Major League Baseball

Who will be Major League Baseball's 20,000th player?

May 14

By Jordan Shusterman
FOX Sports MLB Writer

Top prospects Jarred Kelenic and Logan Gilbert made their major-league debuts for the Mariners on Thursday night in Seattle’s 4-2 loss to Cleveland. 

For Mariners fans, their arrivals could not have possibly come soon enough, as they signify a new era of baseball in Seattle that will hopefully produce a long-awaited postseason appearance in the near future.

However, for those tracking the march toward MLB player No. 20,000, there was some mild disappointment that Kelenic — the super-famous one of the two — in particular, got called up just a tad too early to be the mystery Mr. 20,000 that we are approaching so rapidly. (I, weirdly, fit in both of those categories so I was about 85% ecstatic to see these two arrive, but also a bit bummed that the stars couldn’t perfectly align for one of them to be Mr. 20K.)

Now that we’re on the doorstep of that big round number we’ve been hyping up, it’s time to take a closer look at who could be in position to be our winning contestant, so to speak. We’re 11 debuts away, so we can reasonably expect to be reaching 20K sometime in the next week or so.

I do quite enjoy predicting obscure baseball things like this, but this is a really special kind of challenge complicated by countless variables involving roster movement that make it nearly impossible to pinpoint one individual or one specific day. 

That said, you don’t wanna hear excuses. You want some names! OK, I’ll give you some names.

This is hardly perfect science, but the primary way I went about identifying possible candidates was to look for players who fit two key criteria:

  1. On a team’s 40-man roster
  2. Currently active/healthy and playing in the upper levels of the minors (Double-A or Triple-A)

And, of course, have yet to appear in the majors. These general criteria, plus some additional candidates based on a variety of circumstances, narrowed down my list to about 90 players, from which five categories emerged.

(And if you think I’m a coward for including this many names in a prediction piece, you’re 100% correct.)

Bold = on the 40-man; Bold Italics = have been called up already this season but have not gotten into a game yet

The Top Prospect

CANDIDATES: Tampa Bay Rays SS Wander Franco; San Diego Padres LHP MacKenzie Gore; Detroit Tigers RHP Matt Manning; Los Angeles Angels OF Brandon Marsh; Rays INF Vidal Brujan; Cleveland Indians 3B Nolan Jones; Boston Red Sox OF Jarren Duran; Toronto Blue Jays RHP Alek Manoah; Kansas City Royals RHP Jackson Kowar

So it’s not gonna be Kelenic, but there’s no shortage of other marquee names similarly knocking on the big league door. 

Franco and Brujan have been spectacular in Triple-A Durham. 

Manoah, the Blue Jays’ first-round pick in 2019, has been dealing thus far for Triple-A Buffalo despite having never pitched in full-season ball before this year. 

And keep an eye on Duran, who might force his way into the Red Sox outfield soon, especially if Franchy Cordero keeps struggling. 

The Reliever

CANDIDATES: Philadelphia Phillies LHP Cristopher Sanchez; Phillies LHP Damon Jones; Atlanta Braves RHP Jasseel De La Cruz; Washington Nationals RHP Steven Fuentes; San Francisco Giants RHP Kervin Castro; Houston Astros RHP Shawn Dubin; New York Mets RHP Sam McWilliams; Cincinnati Reds RHP Vladimir Gutierrez; Padres RHP Mason Thompson

This one’s pretty self explanatory — teams need fresh relievers all the time. 

All of these guys are capable of coming up and getting outs, but the one I’m absolutely pulling for is right-hander Fuentes, who was called up by the Nats on April 20 only to stay chillin’ in the bullpen and on the active roster for a full 10 DAYS without ever appearing in a game before being optioned back down to the minors. It would be amazing if the payoff of that bizarre big-league tease was him ending up as Mr. 20K. 

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The Spot Starter

CANDIDATES: Indians LHP Scott Moss; Red Sox RHP Connor Seabold; Chicago Cubs RHP Cory Abbott; Rays RHP Drew Strotman; Oakland A's RHP Grant Holmes; Los Angeles Dodgers RHP Andre Jackson; Mets LHP Thomas Szapucki; Baltimore Orioles RHP Marcos Diplan

These names aren’t quite as flashy as some of the arms in our Top Prospect section, but they are all in the upper levels of the minors and carry some level of prospect pedigree that could instill a level of trust in the big-league club to give them four or five innings on short notice. An injury to a back-end starter or perhaps an unexpected doubleheader could necessitate one of these arms to be called into action. 

One of them comes with tremendous hair.

The Bench Bat

CANDIDATES: Dodgers OF Zach Reks; Indians INF Ernie Clement; Blue Jays INF Otto Lopez; Cubs C P.J. Higgins; Rays INF Taylor Walls; Arizona Diamondbacks OF Stuart Fairchild; Blue Jays C Riley Adams; Mets INF Jake Hager

It’s unlikely there are any future stars in this group, but each has at least one skill that could prove valuable for a big-league team in the short term, whether it be home-run power, a threat to steal a base, or some late-inning defensive versatility. Walls doesn’t grab nearly as many headlines as his fellow Durham Bulls Franco and Brujan, but his game has developed dramatically in the last few years and he could be Tampa Bay’s next great Swiss Army knife following closely behind Mike Brosseau and Joey Wendle.

Reks is an incredibly fun story, and is absolutely capable of becoming the next Random Dodger Who Rakes. 

The Wild Card

CANDIDATES: ????????????????????????

Let me pull the curtain back a bit into my process of the MLB debut thread. I keep very close tabs on the transaction logs to make sure that when a guy gets called up, I can prepare some info for said player’s debut. Very rarely has a call-up caught me completely off-guard because, as demonstrated above, there are ways to monitor which players are closest to getting that vaunted call. But sometimes, Cody Poteet happens:

No disrespect to Cody or the Poteet family, but this one truly threw me for a loop. At least it was announced that Poteet would be starting Wednesday’s game so I had some warning – it wasn’t quite as hectic as last year when I had to scramble to find anything and everything about Jeremy Beasley on a random Tuesday night with zero notice

The point is, this piece is likely a futile effort. You can’t predict baseball. I’m probably already flying too close to the sun with these guesses, so it would only be fitting if Mr. 20K is someone completely out of nowhere, a name so far from the 40-man roster or any prospect list or any statistical leaderboard that you’re convinced he’s a generated player in 2028 of your "MLB: The Show" franchise. 

Jordan Shusterman is half of @CespedesBBQ and a baseball analyst for FOX Sports. He lives in Maryland but is a huge Seattle Mariners fan and loves watching the KBO, which means he doesn't get a lot of sleep. You can follow him on Twitter at @j_shusterman_.

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