The 2020 Season: The Impact of Expanded Rosters
Albert Abreu – Photo Courtesy of Lynne Sladky, AP Photo
I have spent some space here at SSTN talking about all of the negative aspects of baseball’s shutdown. From the lost development time for prospects, the looming power struggle between the player’s union and the league over revenue and salaries, and the loss of a chunk of a supremely promising season, there have been plenty of reasons to pout as a Yankee fan during the shutdown. However, all is not doom and gloom, and there is still plenty to look forward to this season. As I’ve written previously, the Yankees have a chance to be far healthier when the season finally starts than they would have been otherwise. To me though, while we don’t have exact details about what the rules about roster composition and movement will be this season, one of the most interesting and positive aspects of the 2020 season for the New York Yankees will be the likely expansion of the roster. While we don’t know the rules with any certainty, I think that it is relatively safe to assume that rosters will have at least a few more players, and a taxi squad of minor league prospects (the remainder of the 40-man roster and then some) will likely be stationed at the ready in Tampa. If this is indeed the case, Yankee fans will have a lot to which they can look forward.
Obviously, we all want to see the Yankees play Judge, Torres, LeMahieu, Urshela, Voit, etc. as much as possible this season. However, the likelihood is that any regular season schedule in 2020 will be compressed with limited off-days for players. This will necessitate that players take relatively frequent days off to stay healthy, something with which the Yanks have obviously struggled lately. Numerous young players stand to benefit from this fact in the event that expanded rosters are a reality.
While Thairo Estrada is not an inner-circle prospect for the New York Yankees, he proved that he has a likely floor as a valuable utility infielder at the MLB level based on his performance in 2019. While Estrada likely needs a little more seasoning at AAA prior to becoming a mainstay at the MLB level, he can still provide slick fielding at multiple positions and brings energy at the plate and on the basepaths as well. Estrada would likely have been blocked in the infield under normal circumstances, so expanded rosters will allow Estrada to finish his development at the MLB level.
Expanded rosters are also a boon to bubble players like Tyler Wade and Clint Frazier. Both players have seen their status as prospects come and go, and both Wade and Frazier are players who are at a definite crossroads in their Yankee careers. Wade and Frazier both had significant battles to overcome to make the roster in any capacity at the outset of Spring Training. With expanded rosters in 2020, both Wade and Frazier will likely occupy bench spots, and likely get a chance to finally breakthrough to fulfill at least some of the potential that scouts and observers touted for years.
Lastly, Mike Ford is a guy who has nothing left to prove in the minors. While Ford was likely to make the roster out of Spring Training, he was not guaranteed a spot on the roster depending on how the Yankees decided to configure the bench. With expanded rosters, there is little doubt but that Ford will begin the season with the Yankees, looking to prove that he can be an everyday 1B/DH in the league.
One of the scariest aspects of the 2020 season is the likelihood of injuries as a result of the shutdown. Pitchers are prone to injuries even in the most normal of circumstances, but disruptions to training regimens as severe as what we have seen this year will likely lead to an uptick in the number of injuries experienced by pitchers in 2020. The Yankees will not be immune from this trend. As most of our readers should now be aware, the Yankees are loaded with pitching throughout their farm system, though much of that talent is either raw and in need of significant refinement, or not available on the 40-man roster.
What is likely though, even if the Yankees get lucky (for once) and avoid the injury bug on the mound, is that all pitchers will have their pitch counts and innings monitored and limited even more than it would be normally. This will leave significant innings to guys other than the projected starting 5. Given that reality, it is entirely likely that we will see not just the guys that have been on the bubble, like Loaisiga and Cessa, or top prospects in the high minors, like Garcia or Yajure, but even some of the guys who have yet to throw significant innings in the upper minors in short bursts. While the Yankees will likely still try to develop some of these players as starters in the minors under more normal circumstances in the future, many high octane arms on the Yankee 40-man roster can get outs in the big leagues right now in short outings.
Chief among the players I think we will be likely to see in roles like this in 2020 is Albert Abreu. Abreu ranked #13 in the SSTN Top 15 Yankee Prospects, but while he still may be developed as a starter long-term, his wicked fastball-slider combination could get outs.in the Majors now. Abreu has experience as high as AA, so he has at least some limited exposure to upper-level hitters. Abreu, and others for that matter, could be fascinating in short bursts with expanded rosters this season.
While many of the Yankees’ top pitching prospects at AA and AAA would have had significant competition to find their way to the Major Leagues in 2020, expanded rosters will allow more of them to get some service time this year.
It’s been been a tough few months for everyone for reasons that are so much more important that baseball. However, for those of us that love baseball, the loss of MLB games has been difficult psychologically. While we don’t know what baseball will look like in any concrete way yet, Yankee fans have a unique opportunity to watch some players we may not have been able to see had the 2020 season been played in a normal year. The league and the players have a long way to go to hammer out a deal, but the thought of expanded rosters will be an intriguing part of the 2020 season.