Although MLB and the Player’s Association is still working on economics and structure of said season, some of the finer details have been agreed to. There’s a good assumption that in an effort to avoid injury an expanded roster will be implemented. With there being no formal minor league season on the horizon, an expanded taxi squad will also likely be adopted.
In a traditional year prospects are developed through the course of game action on the farm. Now they’ll be put through the wringer under a different set of circumstances, and the eventual call-up could be out of necessity rather than readiness. Additional bodies coming from the 40-man roster makes the most sense, and three players jumped out to me as being near-ready prior to the curveball a global pandemic has thrown.
Travis Blankenhorn – Utility
Blankenhorn was a third-round selection back in 2015 and is now 22 years old. He topped out at Double-A Pensacola last season and posted a .786 OPS. He can play all over the diamond and his positional flexibility is what makes him interesting for Minnesota in 2020. Coming into his power during 2019, Blankenhorn launched 18 dingers in 93 Double-A games.
He was a guy I was extremely excited to watch during spring training, and there was definitely opportunity present for him to impress. Right now, Rocco Baldelli has utility types in the form of Ehire Adrianza and Willians Astudillo. Blankenhorn falls somewhere in the midst of that group. He’s a better defender than Willians and could be a better bat the Adrianza. If either of them goes down, he’d be a worthy guy to call upon.
Nick Gordon – 2B
Minnesota’s first-round pick in 2014, fifth overall, has yet to make it to the big leagues. Nick Gordon isn’t a clone of his brother Dee, but he’s moved over to his old position. Once a shortstop, Nick is now fully entrenched on the right side of the diamond. Although the bat hasn’t come along as much as expected, he’s got a strong track record of success the second time through a level. After posting a .544 OPS at Triple-A in 2018, he rebounded to the tune of an .801 mark a season ago.
Nick doesn’t have the same speed that Dee used to but has good quickness and acceleration. He’s an OK fielder that would be able to handle second well. Playing nine innings at third with over 5,000 between 2B and SS in his pro career, it’s fair to assume his home is up the middle. Again, he’d factor into the same conversations that Blankenhorn would, but it appears the time could be now for the son of the man nicknamed Flash.
Gilberto Celestino – OF
When Minnesota flipped Ryan Pressly to the Houston Astros it was assumed that Jorge Alcala was the prize return. Instead, it may be Celestino that bears the most fruit. A high-profile international free agent, Celestino played most of his 2019 at Low-A Cedar Rapids. He did hit 10 home runs in 2019 but posted just a .759 OPS. Power isn’t much his game, but he can draw walks, is plenty fast, and is among the best defenders in Minnesota’s system.
It would seem odd for a player yet to establish himself at A-ball to jump all the way to the big leagues. That said, it’s not uncharted waters and it wasn’t long ago that Jorge Polanco was doing that same thing for the Twins. Celestino could be called upon more for his defense in 2020. Should something happen to one of the starting outfielders, Celestino would represent an ideal centerfield candidate. Jake Cave was stretched there in 2019, and while Max Kepler was great, the position took a toll on him. The bat won’t be ready this soon, but the glove and instincts absolutely are.
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