There were 210 Major League debuts (and perhaps still counting) during the 2020 season. This week, Toolshed looks back at the 10 most fun first callups of the 2020 season, listed in chronological order of debut date. To be clear, this isn't focused on how they did in their first
There were 210 Major League debuts (and perhaps still counting) during the 2020 season. This week, Toolshed looks back at the 10 most fun first callups of the 2020 season, listed in chronological order of debut date. To be clear, this isn't focused on how they did in their first games or what they accomplished over the longer term during their times in the Majors. It also isn't going to define "fun" as being the prospects with the most talent. It's easy to say that it was fun to see monsters of the Minors -- Luis Robert, Casey Mize, Nate Pearson and others -- get to show off their talents on the big stage. This space, instead, is reserved for the callups that -- to swipe a term from Marie Kondo -- sparked the most joy and excitement across the baseball community.
Brady Singer/ Kris Bubic, P, Royals: Even in a 60-game season, not much was expected from the Royals. The team became infinitely more intriguing, however, with the way it dipped into its farm system's strong pitching corps early in the campaign. Singer, the organization's first-round pick in 2019, started Kansas City's second game of the season following only 16 starts above Class A Advanced, an indication of how well he had impressed in spring and summer camps. Six days later, the Royals also gave Bubic his debut, despite the fact that the left-hander hadn't reached the Double-A level yet. That said, Bubic was still the Minor League leader in strikeouts in 2019 with 185 strikeouts over 149 1/3 innings, so he had enough of a resume in a year in which there was no Minor League Baseball. At 26-34, the Royals finished fourth in the AL Central, but with Singer and Bubic combining to make 22 starts in this shortened season, the future of the club's rotation got invaluable experience that should help whenever Kansas City becomes a contender.
Yermin Mercedes, C, White Sox: Mercedes signed with the Nationals for only $20,000 in March 2011. He never rose above the Dominican Summer League in the Washington system and was signed by Baltimore as a free agent in September 2014. Three years later, he was picked up again by the White Sox as a Minor League Rule 5 pick. A breakout 2019 season put him within reach of the Major Leagues after he hit .317/.388/.581 with 23 homers between Double-A Birmingham and Triple-A Charlotte and nabbed a 40-man roster spot. On Aug. 2, that call finally came. Mercedes came up for one game, grounded out to second base in his only at-bat and didn't play again. After 2,128 at-bats in the Minors, that one in the Majors was still probably the most special.
Eddy Alvarez, INF, Marlins: No one man should be able to experience the top level of so many sports. Or at least such completely different sports. Alvarez won a silver medal at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi as a member of the short-track speedskating 5,000-meter relay team. Formerly a walk-on baseball player at Salt Lake Community College, he signed with the White Sox in June 2014 in another attempt to get his world-class speed to translate from the ice to the diamond. Alvarez spent five seasons in the White Sox system, swiping as many as 53 bags in 2015, before getting traded to the Marlins in March 2019. When a coronavirus outbreak necessitated Miami dipping into its organizational depth, Alvarez, who has 213 Triple-A games on his resume, had his contract purchased on Aug. 4 and debuted in the Majors one day later. Why he got there isn't important. The fact that a former Olympic speedskater was able to hang around the Minors long enough to get a Major League chance, any Major League chance is a story of perseverance and incredible athleticism.
Luis Patiño, RHP, Padres: Patiño became the youngest player called up this season when he was summoned by the Padres on Aug. 4. (He later was usurped by Garcia.) Even at 20 years old, he remains the youngest pitcher to reach the Majors this season. Beyond his age, what makes the right-hander's ascent even more fun was what it meant in regards to the Padres' intentions for the 2020 season. San Diego called up Patiño only 11 games into the campaign, indicating it would use whatever young talent was deemed ready in order to reach its first postseason since 2006. Patiño worked exclusively out of the bullpen with middling results that caused him to be optioned back to the alternate site multiple times in September, but the Padres still brought the youngster back every time, including for the postseason roster. Grand slams, bat flips and trades were great signs, but the trust of Patiño this quickly into the 2020 season proved to be one of the most positive signs of what was to come in San Diego.
Luis Garcia, INF, Nationals: Want to feel old? There now have been Major Leaguers born in the year 2000. One was Elvis Luciano, a Rule 5 pick from 2019 who did not play in The Show in 2020. The other was Garcia, who debuted on Aug. 14, thus becoming the first position player born in the new millennium to reach the Majors. The Nationals have a history of getting aggressive with prospects. Juan Soto was the most extreme example, having played in the bigs when he was 19. Garcia was a little older, but already had a full Double-A season under his belt when he made the move. Typically, Garcia has taken some time to adjust after moving up a level, and that adjustment will continue into 2020 after he posted a .668 OPS over 139 plate appearances this season.
Triston McKenzie, RHP, Indians: The 2015 42nd overall pick was in danger of becoming a lost prospect. McKenzie last pitched in a Minor League game on Aug. 30, 2018, and even then, he only amassed 90 2/3 innings that season due to forearm soreness. Back issues kept him out for all of 2019, so many could have believed that McKenzie's time at Cleveland's alternate site would be dedicated to getting him healthy. He did a whole lot more than that. When Cleveland's rotation took a hit following the demotions of Mike Clevinger and Zach Plesac, the organization called on McKenzie, indicating that not only was he was in good shape physically but developmentally despite being almost two years removed from Double-A. McKenzie posted a 3.24 ERA with 42 strikeouts over 33 1/3 innings, thriving on a rising fastball as part of a solid four-pitch mix. A former Top-100 prospect who had nearly dropped out of his organization's top 10, McKenzie used his Major League performance to bounce back in status to the No. 97 spot in MLB.com's overall rankings by the season's end.
Yadiel Hernandez, OF, Nationals/Elliot Soto, INF, Angels: At 32 and 31 respectively, Hernandez and Soto were the oldest former Minor Leaguers to make their debuts in 2020. They had combined to play 1,237 games in the Minors before finally getting their looks in September. Hernandez signed with the Nats in October 2016 out of his native Cuba, and despite his age, still toiled through the upper Minors. In 2019, he was a Pacific Coast League All-Star for Triple-A Fresno, where he had a 1.009 OPS in 126 games. Soto had a much longer route stateside. The infielder was a 15th-round pick of the Cubs in 2010, first reached Triple-A in 2014 and spent additional time in the Marlins and Rockies systems before latching on with the Angels on Sept. 25. He only got six at-bats before the season ended, and those are six at-bats he'll never have to give back. Here's to 30-year-olds achieving their dream, even in an odd year.
Alejandro Kirk, C, Blue Jays: If there was a favorite prospect promotion on the internet this season, it might have been Kirk. The Jays' No. 6 prospect made a late debut when he first entered the lineup on Sept. 12, and it's worth remembering the road that got him there. Like several others in 2020, Kirk had yet to reach Double-A before jumping straight to the Majors, having topped out with 71 games at Class A Advanced Dunedin in 2019. What he had shown during his brief foray into full-season ball was an impressive approach and bat-to-ball skills; he hit .290 with an .868 OPS and a 39/56 K/BB ratio. Oh, and he did all of this while standing at 5-foot-8 and 265 pounds. The fact that Toronto was pushing for a playoff spot only added to the excitement, and Kirk came through, going 9-for-24 (.375) with three extra-base hits and a 50 percent hard-hit rate over nine games. It was worth a try to see how the Mexico native could handle the jump from the Florida State League, and the result was conjecture about how he could have helped Toronto had he been up earlier. Given the early results, it's OK to ponder whether the 21-year-old will ever see the upper Minors or if he'll stick in the Majors for good after 2020.
Garrett Crochet, LHP, White Sox: Where to begin? The White Sox grabbed Crochet with the 11th overall pick out of the University of Tennessee in June, and they were perhaps only able to do that because the 6-foot-6 left-hander threw only one outing in the spring due to shoulder soreness he'd overcome by March. Crochet quickly proved at the alternate training site in Schaumburg that his triple-digit fastball and impressive slider were good enough to get out Major League batters, and on Sept. 18, he was called up for his Major League debut. He became the first player since Brandon Finnegan in 2014 to reach the Majors in his Draft year. He became the first player since Mike Leake to skip over Minor League affiliates completely and make his professional bow at the top level. Toolshed correctly predicted back in June that Crochet would be the first 2020 first-rounder to reach the Majors, but even this timeline seemed aggressive. It was a case of a club with hopes of contention trusting the talent in its pipeline -- even if that talent was brand new -- and pushing the chips to the middle of the table. Crochet rewarded that faith with five scoreless appearances out of the bullpen during the regular season and made the postseason roster as a result, only to exit Game 3 of the Wild Card Series early with left forearm tightness. The hope is that the injury is minor because this is as promising and fun a start to a Major League career as we saw in 2020.
Alex Kirilloff, OF/1B, Twins: Good thing we didn't write this list when the regular season ended. The Twins still provided one last thrill by giving the No. 27 overall prospect a spot on the postseason roster (following a calf injury to Josh Donaldson) and an actual start in Game 2 of their Wild Card Series against the Astros. Kirilloff became the first Twins player to make his Major League debut in the playoffs and the third player in the modern era after Adalberto Mondesi (2015) and Mark Kiger (2006). The left-handed slugger has long shown above-average potential in both his hit tool and power and reportedly took that offensive performance to the next level at the alternate site in St. Paul. Kirilloff's time in the Majors lasted only one game as Minnesota got swept by Houston, but the right fielder for the day showed he belonged; his 105.9-mph single was the hardest-hit ball by a Twin not named Nelson Cruz in Game 2. Rays left-hander [Shane McClanahan] (#/wcm/custom/player/82c4d364-83d1-47bb-9db4-46062d21fa93) and Astros outfielder Chas McCormick could join him on the list of players to debut in the playoffs. Both featured on their respective Wild Card Series rosters but have yet to make an appearance.
Sam Dykstra is a reporter for MiLB.com. Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @SamDykstraMiLB.