Later Sunday afternoon, teams will name 60 players to head off to "summer camp" (thanks Sara for that name!). Most will be players from the 40-man roster. A few players "off the 40" will be included, as well. Some will be players unlikely to get MLB time. For instance, outfielder Brennen Davis (ranked first through fourth, somewhere, on the Cubs prospect list) might well be among the players on the "taxi squad" to get quality at-bats against advanced opponents. While Davis would probably avoid being submerged against the top Cubs pitchers not in Wrigley, the entire taxi squad idea seems a bit misplaced.
First, I'm still concerned about the health pandemic in this country. As with many things in baseball, "safety" isn't a 'greater than 80 percent' or 'less than 20 percent' thing. This entire season seems a modified coin-flip. The league could get in two weeks of games, then scrap the season. Then, they could lead with "We tried," and have that go down as the league's 2020 season headline.
I'd like baseball, as well. I don't think we'll know for three to five months if it was a wise gamble, but people want entertainment. My assessment isn't that "baseball is bad" or "practicing in South Bend (where the Cubs will likely house their taxi squad) is evil,” but the current taxi squad premise isn't the best way to improve developing talent.
I'll use Chase Strumpf as an example. Strumpf, a second baseman who was the Cubs’ 2019 second-round pick, will get mentioned as a possible taxi squad type. He might be advanced enough to develop usefully against the other top prospects in the Cubs pipeline. However, in my mind, a taxi squad is more for players who could actually be needed in Wrigley.
"How do you recommend getting at-bats for players like Strumpf, Cole Roederer, and Dominican bonus baby Ronnier Quintero?"
Step one: Admit that development is a goal. Limiting the taxi squad to one city and a specific number of players reeks of limiting the number of prospects to 150 stateside players in a pipeline. I loathe that idea with the heat of 1,000 suns. If an owner wants to get 40 of his best prospects opportunities, separate from the taxi squad, allow that.
Select a second site for the prospect pool. Des Moines might work. I'd probably lean against Myrtle Beach, but Tennessee might be fine, as well. If a goal is to develop player talent, do that, and as aggressively as the executives want.
"But, with the taxi squad, they get to play against quality pitching."
That is true, recently, pitching prospect Cory Abbott fanned Davis, and the Twitter link was popular. Davis can get better facing Abbott and Marquez. Which isn't the argument. The way it's being done could be improved. Either you think baseball is 70+ percent safe, 30 percent or less safe, or somewhere in the middle. If it is 70+ percent safe, more players should be able to play.
A few rules were clarified on Friday night. If a player is removed from the taxi squad for a reason other than suspension or illness, it appears he can be poached by another team.
As such, putting a handful of players on the taxi squad could cost the teams their services in the future.
What would I recommend? The taxi squad, as is, plus another prospect pool elsewhere. To help the players develop better, bring in former pitchers as batting practice pitchers. Not to throw 75 and straight, but to try to get hitters out. Allow teams to hire 10 former pitchers and give them the same safety protocol as the players and a realistic pay rate.
That would seem to develop more hitters and pitchers in a similar environment, but with less likelihood to lose talent. The primary concerns, since baseball is supposedly safe, would be the slightly larger cash payout by owners to provide a better product in the future. Since I'm not worried about the bank accounts of the owners, they get to decide. Do they value better development that my idea would provide? Or do they, instead, prioritize wealth retention?