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Toolshed: Dreaming of 2020 debuts

Predicting prospect arrivals under normal circumstances
Luis Robert is slated to be Chicago's Opening Day center fielder after signing a six-year deal this offseason. (Gregory Bull/AP)
March 27, 2020

Major League Opening Day was meant to be Thursday, and eight more games were originally scheduled for Friday. We should be spending these days -- two weeks out from the original Minor League Opening Day -- talking about players achieving their dreams of reaching The Show for the first time.

Major League Opening Day was meant to be Thursday, and eight more games were originally scheduled for Friday. We should be spending these days -- two weeks out from the original Minor League Opening Day -- talking about players achieving their dreams of reaching The Show for the first time. Instead, we're left with our own thoughts.
But let us not stop us from dreaming ourselves.
While the 2020 Major League schedule will be anything but ordinary following the COVID-19 pandemic, let's use this Toolshed space to imagine what could have been. These are our best, yet educated guesses at when some of's Top 100 prospects might have made their Major League debuts this season under normal circumstances. (Players are listed in order of their rank, not in the order in which we'd expect them to debut in their assigned months.)

Already debuted

Gavin Lux, Jesus Luzardo, Brendan McKay, Michael Kopech, Carter Kieboom, Dustin May, Brendan Rodgers, Sean Murphy, Mitch Keller, Nico Hoerner, Kyle Wright, A.J. Puk, Brusdar Graterol


Luis Robert, outfielder, White Sox: Robert signed a six-year, $50 million contract with the White Sox this offseason, setting a record for biggest deal signed by a player with no Major League service time. It's clear part of the reasoning for the deal was to get him to the bigs as quickly as possible. The Sox also clearly saw him as a Major League-ready player, and no one could blame considering Robert's five-tool potential. The No. 3 overall prospect is a no-doubter as Chicago's Opening Day center fielder against Kansas City on the South Side.
Evan White, first baseman, Mariners: Similarly, White inked a six-year deal with Seattle during the winter, though his was for much less at $24 million. The lesser deal came in part because, unlike Robert, White doesn't have significant Triple-A experience and his ceiling is considerably lower. But don't get it wrong -- White's defense is possibly Gold Glove-worthy already, and he showed enough offensive improvements to bring value to a position known for its hitters. White's Opening Day spot simply locks in another piece of Seattle's long-term plans to return to contention.


Jo Adell, outfielder, Angels: The Halos have long dreamed of putting the game's No. 6 overall prospect next to Mike Trout in the Orange County outfield, and it shouldn't take long to complete that wish. After a slight downturn in results at Triple-A Salt Lake last season, Adell just needs a few short weeks to prove his multiple tools play just as well at the upper levels, and he unseats Brian Goodwin in right field by the end of the Minors' first month. It doesn't hurt his case that Los Angeles needs all the help it can get to jump over Houston, Oakland and Texas in the American League West.
Nick Madrigal, second baseman, White Sox: There wasn't much doubt that Madrigal -- with elite contact skills and a 70-grade hit tool -- would have made for Chicago's best second-base option, but a difficult spring in which he went 6-for-22 (.222) kept him from making the team on Opening Day outright. No matter. A quick return to Triple-A Charlotte, where he had a .331 average and only five strikeouts in 134 plate appearances, recalibrates his bat and the 2018 first-rounder gets the early hookup to Chicago. With the Sox looking to go all in on 2020, they can't afford to go without Madrigal for long.
Ryan Mountcastle, outfielder/first baseman, Orioles: Baltimore already optioned its No. 4 prospect to Triple-A Norfolk, so we know where he'll open 2020. Don't expect him there long. After all, Mountcastle is the reigning International League MVP. He has little left to prove at the Minors' top level, other than to find a long-term position. He got the longest looks at left field this spring, and Trey Mancini's absence following surgery to remove a malignant tumor from his colon unfortunately heightens Baltimore's need for another bat on the grass. Mountcastle's early arrival in 2020 gives Orioles fans a closer look at another piece of the club's budding future.


Nate Pearson, right-handed pitcher, Blue Jays: Following a spring that put Pearson's triple-digit fastball on full display, there are calls for the No. 8 overall prospect to follow in the footsteps of Chris Paddack a year earlier and open directly in the Majors. However, the Jays watched Pearson's innings closely in 2019, and after alternating long and short outings for much of the season, the club finally opened him up more in late July. They'll want to monitor him a little longer back in Triple-A Buffalo, but by the season's second full month, it'll be difficult to deny that Pearson's fireball (as well as his plus slider and improving changeup) aren't ready for the big time. 
Dylan Carlson, outfielder, Cardinals: Coming off a breakout 2019 in which he seemed to get better with each passing month, Carlson has become the top prospect in the St. Louis system and one who looked close to Major League readiness heading into this spring. He continued to impress with a strong spring (featuring a .905 OPS while playing all three outfield spots). However, he didn't enter the spring on the 40-man roster, and the Cards decide to give their multitude of other options (like Tyler O'Neill, Tommy Edman and Lane Thomas) longer looks while getting Carlson more consistent at-bats at Triple-A Memphis. By May with the Brewers, Cubs and Reds all vying for control in the NL Central, the Cardinals finally make the call. The 21-year-old switch-hitter takes over left-field duties right away and also gives Harrison Bader spells in center because of his better bat.
Spencer Howard, right-handed pitcher, Phillies: Howard only has six Double-A starts on his ledger coming into 2020, but Philadelphia happens to have a glaring weakness when it comes to starting pitching. A right-hander capable of throwing in the high-90s and showing an above-average changeup and slider should help the cause. It remains to be seen whether Howard's presence can help the Phillies keep up with the Braves, Nationals and Mets in the NL East, but having someone with his ceiling won't hurt. (It's worth noting these guesses are made assuming full health for the prospects. Howard missed time in 2019 with a shoulder injury and this spring with a right knee issue. But he looked good to go at the early end of Spring Training, and considering these are made-up scenarios, there's no reason to think he couldn't be up this quickly.)
Deivi Garcia, right-handed pitcher, Yankees: The Yanks were getting Garcia relief looks at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to end 2019, but following injuries to James Paxton and Luis Severino, their needs are a little different in 2020. There's an argument that another top right-handed prospect could jump the line here (more on him below), but for now, New York chooses Garcia, who is already on the 40-man roster and has a little more upper-level experience. Oh, the 5-foot-9 righty also has a plus fastball, plus-plus curve and solid slider and used that package to strike out 34 percent of the batters he faced last season. Following some more K-heavy appearances in the IL, he earns this first-half debut.


MacKenzie Gore, left-handed pitcher, Padres: This is where service time could become an issue. The Padres notably put that aside when they made Paddack and Fernando Tatis Jr. Opening Day players last year, but circumstances are different this time around. For starters, the San Diego rotation is a little more loaded with a healthy Garrett Richards, newly acquired Zach Davies and breakout candidate Dinelson Lamet. Also, Gore has a little less Double-A experience than Paddack did at the same point, having made only five starts at Double-A last season. What's more, the Padres gave him a late start in the spring by allowing him to make his Cactus League debut on March 5 -- an indication they planned to bring him along slowly. But Gore would undoubtedly be one of the Majors' best young pitchers upon arrival, thanks to his plus control of his four plus pitches from the left side. After getting some additional upper-level experience (and going past the Super Two deadline as well), Gore becomes an undeniable Major Leaguer by mid- to late June, and the Padres' young core is all but set in place.
Cristian Pache, outfielder, Braves: Pache would be one of the Majors' most gifted defensive outfielders right away in Atlanta. It just takes a little more time to prove he could bring some value with his bat as well, especially when it comes to power. It doesn't help his case that Atlanta is flush with veteran outfielders following the signing of Marcell Ozuna and the return of Nick Markakis. But after a few months of using Markakis, Adam Duvall and Ender Inciarte to paper over the third outfield spot next to Ozuna and Ronald Acuña Jr., the Braves finally turn to their next long-term piece. At this point, Pache basically has a full season's worth of experience at Triple-A Gwinnett. Now it's time to see whether his bat can help Atlanta secure its third straight division title.
Forrest Whitley, right-handed pitcher, Astros: No organization's top prospect enters 2020 with more to prove than Houston's. Whitley struggled mightily with command at Triple-A Round Rock, and those issues along with shoulder inflammation kept him making his debut last season. He did, however, show promising signs in the Arizona Fall League, and those allow the Astros to send the 22-year-old right-hander right back into the fire of the Pacific Coast League. Following two months of more stable production, Whitley finally gets that call in June. The Astros, down Gerrit Cole and with aging vets Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke, are in search of their next potential ace, and an improved Whitley gets every chance to fill that role.
Alec Bohm, third baseman, Phillies: Philadelphia could still use all the talent it can get its hands on beyond Howard, and Bohm is the next one up a month later. The Phils use Jean Segura at third base out of the gate, but move him back to second to make room for Bohm, allowing Scott Kingery to take on more of a utility role. Bohm's right-handed bat gives Philly more thump in the middle of the lineup following a few productive months after Triple-A Lehigh Valley, and his defense is serviceable enough at the hot corner to keep the position on lock. This leaves the Phillies with only one Top-100 prospect in the Minors, but that's 2018 first-rounder Bryson Stott, who is at least another year away.
Alex Kirilloff, outfielder/first baseman, Twins: Even if this is a dream world, it's a fact of any reality that injuries or downturns in production do happen. So while Minnesota is coming off a historically good offensive season and seems set at the corner outfield spots and first base, it's still likely reinforcements will be needed at some point in the first half. Enter the No. 32 overall prospect. The left-handed slugger seemed to dip in 2019, but part of that was due to wrist issues. With those long behind him, Kirilloff continues to show above-average hit and power potential in his move to Triple-A Rochester, and the AL Central-leading Twins feel comfortable giving him his first look before the All-Star break.
Ke'Bryan Hayes, third baseman, Pirates: Hayes already played a full season of Triple-A ball in 2019 and possesses a glove that has helped him win three straight Minor League Gold Gloves at the hot corner. The 23-year-old just needs to show a little more from his bat coming off his .751 OPS at Indianapolis last season, and by late June, he has accomplished that feat. Colin Moran isn't enough to keep him blocked at third, and the new-look Bucs bring in Hayes for hopefully the long term.
Keibert Ruiz, catcher, Dodgers: Similar deal to Kirilloff here with some extra caveats. Ruiz is in his second season on the Dodgers' 40-man roster, so it should be even easier for Los Angeles to bring up the No. 73 overall prospect. Except it's difficult to overlook that the Dodgers have two young quality backstops already in Will Smith and Austin Barnes. Still, even the best teams have their depth challenged at some point, and by June, the Dodgers need to dig into their catching depth chart. Luckily, they have a 21-year-old switch-hitter who makes lots of contact and generally has solid defensive skills. At some point, Ruiz still needs to win over a job, and this will be his first real opportunity with one of the game's most talented clubs.
Jesús Sánchez, outfielder, Marlins: At the other end of the spectrum, the unlikely-to-be-competitive Marlins should be giving their young talents whatever looks they can at this stage of the season. They will need to figure out who's capable of sticking as part of the club's long-term rebuilding plan and who just doesn't have it. Sanchez, who was acquired from the Rays at last year's trade deadline, fits in perfectly here. The No. 80 overall prospect finished last season at Triple-A New Orleans and is capable of showing an above-average hit tool and above-average power from the left side. But it's been a while since the 22-year-old's numbers have matched his scouting reports. With not much blocking him at the corner outfield spots, he still hits enough to earn his way to Miami via Triple-A Wichita, placing himself squarely into a fight for a long-term spot near South Beach.


Joey Bart, catcher, Giants: The passing of the torch comes around the Fourth of July. Stuck near the bottom of the NL West with an aging roster, San Francisco turns to some new blood and allows Bart to immediately apprentice behind Buster Posey by the bay. Bart does his part by flying through Double-A Richmond and Triple-A Sacramento, thankfully avoiding some of the freak injuries he suffered in 2019. With plus power and plus defensive skills, Bart is capable of taking over for Posey in time, but for now, the Giants are comfortable with him being around the All-Star.
Matt Manning, right-handed pitcher, Tigers: The Triple-A Toledo pitching staff gets far more followers than its Major League counterpart, and for much of the summer, it's a legitimate question of which Tigers prospect will head to Detroit first. The call here is Manning, the 2019 Eastern League Pitcher of the Year and the Top-100 prospect with the most upper-level experience entering 2020. The game's No. 24 overall prospect shows his plus fastball, plus curve and above-average changeup work in Triple-A too, and after wanting to get him as much work in the IL as possible, the Tigers finally call him up after the All-Star break. Detroit fans begin to see some light at the end of the tunnel.
Ian Anderson, right-handed pitcher, Braves: Upper-level pitchers Kyle Wright, Bryse Wilson and Touki Toussaint enter 2020 hoping to find Major League rotation spots, and after some more hits and misses, Atlanta turns to the next generation in the second half. Anderson became the top pitching prospect in the system at the beginning of the season thanks to a plus fastball and an above-average curve and change, and after returning to Triple-A Gwinnett -- where he had five rough starts in 2019, he shows enough to make spot starts in the Majors. Like the trio before him, his present role remains up in the air the rest of the way, and Atlanta considers him for a bullpen role down the stretch, just to keep his arm in the Majors. But everyone agrees, the stuff is starter-worthy for the future.
Vidal Brujan, second baseman, Rays: Tampa Bay loves nothing more than figuring out a role for a super-talented player, and it takes on its next project in Brujan just before the Trade Deadline. Brujan's combined skill package of plus-plus speed and a plus hit tool as a switch-hitter is too tantalizing for the Rays to pass up, especially in the thick of an AL East divisional race with the Yankees. Brujan gets looks at second base, shortstop and even a little center field as Tampa Bay tries to find out how his puzzle piece fits, but manager Kevin Cash is more than happy for the challenge.
Brady Singer, right-handed pitcher, Royals: Kansas City and Detroit are locked in somewhat of a race to the bottom in the AL Central and find themselves in similar predicaments going into the second half. Singer might not be up to the caliber of Manning et al, but he is a 2018 first-rounder with significant Double-A experience on his resume going into his second full season. Following a trip to Triple-A Omaha, the former Florida Gator joins the Royals rotation in part to get him away from the hitting-friendly confines of the PCL. It doesn't hurt that his plus slider and above-average fastball look Major League-ready, and he comfortably assumes his place behind Brad Keller and Danny Duffy in the rotation.
Josiah Gray, right-handed pitcher, Dodgers: Los Angeles' pipeline to the Majors doesn't stop. Any club's pitching depth gets tested over time, and even with a solid rotation and Dustin May and Tony Gonsolin able to help as prospects, the Dodgers eventually could find their way to Gray, who knows a thing about climbing quickly. The No. 67 overall prospect moved up from Class A to Double-A in his first full season and is capable of making a similar jump with a four-pitch mix and above-average control. He could enter as a spot starter and give Los Angeles another bullpen weapon down the stretch, should the rotation get too crowded again. As if the Dodgers needed more help.
Daulton Varsho, catcher, D-backs: The only reason Varsho lasts this long is on the defensive end. Coming off a 2019 season in which he posted an .899 OPS with 18 homers and 21 stolen bases, the 23-year-old opens 2020 close to the Majors, and his early performances in the PCL match that reputation. But a catcher with above-average speed and a below-average arm is a rare case, and that skill set causes Arizona to give Varsho looks elsewhere, including center field and second base. That versatility earns him the call, and he continues to play a multitude of positions in the Majors to help Arizona's playoff push.
Clarke Schmidt, right-handed pitcher, Yankees: This is the prospect who could have jumped over Garcia back in May, but after only one somewhat healthy season, Schmidt has a little more proving to do. Just before the deadline, manager Aaron Boone is reminded of Schmidt's plus heater, above-average breaking ball and changeup from the spring and asks to give the 2017 first-rounder his chance in the Bronx. General manager Brian Cashman acquiesces, and all of a sudden, the Yankees have to decide whether it's worth it to pursue pitching at the deadline or ride it out with the young guns.
Brent Honeywell Jr., right-handed pitcher, Rays: This would be 13 months out from Honeywell's second elbow surgery in as many years, and after a long rehab process, the 24-year-old right-hander finally punches his ticket. It's not for lack of talent that Honeywell has had to wait this long. His famous fastball-screwball-changeup combo receives plus grades, and his slider and control are also above-average, when healthy. The Rays want him to show absolute full health before the call and just before the stretch run, they're satisfied enough to give Honeywell his chance.


Wander Franco, shortstop, Rays: Yup, it's happening. The top overall prospect ends up being better than anyone acquired at the Trade Deadline. Even at age 19, Franco continues to show a top-of-the-line hit tool, burgeoning power and above-average speed. Because the Rays are right in the thick of a division title race, they can't afford to let Franco dwell at Triple-A Durham. They find a way to get his bat into the lineup as often as possible, whether it be at short, second or third. Prospect lovers everywhere rejoice.
Casey Mize/Tarik Skubal, pitchers, Tigers: It doesn't take long for Mize and Skubal to join Manning in Motor City. Mize had a little more to prove after his shoulder issues in 2019, and the Tigers wanted to be a little more careful with Skubal only two years after he was taken in the ninth round. With nothing left to play for in 2020, Detroit wants to give its full attention to the future, and two full months of its youth in the rotation gives the club a better idea of how to proceed in the coming offseason.
Sixto Sanchez right-handed pitcher/Jazz Chisholm, shortstop, Marlins: Similar spot here for the Marlins, and one they found themselves in last year as well with Isan Diaz. The second baseman performed well in the PCL and put himself in a place that a callup seemed inevitable. That call came on Aug. 5. Sanchez and Chisholm do something similar, this time at Wichita. Sanchez takes some lumps with the Triple-A ball, but his ability to throw strikes with a plus-plus fastball and solid offspeed offerings eventually wins out. Chisholm's struggles to make contact continue at Triple-A, but his power also shines through, as does his defense at short. Even if the Major League club continues to limp toward the finish line, the arrival of Sanchez and Chisholm bring some more sunshine to southeast Florida.
Drew Waters, outfielder, Braves: There's still an Atlanta logjam in the outfield, but as continues to be the case, talent always finds its way to the top. Waters finds himself on the scene a little after Pache due to not having a 40-man spot and could be trading places with his fellow 21-year-old if Pache's bat doesn't provide value. Waters has a little more of a track record on the offensive side, having won a Southern League batting title in 2019, but he has his own issues with consistent contact. Still, the Braves will want to see what they can get out of his plus speed, arm and glove on the grass during the stretch run. In an ideal world, Waters or Pache will slide in next to Acuña and Ozuna, and both will take spots for the long road in 2021. August brings Waters his chance to win that job more quickly.
Luis Patiño, right-handed pitcher/Taylor Trammell, outfielder Padres: Patiño doesn't have the ceiling of Gore. Good luck finding anyone in San Diego who isn't as equally excited about the arrival of the right-hander as they are about the lefty. By August, when it's clear the Padres won't chase down the Dodgers and D-backs despite an honest effort, the club pivots to the youth and Patiño leads that charge, boosted by the plus-plus fastball and plus slider he shows at Triple-A El Paso. Trammell joins shortly afterward after a full season of production with the Chihuahuas makes his 2019 dip look like a distant memory. With Gore, Patiño and Trammell in place, San Diego is expected to much more seriously compete in 2021.  
Logan Gilbert, right-handed pitcher, Mariners: Seattle finds itself in the same place as the Tigers, Marlins and Padres going into the season's penultimate month. Time to turn to the kids. Like he did in 2019, Gilbert finds himself at his third level of the season, having started out in dominant fashion at Double-A Arkansas and after moving up to Triple-A Tacoma. The Mariners have high hopes of Gilbert leading a home-built rotation next to Justus Sheffield, Justin Dunn and Washington native Marco Gonzales. Gilbert's four-pitch mix gives him a chance to do that, even in limited showings with a few weeks left to play.
Nolan Jones, third baseman, Indians: The Tribe was one of the most befuddling teams heading into 2020 -- what with the Francisco Lindor trade rumors and all -- and continue to stride the line heading into August. Still in the AL Wild Card chase, Cleveland brings up Jones for his bat, hoping the No. 42 overall prospect's patient approach and plus power potential can translate to the bigs. The defense remains a question. He's not going to knock Jose Ramirez off the hot corner, and he's still learning the ropes in the corner outfield spots. But after a hot July in Triple-A Columbus, the Indians can't keep Jones down in the middle of Ohio for much longer.
Jeter Downs, second baseman, Red Sox: Time to see the prospect the Sox got in the Mookie Betts trade. From the time he was acquired in February, many had Downs pegged as Boston's second baseman of the future, and after impressive turns at Double-A and Triple-A, the infielder gets his chance to prove that right after his 22nd birthday. Boston's new top prospect may not have anything flashy in his profile, but his overall above-average potential with the bat gives New Englanders some hope after a disappointing middling season at the Fens.
Daniel Lynch, left-handed pitcher, Royals: Lynch was taken 16 spots after Singer in the 2018 Draft and now appears in the Majors one month later. Lynch has some who prefer him more, and it's easy to see why with two plus pitches in his fastball and slider, a good changeup and impressive control. He gets a long look in a starting role next to Singer, and barring significant setbacks, both lock themselves into rotation spots for 2021.
Brandon Marsh, outfielder, Angels: No, this isn't a prediction that Adell, Trout or Justin Upton will get hurt. It's more of a prediction that Marsh will be too good by August for the Angels to hold him down any longer, regardless of the Major League record or openings for playing time. The 22-year-old has the hit, run and fielding tools to make an impact, as he shows all season long at Triple-A Salt Lake, and even if he comes up as a fourth outfielder to start, that apprenticeship will go a long way toward locking in Los Angeles' outfield of the future. Even with Upton having one year remaining on his contract, Marsh's presence could push him into a starting role for 2021.

Luis Garcia, shortstop, Nationals: Washington remained high on the 20-year-old middle infielder, even when he struggled with an aggressive assignment to Double-A Harrisburg in 2019. A return to the Eastern League brings out Garcia's offensive promise from the left side, even if it doesn't quite show up in the power sector, and he bolsters that with even more production at Triple-A Fresno. With the Nats in heavy pursuit of a World Series defense, they'll want to know whether Garcia is capable of playing a key role for an infield that mixes young players (Trea Turner, Carter Kieboom) with veterans (Howie Kendrick, Asdrúbal Cabrera, Starlin Castro). He may go the way of Kieboom in 2019, struggle out of the gate and miss the postseason roster completely. Even if that happens, the Nats will at least give him the look he's earned.


Jarred Kelenic, outfielder, Mariners: New roster rules that limit teams to only 28 gameday players, instead of the potentially full 40-man roster, make this month a lot less fun from a prospect perspective. That said, Seattle GM Jerry Dipoto still comes in to save the day. Dipoto was willing to give Kyle Lewis, Justin Dunn and Justus Sheffield elongated looks down the stretch in 2019, even when the M's were way out of contention, and he makes that a tradition by rewarding Seattle's top prospect with his debut in the final month. Kelenic wows the Emerald City with his five-tool potential on the big stage, and his early performance makes him the early favorite for the 2021 American League Rookie of the Year award. By then, he'll have to compete with a whole new group of Major League debutants. Saving that for a Toolshed at another time.

Sam Dykstra is a reporter for Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @SamDykstraMiLB.