There are a lot of issues with the potential loss of the 2020 season. We don’t know that is going to happen and there are already rumblings of the league planning for games without fans in attendance this season. This was welcome news for those of us that spend a large portion of time watching/covering/suffering with sports given how dire the news has been regarding coronavirus’ spread and impact on society as a whole.
However, we must all be realistic as well and think about the possibility that the 2020 season could not happen at all. The league and MLBPA have already thought and talked about it and have contingencies in play regarding service time, player pay, etc. There are still outstanding questions regarding how things will play out in various scenarios and, understandably, those questions are being discussed and figured out on a day to day basis. We are all in uncharted territory here, but it does seem like all parties involved are working towards solutions.
There are not just operational issues, though. We are already seeing stories about players whose careers may have prematurely ended or at least significantly shortened. The Dodgers are already probably throwing up in their mouths a little bit at the possibility of Mookie Betts not playing a single inning for them.
That leads us to the minor leagues. Time is almost never a prospect’s friend down in the minors. Every season that passes after that first year or maybe two after they are signed without making the majors (or at least making significant progress towards making it to the majors) is another season that they can’t accrue major league service time and, as a guy gets older, lessens and lessens the likelihood that they will make it to the majors at all.
With that in mind, here are some Braves prospects that really, really need some version of the 2020 season to happen. These are a mix of guys that are either getting older and/or need to rebuild value for a variety of reasons. Being on this list and then having the 2020 season canceled would not be a death sentence for their prospect status, but things would certainly become more murky. Enjoy!
CJ Alexander - 1B/3B
CJ’s issue is twofold: he did not have a good 2019 season AND he is already getting older. Alexander jumped on to everyone’s radar during his 2018 debut where he posted a .924 OPS. It appeared as though the Braves had found a gem in the 20th round and observers inside and outside of the organization were quite excited.
To say that his 2019 season was a disappointment is a pretty big understatement. His .425 OPS was a far cry from his pro debut and on top of that, CJ was bit by the injury bug. An elbow injury required surgery and after coming back and not looking good at the plate, he was injured again after taking a tumble over a wall. With his prospect value hurting, he would benefit greatly from a bounce back 2020 season and given that he is already 23 (turns 24 in July), he doesn’t have the luxury of taking a long time to figure things out.
Freddy Tarnok - RHP
We have long been fans of Tarnok due to his projectability and exciting raw blend of stuff. While the Braves raised a few eyebrows when they selected him in the 3rd round of the 2017 Draft given that he was a bit of a pop-up guy, Tarnok quickly won folks over with a fastball that can reach the upper 90’s and a breaking ball that has some nasty action on it. Everyone thought that he was a long-term project, but a worthy one.
The 2019 season did not got exactly as planned. Tarnok saw some real growth during his time in Rome where he made gains in his strikeout rate while continuing to work on his command. Those gains took a step back during the 2019 season in Florida which saw his K-rate decrease and saw hitters have significantly more success against him despite the Florida State League being more pitcher friendly. A strong 2020 season would get him back on track, arguably more importantly, get him some needed reps as he grows into his body. One thing he has going for him: he won’t turn 22 until November.
Patrick Weigel - RHP
Everything was trending up for Patrick Weigel going into the 2017 season. He was coming off a fantastic season for Rome that resulted in a late season promotion to Mississippi. He then earned a promotion to Gwinnett during the 2017 season and he was on the cusp of a major league call-up. Unfortunately, his right elbow had its own plans and he had to undergo Tommy John surgery.
While his injury cost him the vast majority of the 2018 season, Weigel did well for himself in 2019 in showing that he was healthy and he was even called up as a potential bullpen arm in 2019 for the major league club, but he is definitely a guy that needs a 2020 season. He did see a dip in his K-rate upon his return from injury and it is unclear as to whether he will ever be able to be a starter again. Given that he is turning 26 in July, he may have to settle for a bullpen spot and the more time that is lost this season, the harder it will be for him to settle into a role.
Philip Pfeifer - LHP
Pfeifer was one of the more fun success stories from the 2019 season. If you were to ask those of us that cover the minor leagues here at Talking Chop, it is likely that you would not have heard Pfeifer’s name as a possible breakout candidate in the minor leagues as we had him pegged as a fringe bullpen guy. Instead, Pfeifer was excellent as both a reliever and as a starter last season with a combined 2.97 ERA with a vastly improved walk rate while maintaining a good amount of swing and miss. Pfeifer was rewarded for his efforts with a spot on the 40 man roster to protect him from the Rule 5 draft this offseason.
Given what Pfeifer’s stock looked like before last season, it is hard to be too upset about his current position. However, Pfeifer is already 27 years old and was already going to have an uphill fight for a spot in a suddenly loaded Braves bullpen and a spot in the rotation was going to be even less likely. He needed another season to show that 2019 wasn’t a fluke if, for no other reason, that he could establish his value and be an interesting trade chip as a guy who is major league ready even if opportunities in Atlanta appear few and far between.
Trey Harris - OF
Another favorite of ours here at Talking Chop, Trey had himself a breakout season in 2019. Trey started off the 2019 season as a fringe prospect in Rome and ended it in Mississippi after posting an .887 OPS across three levels of the minors. He also took his talents to the Arizona Fall League where he performed well until he got a bit dinged up. It also doesn’t hurt that his fun-loving personality made him a really valuable clubhouse asset.
The problem for Trey is a little bit about his age (24) and a lot about the position he plays in the organization. He has shown himself to be an adept hitter who has moved through the system quickly as a pro, but he also has to compete with Cristian Pache and Drew Waters for potential outfield openings (plus it looks like Nick Markakis will be manning right field for the next decade). A strong 2020 season would allow Trey to continue his momentum and put him into higher level conversations. However, if the season is lost, there is a risk of rust and reset expectations based on prospect pedigree (as unfair as that may be) that could derail his impressive rise.