By the movement of the actual seasons, spring begins with the coming equinox Thursday. Instead, it's seemingly come to a screeching halt. Spring isn't meant to stop in March. Baseball isn't meant to stop in March either. Yet these are the times in which we find ourselves.The coronavirus pandemic shut
By the movement of the actual seasons, spring begins with the coming equinox Thursday. Instead, it's seemingly come to a screeching halt. Spring isn't meant to stop in March. Baseball isn't meant to stop in March either. Yet these are the times in which we find ourselves.
The coronavirus pandemic shut down baseball last week. Major League Baseball canceled Spring Training games and has postponed action for at least the next eight weeks, although it could be longer than that. Minor League Opening Day has been delayed indefinitely. The gap between Major and Minor League Opening Day was already going to be a long two weeks, meaning Minor Leaguers were only starting to get ramped up on the backfields.
Still, while much of the world moves into isolation to stop the spread of COVID-19, it's important to remember these emergency measures don't erase the work put in and the performances recorded by prospects since the days when pitchers and catchers reported to Arizona and Florida camps in February. (MiLB.com's Jordan Wolf has recapped some of the best statistical prospect standouts from Grapefruit and Cactus Leagues.)
Below are some prospect takeaways from this year's too-brief Spring Training that can hopefully help sustain us until we hear the words "Play ball" again:
Greene and Skubal in Tigers camp, oh my: What everyone expected was that the Tigers' young pitching would steal more than a few headlines in Lakeland. As it turned out, Tarik Skubal -- MLB.com's No. 46 overall prospect entering the season -- perhaps turned the most heads by throwing in the upper-90s at times and featuring three above-average off-speed pitches during his brief time in Grapefruit League play. While the likes of Casey Mize, Matt Manning, Alex Faedo and Joey Wentz were drafted in the first 40 overall picks, it's notable that Skubal -- a 2018 ninth-rounder -- has entered their echelon and could be on his way to Detroit in short order should he keep up this trajectory after the resumption of baseball. It's also notable that he -- along with Mize, Manning and Faedo -- had yet to be reassigned to Minor League camp before Spring Training ended. That's a sign that Ron Gardenhire and his staff wanted to give as close and long a look to Skubal as they could. Meanwhile, the biggest pleasant surprise from Lakeland was likely the quick success of 2019 first-rounder Riley Greene, who came over from the Minor League side for seven Grapefruit League games in his first spring. The No. 31 overall prospect homered twice and walked six times in 18 plate appearances in those brief looks -- showing a lack of intimidation even though he was playing high-school ball this time last year. Detroit already has gotten aggressive with Greene in the early days of his pro career by sending him as high as Class A West Michigan last summer, and the organization is excited enough about his bat that that it could take a similar track in 2020.
Back on the Wright track: Kyle Wright's trajectory over the past 12 months has been shaky at best. At this point last year, the 2017 first-rounder was winning a spot in Atlanta's opening rotation based on a strong spring. He ended up pitching only 19 2/3 innings for the big club over the whole season and posting an 8.69 ERA in that span. His Triple-A performance and strength of his overall four-pitch arsenal kept Wright ranked at No. 52 overall, but he was in danger of being passed by the likes of Ian Anderson, Tucker Davidson and Kyle Muller on the organizational starting depth chart. However, Wright once again held serve this spring. His 13 1/3 innings were the most by any ranked prospect, and he posted a 2.03 ERA while striking out 15 and walking three in that span. Even though it's still small-sample theater, it's worth noting Wright has put himself back in the Atlanta rotation discussion, even with a similarly strong spring by veteran non-roster invitee Félix Hernández.
Determining the Yankees pecking order: The New York rotation took its own lumps in February when James Paxton (back surgery) and Luis Severino (Tommy John) went under the knife. That brought into question which Yankees prospect could be the next to step up to the Bronx, should expected replacements Jordan Montgomery or Jonathan Loaisiga struggle to hold onto their places. The easy answer coming in would have been Deivi Garcia. The No. 92 overall prospect reached Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in 2019 and struck out 165 batters over 111 1/3 innings across three levels. However, the 5-foot-9 right-hander never really got off the ground, giving up six earned runs in 7 1/3 frames. Meanwhile, No. 88 overall prospect Clarke Schmidt, now three years removed from Tommy John surgery and after just reaching Double-A Trenton last season, may have snuck past his fellow right-hander. Schmidt allowed only two earned runs with eight strikeouts and three walks over seven frames -- all while pumping in the mid-90s and showing a plus breaking ball. However, his 1.71 WHIP was higher than Garcia's 1.09 in the similarly small samples. Paxton was expected to be out three to four months at the time of his surgery in early February, so the Yanks might have one fewer rotation opening when baseball resumes. But whenever it does, it'll be interesting to note whether Schmidt's progress officially carries him past Garcia and up to the Majors first.
Trammell turns things around: Struggles? What struggles? The stock for Padres No. 5 prospect Taylor Trammell slipped in 2019 after he posted a .689 OPS at Double-A between the Cincinnati and San Diego systems. Trammell told MiLB.com's Katie Woo he set his sights on a turnaround in 2020, and he backed that up by going 9-for-23 (.391) with a triple and three doubles over 13 games. His seven strikeouts were a bit worrisome, but his .609 slugging percentage in a short span showed off the offensive tools Trammell still possesses at age 22. Now entering his first full season -- whatever full means anymore -- with the Padres, he should remain a big piece of the club's youthful future and he helped build his case to open at Triple-A El Paso when the dust settles.
Learn about Garcia now: Jose Garcia isn't a Top-100 prospect yet. He enters 2020 as the Reds' No. 5 prospect, three spots below the organization's last Top-100 representative. But he might have pushed his way into that grouping by spring's end. The 21-year-old shortstop homered four times in 30 plate appearances and finished with a .269/.300/.769 slash line. In fact, he had seven hits and five of them were for extra bases. That extra-base count outdid his strikeout total of three. Garcia made a lot of contact, and it was often hard contact at that. The Cuba native already had the above-average speed and defense at short down. By showing a growing bat, he could easily become Cincinnati's shortstop of the future at a time when the other three infield spots seemed solidified by Eugenio Suárez, Joey Votto and Mike Moustakas.
Luzardo earning his A's: Was anyone worried about Jesus Luzardo's ability to make the Oakland rotation coming out of camp? The No. 12 overall prospect answered the call loud and clear this spring by striking out 13 and walking only one over 8 1/3 innings. What's more, he says he was throwing in the mid-90s without max effort as early as late February. For someone with Tommy John surgery and shoulder issues in his past, that was certainly an encouraging sign. It might be a bit before Luzardo showcases his plus heater, plus changeup and above-average breakers, but for the time being, an Oakland rotation spot should be waiting for him when he returns.
Larnach launches off: In a previous edition of Toolshed, Twins No. 3 prospect Trevor Larnach discussed how power would be a focus for him in 2020, especially since he was playing for the organization that set the Major League record for home runs in a season. So far, mission accomplished. Larnach went deep three times and slugged .708 over 30 plate appearances as a non-roster invitee in Minnesota camp. That's half the number of homers he hit for Class A Advanced Fort Myers last season but in 331 fewer plate appearances. Expect the left-handed slugger to continue to harp on his pullside power when he returns in 2020. The early results are certainly promising and would indicate Larnach is right there with Royce Lewis and Alex Kirilloff as top talents waiting to give the Twins lineup yet another boost in short order.
Do the White Sox have a Mercedes?: There are any number of takeaways to sustain us from White Sox camp in Arizona. Fresh off his new record contract, Luis Robert continued to look like a potential star. Andrew Vaughn seemed more comfortable at the Cactus League plate than is typical of a slugger in his first spring. Michael Kopech hit 101 mph in his return from Tommy John surgery. But hey, it's the final number in this list, so let's have a little fun with it. The White Sox are suddenly loaded at catcher following the signing of Yasmani Grandal next to James McCann and Zack Collins, but No. 25 prospect Yermin Mercedes could make that equation even more complicated. The 27-year-old right-handed slugger hit four homers and finished with a .381/.409/1.000 line over 22 plate appearances on the Major League side. That came after Mercedes enjoyed a career season in 2019 in which he clubbed a career-best 23 homers and hit .317/.388/.581 in 95 games between Double-A Birmingham and Triple-A Charlotte. Some of that seemed to be explained by the levelwide jump in offense at Triple-A, but Mercedes showed this spring that his power potential is real. Also fit with a plus arm behind the plate, Mercedes could have played his way into a Major League debut at some point in 2020. For now, he falls into the category of players who could be hurt by the stop of a hot spring. But between now and the resumption of play, he certainly gave Chicago more than something to ponder.
Sam Dykstra is a reporter for MiLB.com. Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @SamDykstraMiLB.