN 2 and Fox Sports.
While virtual baseball can't replace the real thing, it can be a placeholder. And until the actual game returns, expect fans and players of all ages to embrace that next best thing.
Katie Woo is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @katiejwoo.