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May 29, 2020

How will loss of minor league season impact Phillies top prospects?

There isn't a lot of good news in baseball right now. As the players and the owners seem unable to compromise on a financial plan that will ease the pain for both sides, there seems to be a real possibility that there is no MLB season in 2020.

And even if there is, there have already been big setbacks for the future, as the MLB Draft was shortened from 40 to just five rounds, and over 1,000 minor leaguers have had their careers end as many were laid off this week — a result of both the pandemic and of an already implemented plan to contract minor league baseball.

The Phillies entered what would have been the 2020 season with a crop of prospects they were quite excited about, with a handful slated to make a real impact on the big-league team. It's an issue that effects all 30 teams equally, but it's no less painful to contemplate how the potential loss of an entire year will hurt the development of key prospects.

Additionally, it appears regardless of what happens with the big league clubs, minor league baseball won't have a 2020 season:

What does that mean for the Phillies? Well, it's not good. The team has a few aging pieces — like starting pitcher Jake Arrieta (34), outfielder Andrew McCutchen (33), Didi Gregorius (30) and others who the front office is hoping can be replaced from within in the coming seasons.

Lets take a quick trip down to the farm — or what's left of it I guess — and try and gauge how much recent events affect the keys to the Phillies' future (we've included each player's estimated arrival date in MLB from an article we wrote during spring training):

Alec Bohm, 23 (3B, MLB ETA 2020)

Bohm is the top third base prospect in all of baseball and he may be the least adversely affected player — if the season actually happens. If it doesn't, he will lose a very important year developmentally, as his bat shined bright in spring training but he was working hard to get his glove to come along.

Should a 2020 season commence in July, it will happen with expanded rosters and likely a DH in the NL. This will afford Bohm the opportunity to still get the regular at-bats he would get in Triple-A, his likely landing spot before COVID-19 threw a wrench in sports. It will also force the Phillies' hand service time-wise, making 2020 his rookie year and allowing him to get some very useful experience playing against the top competition in all of the baseball world. It also will start the clock on his impending arbitration and free agency.

Spencer Howard, 23 (SP, ETA 2020)

Depending on how you look at things, the chaotic situation in baseball right now is either greatly beneficial or harmful for Howard, the Phillies top pitching prospect. The Phillies made it clear back in March that they want to be careful and take Howard along slowly, likely giving him an innings limit for 2020. That will no longer be necessary, as an 82 game season appears to be on the horizon, one which would likely already limit Howard to fewer than 120 innings without the need to place any further restrictions. That is, if he makes the five-man rotation.

The Phils looked ready to break camp with Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler, Jake Arrieta and Zach Eflin as their top four starters. Vince Velasquez, a now veteran mediocre arm, looked to be in the No. 5 spot, but perhaps the Phillies decide developing Howard — who will have little opportunity to face live hitting elsewhere — is more important. Or maybe, if the season is condensed enough that it contains multiple doubleheaders, they will go to a six-man rotation of which Howard would surely be a part. Either way, it would be surprising to see Howard not in the rotation somehow for 2020.

Francisco Morales, 20 (SP, ETA 2022)

Now here is where the real pain begins. Morales is the Phils' second best arm in the minors and he was likely headed for a big promotion from Single to Double-A this summer. He is 6-foot-4 and is already throwing 96 MPH fastballs, and he posted a respectable 3.82 ERA last season. He is obviously not quite ready to make the majors, and he needs innings under his belt. Even if the Phillies invite him to join what teams are expected to have in the form of a "practice squad," it will not really allow him to pitch in competitive games. 

Morales is just one of hundreds of great low-level arms that will be unable to make the necessary improvements that every previous big league arm has been able to make at age 20 and it's really a shame. 

Bryson Stott, 22 (SS, ETA 2021)

Stott was the Phils first-round pick last year and looked like he was a prime candidate to be fast tracked to the majors (like Aaron Nola was). He has college experience but hasn't played much pro ball, making a leap for him to the Phillies' big-league club pretty much impossible. He'll have to take batting practice, train and do the best he can without competition this summer, which could delay his push for the majors for a year.

Adonia Medina, 23 (SP, ETA 2020)

Medina is on the Phils' 40-man roster and had an outside shot at a rotation spot. He would likely have been the ace in Lehigh Valley (Triple-A), and been a spot starter or injury replacement candidate to take over in the Phils' rotation. Instead, he'll be confined to the bullpen most likely, where he has a little experience from his days in Single-A, but he was the starter in 75 of his last 77 minor league appearances. Philly clearly sees Medina as a starting pitcher, but it will be difficult for him to get the starting reps he needs in 2020. Hopefully he'll pitch enough to earn a spot on the team out of the bullpen this season.

Luis Garcia, 19, (SS, ETA 2022)

This is the kind of prospect for whom the lack of a minor league season is worst. Garcia is just 19 and getting his feet wet as a pro ballplayer. He has immense skill as he is Baseball Prospectus' No. 6 prospect for the Phillies, but his offense has not yet caught up to his defense. That will have to wait at least a year now.

Mickey Moniak, 21 (OF, ETA 2020)

Moniak was the Phillies first-overall pick in 2016 and he's been slow out of the gate in the majors, failing to really put together any impressive full seasons — though he's had some stints where he's flashed greatness. What do the Phillies do with him now? He was an enormous investment as the top pick in the draft, and to have him not get a single meaningful at-bat in 2020 would be horrible for his development. Chances are he's on the team's "practice squad."

As you no doubt know, there are hundreds more players in the Phillies organization who are or have been affected by the shortened and altered season. How many careers will be irreparably altered? How many players will regress? How many will lose their livelihood? 

Trivially, complaining about baseball players missing out on at-bats when a global pandemic is ravaging American families is nowhere near being a top national concern. But there are far reaching effects from the state of the world right now and sports are obviously not immune. We won't know for years what kind of harm the coronavirus will do to what was once America's National Pasttime. Let's hope they at least work out a deal to get on the field sometime this summer.

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