Alternative training sites are serving two distinctly different purposes. Not only are they providing reinforcements for big league teams, but they’re also offering the only in-person instruction and development available to prospects during the coronavirus pandemic.
Only prospects in their organization’s designated 60-man player pool are eligible to participate at the alternative training sites, however, so the vast majority of farmhands have been on their own since Spring Training shut down in early March. MLB Pipeline checked in with club officials to find out what each system’s highest-ranked prospect not in camp has been working on, and here’s what we learned:
AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST
Blue Jays: Miguel Hiraldo, SS/2B (No. 9)
Signed by Toronto for $750,000 during the 2017-18 international period, Hiraldo’s advanced bat earned him a promotion from the Dominican Summer League to the Gulf Coast League during his pro debut. He built upon that performance in ’19, slashing .300/.348/.481 with 28 extra-base hits (7 HR) as an 18-year-old in the Rookie Appalachian League before a late-season bump up to Class A Lansing. And while Hiraldo wasn’t included in the Blue Jays’ 60-man player pool, he has spent the summer training in his native Dominican Republic.
Orioles: Heston Kjerstad, OF (No. 3/MLB No. 59)
Kjerstad’s power was on display the moment he set foot on the Arkansas campus, and he kept showing it off over two-plus years there, as well as for Team USA last summer. His hot start this spring catapulted him to the top of the Draft and the Orioles took him No. 2 overall. He’s been working out on his own while participating in the Orioles’ onboarding efforts in terms of strength and conditioning, nutrition and learning about the organization’s way of doing things. He’s simultaneously working on getting his degree by taking online courses and is on pace to finish this year.
Rays: Nick Bitsko, RHP (No. 8)
Bitsko already was viewed as a top 2021 Draft prospect before he decided to reclassify for this year’s Draft, when the Rays selected the then-17-year-old right-hander 24th overall and then signed him away from a Virginia commitment with an above-slot bonus of $3 million. Boasting three potentially plus pitches and a highly projectable 6-foor-4, 225-pound frame, Bitsko has as high of a ceiling as any hurler in the Rays’ system. He’s spent the summer throwing bullpen sessions and facing live hitters while training at the Apex Athletic Institute in Pennsylvania.
Red Sox: Gilberto Dominguez, OF (No. 5)
The fastest player and best outfield defender in the system, Dominguez won the Short Season New York-Penn League batting title (.359) in his U.S. debut last summer. Back at home in the Dominican Republic, he’s working on the direction and consistency of his swing from both sides of the plate.
Yankees: Jasson Dominguez, OF (No. 1/MLB No. 52)
The highest-ranked player on the Top 100 eligible for the alternative training site who’s not on a 60-man list, Dominguez signed for $5.1 million out of the Dominican Republic last July as one of the most hyped international prospects in recent memory. Just 17, he has yet to make his pro debut and is following a program the Yankees laid out for him to work on his hitting, defense and strength and conditioning. He keeps in communication with the organization’s Dominican coaches and often sends video of his live action and drillwork to club officials so they can see his progress.
AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL
Indians: Brayan Rocchio, SS (No. 7)
The sweet-swinging Rocchio held his own as the youngest regular (age 18) in the Short Season New York-Penn League last summer and was scheduled to make his full-season debut in 2020. He’s training in his native Venezuela with an emphasis on impacting the ball more often to go with his advanced bat-to-ball skills.
Royals: Erick Peña, OF (No. 5)
After signing for $3,897,500 at the outset of the 2019-20 international period, Peña made an indelible impression on club officials during fall instructional league, showcasing loud physical tools as well as an advanced feel for the game. The 17-year-old outfielder has spent the summer training in the Dominican Republic and is said to be in excellent physical shape and stronger than he was a year ago. The Royals are eager to see him in action during fall instructional league at the team’s Arizona complex.
Tigers: Joey Wentz, LHP (No. 9)
It seemed as though Wentz might get his first crack at the big leagues in 2020 after his strong finish at Double-A Erie last season, after the Tigers acquired him from Atlanta at the Trade Deadline. But an elbow injury suffered by the 22-year-old lefty in March led to subsequent Tommy John surgery, and he’s spent the summer rehabbing in Kansas City. Wentz recently began a throwing program that he’s expected to continue during the team’s fall instructional program in Lakeland, Fla.
Twins: Keoni Cavaco, SS (No. 7)
The Twins’ first-round pick in 2019 (No. 13 overall) has been at home in southern California working on his swing. The right-handed hitter has focused on improving his lower-half direction and his swing path, something he’ll continue to do in Fort Myers, Fla., at the Twins’ fall program next week.
White Sox: Michael Kopech, RHP (No. 2/MLB No. 20)
The highest-ranked prospect on this list, Kopech was completing his comeback from Tommy John surgery and slated to contribute to the White Sox before he informed them in mid-July that he had elected not to play this season. He’s working out regularly with a personal trainer as he builds up toward bullpen sessions. He has the technology on hand to monitor his workload and provide feedback on pitch data as he focuses on the riding action on his fastball and distinctly defining his breaking pitches.
AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST
Angels: D’Shawn Knowles, OF/2B (No. 9)
Signed out of the Bahamas for $850,000 in July 2017, Knowles made a very strong first impression in the United States in 2018, then didn’t fare quite as well in 2019, though his approach at the plate did improve. He’s continued that offensive work during the shutdown and has also been getting reps in the outfield and at second base, where he started to get some work this spring before the shutdown.
Astros: Freudis Nova, INF (No. 2)
Compared to Hanley Ramirez and Edgar Renteria, Nova had some of the best all-around tools in the 2016 international class and has the best in Houston’s system. He’s hitting on his home field back in the Dominican Republic as he emphasizes quieting his hands and keeping his barrel from getting too flat in his pre-swing setup.
Athletics: Jeff Criswell, RHP (No. 10)
The A’s took Criswell in the second round of this past June’s Draft out of the University of Michigan and he’s had the benefit of working out with fellow Wolverine and A’s prospect Jack Weisenburger (a 20th-round pick in 2019) in Michigan. He’s been working on building his innings up by throwing three innings against hitters (50 pitches) once a week with at least one side session and will continue to do so at the A’s instructional league program. Criswell has the chance to start if his command improves, but he reminds some of Liam Hendriks stuff-wise.
Mariners: Connor Phillips, RHP (No. 14)
Phillips had switched to McLennan Community College after his senior year of high school in 2019 so he would be Draft eligible again in 2020, and while he didn’t get to throw much before the shutdown, the Mariners saw enough to take him No. 64 overall. He’s been in North Carolina since signing, working with Sean McGrath, who would have been the Modesto pitching coach in the California League this season after being hired from Elon University (he was the Mariners’ 2019 first-round pick George Kirby’s pitching coach at Elon). Phillips has mostly been getting into shape and throwing flat grounds.
Rangers: Maximo Acosta, SS (No. 5)
After signing Acosta for $1.65 million last July, the Rangers eagerly anticipated the pro debut of a player who has garnered comparisons to fellow Venezuelan Gleyber Torres. While he’ll have to wait until 2021, he’s trying to accrue as many live at-bats as possible to make up for what he missed out on this summer.
NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST
Braves: Freddy Tarnok, RHP (No. 13)
Tarnok has been at home in Florida (he was a third-round pick out of Riverview High School in the Tampa area in 2017) working hard on fine-tuning his delivery. He’s been up to 99 mph with his fastball and the Braves are pleased with the progress he’s made on his breaking ball, a power curve with tight spin.
Marlins: Kameron Misner, OF (No. 14)
One of the toolsiest players in the 2019 Draft, Misner lasted 35 picks despite his upside as a 30-30 center fielder because of inconsistent production in college. The Marlins have had him hone the consistency of his left-handed swing, focusing on his posture and his lower half in an attempt to improve his path to the ball.
Mets: Pete Crow-Armstrong, OF (No. 6)
A USA Baseball alum and product of prep baseball powerhouse Harvard-Westlake (Calif.), Crow-Armstrong, whom the Mets selected with the 19th overall pick in this year’s Draft, has spent the summer training in California, getting plenty of live at-bats. The Mets are eager to finally lay eyes on him this fall during their instructional program and are quick to note that the 18-year-old outfielder shares their excitement.
Nationals: Cole Henry, RHP (No. 6)
One of best Draft-eligible sophomores in the 2020 class, Henry had gotten off to a fantastic start at LSU this past spring before the college season came to a halt. The Nationals were thrilled to find the 21-year-old righty still on the board for their second-round pick and even more so when they were able to sign him via an above-slot bonus of $2 million. Henry’s workouts were limited after the Draft due to various pandemic-related restrictions, but he has since made progress with a throwing program as well as a strength and conditioning program — both of which were coordinated by the Nationals’ staff — ahead of his arrival in Florida for the team’s fall instructional program.
Phillies: Mick Abel, RHP (No. 4/MLB No. 91)
Abel had separated himself as one of the most complete high school arms in the 2020 Draft class on the summer showcase circuit in 2019, but didn’t get to build on it when the Oregon high school season was shut down before it began. The summer was more than enough for him to be the first prep pitcher to be taken in June, with the Phillies taking him No. 15 overall. Since, he’s been working out at a facility back home on a throwing program, with the Phillies getting video each week and liking the progress he’s been showing.
NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL
Brewers: Garrett Mitchell, OF (No. 1/MLB No. 60)
The Brewers got what could end up being one of the 2020 Draft’s biggest steals in Mitchell, who fell to Milwaukee with the No. 20 pick even though he possessed some of the best all-around tools in the entire class. The Brewers have largely focused on getting the 22-year-old UCLA product acclimated to the organization via virtual conversations with the team’s roving instructors, sports performance staff and nutritionist. From a training standpoint, Mitchell has been focused on developing a more concrete hitting routine ahead of the Brewers’ fall instructional program in Phoenix.
Cardinals: Jhon Torres, OF (No. 9)
St. Louis’ international scouting staff saw plenty of Torres when he was a Colombian amateur, so it wasn’t all that surprising when the club acquired the toolsy young outfielder in the 2018 Trade Deadline deal that sent Oscar Mercado to Cleveland. Torres struggled early last season as a 19-year-old in the Class A Midwest League but fared far better after moving down to the more age-appropriate Rookie-level Appalachian League, batting .286/.391/.527 with six homers in 33 games.
Cubs: Ed Howard, SS (No. 4)
The best true shortstop in the 2020 Draft, Howard became the first Illinois prep position player taken in the first round since Jayson Werth in 1997 and signed with his hometown team for $3,745,500 as the 16th overall choice. He’s in Chicago getting live at-bats with a group of local professional and college players as he prepares to report to the Cubs’ instructional league program in Mesa, Ariz., at the end of the month.
Pirates: Brennan Malone, RHP (No. 7)
Malone had just barely started his pro career with the D-backs after they took him No. 33 overall in the 2019 Draft (eight innings total) when he was sent to the Pirates as part of the return for Starling Marte in January. He’s obviously yet to throw a competitive pitch for his new organization and has been at home throwing bullpens (while turning 20 earlier this month) and trying to stay sharp for future game activity which the Pirates hope will come in the form of instructional league play.
Reds: Christian Roa, RHP (No. 12)
Roa teamed with first-round pick Asa Lacy to form a dynamic duo in the Texas A&M rotation this spring before the shutdown and the Reds made him their second-round pick in June. It turned out the right-hander had a sports hernia, which has been taken care of surgically. He’s back in school working towards his degree while rehabbing at the Aggies’ facility.
NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST
D-backs: Wilderd Patiño, OF (No. 12)
The son of a former Venezuelan professional basketball player, Patiño has emerged as one of the more exciting high-ceiling prospects in Arizona’s system since he signed with the organization for $985,000 in Oct. 2017. He played in both the Arizona and Pioneer Leagues last year in his age-17 season, slashing .319/.378/.447 with 11 extra-base hits and 14 steals between the two stops. While travel restrictions caused by the coronavirus pandemic prevented the young outfielder from joining the team as planned this summer, Patiño has been able to train as part of a larger D-backs group composed of similarly stranded international players.
Dodgers: Luis Rodriguez, OF (No. 8)
The Dodgers signed Rodriguez out of Venezuela last July for $2,667,500, the largest bonus they’ve ever paid an international amateur. Instead of coming to the United States for his pro debut this summer, he’s focusing on using his lower half better to get the most out of his hitting ability and raw power, and he’s also looking to increase his overall strength.
Giants: Seth Corry, LHP (No. 5)
Signed for a well-over-slot $1 million as a 2017 third-rounder, Corry broke out in his full-season debut last year by leading the low Class A South Atlantic League in ERA (1.76, second in the Minors), strikeouts (172, fourth), strikeouts per nine innings rate (12.6, fifth), whiff rate (34 percent, fifth) and opponent average (.171, third). He’s on a throwing program in advance of getting some innings at San Francisco’s instructional league program.
Padres: Reggie Lawson, RHP (No. 12)
Lawson dealt with a few minor injuries and plenty of inconsistency early in his career after San Diego selected him with the No. 71 pick in the 2016 Draft, but his stuff looked as good as ever last year during a brief Double-A stint, and he continued to open eyes while pitching in the Arizona Fall League. The 23-year-old righty hasn’t been able to build upon that progress this year after undergoing season-ending Tommy John surgery in March, but the Padres expect him to make a full recovery. They will need to add Lawson to their 40-man roster this offseason to protect him from being taken in this year’s Rule 5 Draft.
Rockies: Drew Romo, C (No. 5)
Romo was considered the best defensive catcher in the 2020 Draft class and he was the second backstop taken when the Rockies used their second-round pick to get the Texas prepster. He’s continuing to refine his skills behind the plate at home, particularly focusing on his footwork. The switch-hitter hit well on the summer showcase circuit, but struggled out of the gate this spring before the shutdown and is working on not chasing pitches offensively.