Several outlets reported early Monday evening that the Major League Baseball Players Association voted 33-5 to reject MLB’s latest proposal to play a 60-game season for 2020.
The players union released a statement that noted the players’ “eagerness to return to work as soon and as safely as possible. To that end we anticipate finalizing a comprehensive set of health and safety protocols with Major League Baseball in the coming days, and we await word from the league on the resumption of spring training camps and a proposed 2020 schedule.
“While we had hoped to reach a revised back to work agreement with the league, the Players remain fully committed to proceeding under our current agreement and getting back on the field for the fans, for the game, and for each other.”
Bob Nightengale of USA Today reported Monday evening that Commissioner Rob Manfred would now implement a 60-game schedule that is slated to open July 29, although no official word had come from the commissioner’s office.
There’s no guarantee the owners will indeed go forward with the season. According to ESPN, eight “no” votes on the part of the owners would be enough to cancel the season.
As to why the players would vote to reject the league’s latest offer, speculation has centered on their unwillingness to give up the right to file a grievance, which reportedly was part of MLB’s most recent proposal. By rejecting the offer, the players retained that right.
More information will be forthcoming as the principal parties respond and react.
In the meantime, a month or so ago this site examined the dearth of catching prospects in the Pirates’ minor league system, and neither the draft nor the passed-over free agent signing period has done anything to brighten that picture.
I won’t revisit the state of the Pirates’ catching depth – you can check out our post of May 17 for the details — but suffice it to say, none of the players at Indianapolis, Altoona or below appear on any list of top catching prospects.
That’s not the case for all organizations, though, and it would seem to me that the Pirates might be wise to make a play for a highly regarded prospect in some other organization, once teams are free to wheel and deal.
It just so happens that new general manager Ben Cherington’s previous employer – the Toronto Blue Jays – shows up well when it comes to catching depth. The Blue Jays boast a couple of young catchers at the major league level – one of whom we know all too well in Reese McGuire – and have two highly regarded prospects in the minors.
The 25-year-old McGuire, a first-round pick of the Pirates in the 2013 draft, was shipped north of the border as part of the Francisco Liriano salary dump in August of 2016. At the time, some questioned whether McGuire ever would hit enough to be more than a major league backup, but he exceeded offensive expectations last year in limited duty in Toronto, hitting .297 with an .882 OPS in 128 at-bats. He slugged seven home runs and drove in 15.
The left-handed hitting McGuire figured to split time in 2020 with another youngster, Danny Jansen, a 16th-round pick in the same 2013 draft who didn’t hit for average last year (.207) but finished with 13 home runs and 43 RBIs and a .640 OPS in 347 at-bats – his first extensive look in the big leagues. McGuire’s availability was somewhat uncertain, however, after he was arrested for indecent exposure during spring training in Florida. He is scheduled to appear in court Thursday.
The Blue Jays’ catching depth extends beyond those two, however. Alejandro Kirk, a 21-year-old right-handed hitter, is the club’s fourth-ranked prospect and rated as the No. 11 catching prospect in the minor leagues by Baseball America (subscription). That publication said Kirk’s physical stature – he’s 5-foot-9 and weighs 220 – is a red flag for some, but it also said he is “one of the best pure hitters in the minors.” He was headed for Double-A this year before COVID-19 arrived.
The Jays’ other minor league catching prospect of note is Gabriel Moreno, who is ranked No. 7 in the Toronto system and rated the 18th-best catching prospect in the majors by Baseball America. The Venezuelan native, who stands 5-11 and weighs just 160, also is a solid offensive player who is projected to hit 15 to 20 home runs a year, despite his small stature. Behind the plate, he threw out 33 percent of would-be base stealers compared with 38 percent for Kirk. Moreno was ticketed for high Class A Dunedin in 2020.
Toronto isn’t the only organization that seemingly has catching to spare. The Los Angeles Dodgers feature one outstanding young catcher at the big league level in Will Smith, who reached the majors in 2019 and batted .253 with a .907 OPS. In 170 at-bats, Smith hit 15 homers and drove in 42 runs. He’s also just 25 years old.
Nipping at Smith’s heels is Keibert Ruiz, who is Baseball America’s seventh-ranked catching prospect and is ranked No. 7 by MLB and No. 8 by FanGraphs. Ruiz, the Dodgers’ fourth-ranked prospect, will turn 22 next month and was slated to spend the year in Triple-A, which is where he ended last season. He spent most of last season at Double-A Tulsa, where he hit .254 with a .659 OPS, a slight dip from the previous year when he hit .268 with a .728 OPS, also at Tulsa.
Ruiz’s name was tossed around last year as a possible trade target whenever the subject of dealing closer Felipe Vazquez came up. The Pirates opted to hold on to Vazquez, their top asset, and that move proved disastrous when he was arrested on various felony charges later in the season.
The Dodgers also have another highly regarded catching prospect in Diego Cartaya, ranked No. 8 among all young catchers by Baseball America but unranked by both MLB and FanGraphs. The 6-2, 199-pound Cartaya, who won’t turn 19 until September, has only advanced to the Arizona rookie league but was considered the top signing out of his native Venezuela in 2018.
One other organization has two catchers listed among the top 14 prospects, as the Atlanta Braves boast Shea Langeliers at No. 10 and William Contreras at No. 14. Langeliers, 22, was the Braves’ top pick in the 2019 draft, where he was considered the second-best backstop prospect behind No. 1 overall pick Adley Rutschman of the Orioles. Langeliers, a Baylor product, is ranked the No. 6 catching prospect by MLB.
Another organization that became catching-rich in terms of prospects earlier this month is the Giants, whose top pick in the 2018 draft – Joey Bart – is ranked the second-best catching prospect in the minors behind Rutschman. The Giants added to their wealth by taking Patrick Bailey, the North Carolina State product, with the 13th overall pick in this year’s draft. Bailey was considered the top catching prospect in the draft.
It’s highly unlikely the Giants would be interested in moving either of those prospects, but it’s possible the Dodgers could be talked into parting with Ruiz, given who they have and who is coming up behind him. There aren’t many untouchables in the Pirates’ organization, and I’d be curious to see what it would take to pry Ruiz away from LA.