There may be no Minor League Baseball games yet, but that's not going to stop us from dreaming about lineups.Toolshed has crafted the best possible prospect lineups, sorted by age. To date, the series has focused on teenagers, 20-year-olds, 21-year-olds, 22-year-olds and 23-year-olds. This time, we turn our attention to prospects who will be 24
There may be no Minor League Baseball games yet, but that's not going to stop us from dreaming about lineups.
Toolshed has crafted the best possible prospect lineups, sorted by age. To date, the series has focused on teenagers, 20-year-olds, 21-year-olds, 22-year-olds and 23-year-olds. This time, we turn our attention to prospects who will be 24 and up this year. Eligibility is determined by a player's age on June 30, roughly the midpoint of a regular season -- the same date used by Baseball-Reference in its age calculations. Also, to keep this as clean as possible, a player will only be placed at his primary position, with an exception of a designated hitter spot. As fun as it would be to move around shortstops or put third basemen across the diamond at first to get their bats in the lineup, such moves wouldn't fit the spirit of the exercise.
With those ground rules set, here is the most prospect-laden roster of 24-year-olds (and older) headed into 2020:
Catcher -- Sean Murphy, Athletics: This is the oldest lineup we'll put together of this series, hence the "and up" portion of the headline. That means more than a few of these players will have Major League experience, but just enough prospect eligibility remaining to qualify. It's appropriate, then, that the first member of the 24-and-up Club fits the description perfectly. MLB.com's No. 33 overall prospect reached the Majors in September for Oakland's stretch run toward an American League Wild Card spot and quickly assumed the role of the A's starting backstop. A third-rounder out of Wright State in 2016, Murphy made his bones in the Minors for his defensive work behind the plate, earning plus to plus-plus grades for his glove and arm tools, and has grown to show promising power at the upper levels. For example, he hit 10 homers and slugged .625 in 31 games last season for Triple-A Las Vegas. The 25-year-old has been limited by injuries throughout his Minor League career and even underwent surgery on his left knee in October. (He was healthy enough to return for four Cactus League games this spring before Spring Training was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.) Those concerns are still not enough to overcome his all-around potential at this position and his Major League readiness.
First baseman -- Evan White, Mariners: White hasn't technically made The Show yet, but he has a contract that shows Seattle thinks he's a Major Leaguer right now. The Mariners signed White to a six-year, $24-million deal this offseason, securing his status as the club's first baseman of the future and the present, even though he hadn't played above Double-A yet. There are ample reasons why White is capable of making the jump. For starters, he's been ready defensively since Seattle took him 17th overall out of the University of Kentucky in 2017. With good range and footwork, White is capable of competing for Gold Gloves right away. His bat from the right side also brings promise. His 132 wRC+ was fourth-best among Texas Leaguers with at least 400 plate appearances last season, and his .488 slugging percentage was third among the same group behind only Dylan Carlson (.518) and Abraham Toro (.513). White might never be more than an average power hitter, which is odd for a first baseman, but his overall hit tool should be above-average, allowing him to pick up some value for his offensive work. Mix in the glove, and the all-around potential makes White the No. 56 overall prospect and an easy pick here for this lineup.
Second baseman -- Nick Solak, Rangers: Ask where Solak should play defensively and you'll get a multitude of answers. Ask whether he can provide offensive value and the answer is much more definitive: Yes. The 25-year-old right-handed slugger has long shown above-average potential with his hit tool and broke out with a career-high 27 homers between Triple-A Durham and Nashville last season. He debuted with Texas on Aug. 20 and continued to show promise with the bat, hitting .293/.393/.491 with five homers in 33 games. As things stand, he is only 14 Major League at-bats short of prospect graduation and will likely get those quickly once baseball resumes. Drafted as a second baseman, Solak has seen time at third base and all three outfield spots during his Minor League career, and he's expected to be the Rangers' Opening Day left fielder. That points to some versatility, but that's also borne out of the fact that Solak earns below-average glove and arm grades wherever he goes. We'll keep him at his original position, where he made 81 starts in the Minors last season, and take as much advantage from his Major League-ready bat as possible.
Third baseman -- Bobby Dalbec, Red Sox: Want a favorite for the 24-and-up Home Run Derby? Dalbec should be your man. Boston's No. 3 prospect has shown prodigious power since going in the fourth round of the 2016 Draft. He has 59 home runs combined over the past two seasons, sixth-most in all of Minor League Baseball in that span. Dalbec had been knocked early in his career for a large propensity to strike out, but he made promising strides in that department in 2019, cutting down his K percentage from 32.4 in 2018 to 24.7 between Double-A Portland and Triple-A Pawtucket. He also continues to take plenty of walks, helping his hit tool to trend in a positive direction. Dalbec's future might be at first base in Boston, but only because of the presence of Rafael Devers at the hot corner. The 24-year-old possesses a plus-plus arm that once made him a two-way candidate at the University of Arizona, and the rest of his defensive profile points to a player who could stick at third if there was a need there. There isn't with the Red Sox, but this lineup will gladly take him there.
Shortstop -- Mauricio Dubón, Giants: Another factor on this list is that sometimes prospects who push into their mid-20s try out multiple positions if they haven't latched onto one in the Majors yet. Dubon continues that theme here. The 25-year-old Honduras native has flipped between short and second and even played a little third during his time in the Red Sox, Brewers and now Giants systems. San Francisco was even saying this spring that it hoped to try him out at a new position in center field. He saw mostly second in the Majors with the Giants last season, but that's only because of the presence of Brandon Crawford. In other systems, he'd have a decent chance at sticking to short with his above-average speed and 55-grade arm. Offensively, Dubon is hit over power, though his 20 homers last season between two Triple-A affiliates marked a career high. He's a career .300 hitter in the Minors and rarely strikes out in more than 14 percent of his plate appearances with any given team. He used to be even more of a burner on the basepaths with multiple 30-steal seasons before an ACL tear in 2018 slowed him down some. Dubon will still work here, thanks to the Major League readiness of the rest of his tools.
Austin Hays, Orioles: Hays' road to Baltimore has been bumpy to say the least. The 2016 third-rounder was a major breakout prospect in his first full season in 2017, when he belted 32 homers and produced a .958 OPS between Class A Advanced Frederick and Double-A Bowie. He appeared in 20 Major League games for the Orioles that season and looked primed to burn his prospect eligibility the following campaign. Instead, he's been bit by the injury big on numerous occasions and only returned to the Majors this past season. When he got back to Charm City, he showed he was ready by batting .309/.373/.574 with four homers in 21 games. He also played an impressive center field, showing he can cover plenty of ground while also featuring a plus arm. Because of the injuries, Hays' offensive ceiling might not be as high as it looked in 2017, but the defense certainly raises his floor higher than what it looked like it'd be during the injury-riddled years.
Monte Harrison, Marlins: The former Top-100 prospect has been passed by in the charging Miami system and now ranks as the organization's ninth-best talent, according to MLB.com. Even with the dropoff -- caused in part by strikeout issues and a broken wrist suffered last June -- Harrison is arguably the toolsiest prospect the Fish boast these days. His speed remains plus. His power is above-average. His defensive work, thanks to the wheels and his plus-plus arm, is a big-time asset. If Harrison can make enough contact, there remains a decent chance the 24-year-old could become a star the Marlins would build around. That's a big if, considering he struck out in 36.9 percent of his Double-A plate appearances in 2018 and 29.9 percent of Triple-A appearances last season. The potential is still too good to pass up. Harrison moves to right in this scenario, where his cannon arm will be a problem for theoretical opponents.
Kyle Lewis, Mariners: More on this in the omissions section, but there were a number of different ways to go with the final outfield spot. Lewis ended up being the selection because of the expectation he would be an Opening Day outfielder for the Mariners in 2020, and in an older group, Major League readiness adds a layer beyond tools alone. Lewis' road was just as bumpy as Hays' and was marked by even higher expectations. The former Mercer standout was the 11th overall pick in 2016, but was hampered by knee injuries in his first two full seasons. Lewis finally played 100-plus games for Double-A Arkansas in 2019 and was rewarded with a September callup. He made the most of that Major League look, homering six times and producing an .885 OPS in 18 games, and put himself in line for another spot on the Seattle grass in 2020. Questions remain about Lewis' hit tool -- he hasn't batted above .268 for a full-season club yet -- and the knee injuries have kept him from being a basestealing threat. But the power remains above-average from the right side, and his arm plays from any place in the outfield. Every year Lewis gets away from the knee problems is another year for growth, even at 24, and the bet here is that there's even more in the tank coming from the Mariners' No. 10 prospect.
Designated hitter -- Bobby Bradley, Indians: Typically for this series, the DH spot has been an opportunity to squeeze in another interesting prospect to the lineup. No more. Let's just go with the big bopper. Bradley has mashed at least 23 long balls in his first four full seasons and is coming off a career-high 33-homer campaign last season at Triple-A Columbus. In fact since 2015, the left-handed slugger stands tied for the Minor League home run lead with Kevin Cron at 139. (Tyler O'Neill is third with 126, so both have a healthy lead.) That could be an argument for Cron as the DH, but with Bradley almost four years younger, there's a point to be made that he still has more time to grow his hit tool, where both are lacking as true sluggers. Bradley also earns points for not getting the chance to push his numbers in the cushy offensive environments of the Pacific Coast League. The 2014 third-rounder can cover some of his hit tool concerns by taking his walks as well, and his defensive deficiencies at first base aren't a worry at DH. A 40.8 percent strikeout rate limited his Major League time last season, but time remains to turn that around. The possibility of back-to-back tape-measure shots from Bradley and Dalbec is too good to pass up.
Right-handed pitcher -- Michael Kopech, White Sox: A scouting report has to be pretty strong for a pitcher to miss a full season and still rank as the No. 20 overall prospect in baseball. With that intro, it should come as no surprise that Kopech has a pretty strong scouting report. The Chicago right-hander, who underwent Tommy John surgery late in the 2018 season, has one of the game's best fastballs when healthy and typically throws in the high-90s while touching triple-digits with ease. His slider also receives plus-plus grades, and he has two other options in a curve and change that keep him in the starter's role for now. Like many flamethrowers, Kopech has control concerns, and it's still up in the air what his strike-throwing ability will be coming back from the major elbow surgery. But the ceiling is too high to keep him off this imaginary roster.
Left-handed pitcher -- Brendan McKay, Rays: At No. 15 overall, McKay is the highest-ranked prospect in the 24-and-up lineup, and while the Rays still want to hold onto his two-way dream, the 24-year-old left-hander is here squarely for his arm. After all, it's that pitching promise that brought him to the Majors in the first place last season. The former Louisville standout was one of the Minors' most dominant pitchers with a 1.10 ERA, a 0.81 WHIP and 102 strikeouts over 73 2/3 innings between Double-A and Triple-A. His Major League numbers (5.14 ERA, 1.41 WHIP in 49 innings) weren't at the same level, but McKay's fastball-cutter-curve-change mix still showed plenty of promise. It also helps that the 6-foot-2 southpaw regularly fills the zone. If this team needs a lefty bat off the bench, McKay could help in a pinch, but his abilities on the mound are more than enough to make the squad.
Preferred batting order
RF Harrison (R)
2B Solak (R)
1B White (R)
3B Dalbec (R)
DH Bradley (L)
C Murphy (R)
LF Lewis (R)
CF Hays (R)
SS Dubon (R)
This team is incredibly righty-heavy, making it even more important to add Bradley for some lefty heft in the middle. It's also what happens when you prioritize talent over balance, and that's really the goal of this series anyway.
Harrison may strike out a ton, but his speed is the best on this team. If he can reach base in any capacity, opposing pitchers will have a devil of time trying to pitch to the more powerful hitters lower in the lineup while worrying about the Miami speedster. The Dalbec-Bradley-Murphy spin could lead to plenty of power, and White, Lewis and Hays are more than capable of running into some dingers as well around them. Dubon could have the best average of the entire group, but with less pop than the others, he assumes a secondary leadoff spot at No. 9.
If Kopech's pure stuff wasn't so good, the right-handed pitching spot would have been hotly debated. Mitch Keller, Kyle Wright, Clarke Schmidt and Brent Honeywell Jr. were the other Top-100 pitchers who qualified for the list, and while they all have their advantages, none (outside maybe Honeywell, who has his own health issues) have the high-octane arsenal that Kopech typically possesses. Similarly from the other side, A.J. Puk usually leads any list of left-handers he's on, except ones that also include McKay.
As mentioned, the final outfield spot could have gone any number of ways without much of a difference being made in the overall lineup. Like Lewis, Sam Hilliard made an impact in the Majors during his brief time with the Rockies, but his ceiling isn't quite as high as Lewis' overall bat. Randy Arozarena (Rays), Jake Fraley (Rays), Jared Oliva (Pirates), Daniel Johnson (Indians) and DJ Peters (Dodgers) were among others to receive consideration.
A's shortstop Jorge Mateo's 80-grade speed would have been a killer to add to this lineup, but unlike Dubon, he hasn't found a way to crack through to the Majors because of his other offensive limitations. It reached the point that he was out of Minor League options this spring and needed to make Oakland out of camp or be sent elsewhere.
Sam Dykstra is a reporter for MiLB.com. Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @SamDykstraMiLB.