Expanded MLB rosters give young players valuable time with big clubs

Several players with North Carolina ties are practicing with major league teams in preparation for baseball’s return

Seattle Mariners infielder Kyle Seager, who played at Northwest Cabarrus High School and then UNC, talks to teammates during a July 3 workout in Seattle. While Seager and other veterans are adjusting to baseball’s COVID-19 rules, younger players are getting an opportunity to practice with major league clubs thanks to the expanded 60-man rosters. (Elaine Thompson / AP Photo)

The cancellation of this year’s minor league baseball season was a disappointing blow to many young prospects whose advance up the ranks toward a possible major league career has been put on hold for an entire year.

But that’s not the case for several players with North Carolina ties included in their teams’ 60‑man player pool for the abbreviated season beginning later this month.

It’s a list that includes recent draft picks Patrick Bailey and Nick Swiney of NC State, Jared Shuster of Wake Forest and Duke’s Bryce Jarvis.

“Everyone wants to play baseball right now,” Shuster said shortly after his selection in the first round by the Atlanta Braves last month. “Throughout the country, we all miss baseball, so hopefully that can happen sooner rather than later.”

In addition to catcher Bailey and left-handed pitcher Swiney, the first- and second-round picks of the San Francisco Giants, another former Wolfpack player, shortstop Will Wilson, is also included in the Giants’ player pool.

Besides Shuster, a left-hand pitcher, other former Wake players making the list are first baseman Will Craig (Pittsburgh Pirates), right-handed pitcher Parker Dunshee (Oakland Athletics), outfielder Stuart Fairchild (Cincinnati Reds) and first baseman Gavin Sheets (White Sox).

The Duke contingent consists of right-handed pitcher Jarvis, the first-round selection of the Tampa Bay Rays, and current major league pitcher Marcus Stroman of the New York Mets.

Although North Carolina first baseman Aaron Sabato did not make the Minnesota Twins’ list after his selection in the first round of last month’s draft, the Tar Heels are well represented among the 60-man pools.

The list includes catcher Chris Iannetta (New York Yankees), right-handed pitcher Trent Thornton (Toronto Blue Jays), infielder Kyle Seager (Seattle Mariners), catcher Tim Federowicz (Texas Rangers), right-handed pitcher Mike Morin (Milwaukee Brewers), infielder Colin Moran (Pirates), catcher Jacob Stallings (Pirates), right-handed pitcher Zac Gallen and left-handed pitcher Andrew Miller (St. Louis Cardinals), along with prospects such as outfielder Skye Bolt (Athletics), right-handed pitcher Trevor Kelley (Philadelphia Phillies) and right-handed pitcher J.B. Bukauskas (Arizona Diamondbacks).

East Carolina is represented by right-handed pitcher Shawn Armstrong (Baltimore Orioles), right-handed pitcher Jharel Cotton (Chicago Cubs), right-handed pitcher Jeff Hoffman (Colorado Rockies) and infielder Jack Reinheimer (Twins).

Two prominent North Carolina natives that signed right out of high school are also included in their teams’ player pools. Whiteville’s MacKenzie Gore, the third overall pick in the 2017 draft, is in camp with the San Diego Padres, while Cary’s Jordyn Adams — a former UNC football commit and a first-round pick in 2018 — is working out with the Los Angeles Angels.

Players must be included in the 60-man pool to participate in either the three-week “summer training” period currently underway or to play in an exhibition or regular season game.

Although being added to the list makes all those players eligible for competition, it’s doubtful most of the minor leaguers will see action once the 60-game season begins, even with a significant number of established major leaguers — such as David Price and Nick Markakis — opting out over COVID-19 concerns.

The benefit of their inclusion in the 60-man pool is the opportunity to train and practice as a member of their teams’ “taxi squad” under the supervision of the club’s coaching and player development staff.

“There’s a question about what kind of developmental reps these guys are going to have,” San Francisco Giants general manager Farhan Zaidi said last month. “Is there going to be a minor league season? Is there going to be an instructional league? Is there going to be a fall league?

“The 60-man player pool, I think part of the design was to give teams a few spots for developmental purposes. That’s important because it gives these guys competitive reps and it also gives them a chance to be around major league players and the major league coaching staff.”

The long-awaited 2020 season, which is still contingent on the status of the coronavirus pandemic, is scheduled to begin on July 23 and will run through Sept. 27 with no fans in the stands, utilizing a number of experimental rules such as the universal DH and placing runners at second base to start extra innings.