Five months from now — in the middle of the regular season — Major League Baseball organizations will be asked to grant leaves of absence for minor-league players to compete in the Pan American Games, held outside Toronto from July 11 through July 19.
Team USA, in particular, could be stacked with prospects … if those players aren’t called up to the majors before then … and if general managers give their blessings.
National federations may request permission for players who are not on 40-man rosters. Well, among MLB.com’s overall top 20 prospects, here are the American-born players who match that criterion:
1. Byron Buxton, OF, Twins
2. Kris Bryant, 3B, Cubs
5. Addison Russell, SS, Cubs
6. Lucas Giolito, RHP, Nationals
7 . Corey Seager, SS, Dodgers
9 . Joey Gallo, 3B, Rangers
12. Tyler Glasnow, RHP, Pirates
14. Carlos Rodon, LHP, White Sox
15. Archie Bradley, RHP, Diamondbacks
16. Jon Gray, RHP, Rockies
19. Henry Owens, LHP, Red Sox
The makings of a pretty good team, huh?
A matchup of top US prospects and Cuba’s senior national team — which is slated to participate in the Pan Am Games — could inspire genuine interest in a tournament that typically generates little buzz among American sports fans.
Of course, some of the players listed above — Bryant, Rodon and Bradley, in particular — have a reasonable chance of reaching the majors during the first half of the season, thus losing their eligibility for the Pan Am team.
Will we hear that some teams are reluctant to let top prospects play because of concerns about injuries? Sure. But this tournament — unlike the World Baseball Classic — occurs at an ideal point on the baseball calendar, when players are in game shape and not yet worn down by the long season. It’s difficult to argue that the players would have any greater risk of injury in the Pan Am Games than they would in the Double-A Texas League.
In fact, some team executives see a benefit to their players participating. Rangers GM Jon Daniels told me he’d probably let Gallo play for Team USA if he’s not in the majors, because Daniels believes international baseball experiences often are positive for players. (Daniels did say that other factors — the player’s health, overall development and major-league team needs — could come into play.)
Another consideration: The MLB All-Star Futures Game will take place in Cincinnati on July 12 — after the Pan Am baseball tournament begins. If a player is picked for both the Futures Game and Pan Am team, the MLB club will make the final determination as to where he goes. (Players on 40-man rosters and assigned to the minor leagues are eligible for the Futures Game, so the selection pools aren’t exactly the same.)