Dustin May is the latest Los Angeles Dodgers prospect expected to play a significant role in the franchise's World Series quest.
May made a brief appearance at the end of the 2019 regular season, and he is projected to fill in the back end of the Los Angeles rotation for the 60-game campaign in 2020.
Austin Riley could find himself in a similar situation with the Atlanta Braves as he tries to break into the third base spot vacated by Josh Donaldson's departure for the Minnesota Twins.
Arizona Diamondbacks starter Merrill Kelly is older than May and Riley, but he could be poised to thrive in a similar fashion as he plays a more important role in his team's 60-game regular-season slate.
Predictions for Players in Expanded Roles
Dustin May, RHP, Los Angeles Dodgers
May appears to have the inside track to beat out Tony Gonsolin for a position in the Dodgers rotation.
The 22-year-old started a scrimmage Saturday and mentioned earlier in Summer Camp that he expects to be ready to pitch five innings by the start of the season, per MLB.com's Ken Gurnick.
May lasted at least five frames in the four starts after his call-up in August. He shifted to the bullpen for the postseason push.
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said Gonsolin is not yet in position to start, per J.P. Hoornstra of the Orange County Register.
"Anything's possible," Roberts said. "But really, if you're looking at what's transpired in the last two, three weeks for Tony specifically, we'll build him up as much as we can but he's certainly behind guys who are built up for five innings."
If May gives the Dodgers at least five innings in each start, he would answer any questions about the back end of the rotation that arose after David Price opted out of the season.
Five- to six-inning starts would be ideal for the National League West side because it would bridge the gap directly to its most dominant relievers. The extended time on the mound should boost May's 8.3 strikeouts-per-nine-innings and give fantasy owners a solid back-end starting option.
Since he does not have much MLB experience, May will be a late-round fantasy draft selection, but he carries plenty of upside because of his strikeout potential and the chance to win an abundance of games for the NL West favorite.
Prediction: 5-3, 3.10 ERA, 9.5 K/9
Austin Riley, 3B, Atlanta
Riley burst on to the major-league scene with 18 home runs in an 80-game stretch in 2019.
Ideally, the 23-year-old would carve out a starting role as the everyday third baseman in Atlanta.
Atlanta manager Brian Snitker noted that he liked where both Riley and Johan Camargo are at in the third base competition, per MLB.com's Mark Bowman: "I think we're in pretty good shape with the two guys that we've got. I don't know how we're going to start using them. I like the position both of those guys are in."
Even if he does not land that position, Riley could be utilized as a designated hitter or as a potential backup to Freddie Freeman at first base. Freeman is not in camp because of COVID-19.
Just like May, Riley sits in a favorable position to boost his profile on a contending roster. He will be in a supporting role in the lineup beneath Ronald Acuna Jr. and others and will not be avoided by opposing pitchers, like other power bats further up the order.
However, there will be some hesitation to pick him higher than the final few rounds of 12-team fantasy drafts. Riley posted a .228 batting average and struck out on 108 occasions in 274 at-bats. If he cuts down on the strikeouts while packing similar power at the dish, he could be a solid value selection.
Prediction: .240 batting average, 12 home runs, 40 RBI
Merrill Kelly, RHP, Arizona
Kelly produced a 13-14 record with a 4.42 ERA in his rookie season in Arizona.
Initially, the 31-year-old was not slated to be part of the rotation again, but after Mike Leake opted out of the season, he was moved back into his role from 2019.
Although his record from a year ago may turn away some fantasy owners, Kelly did build confidence in August and September with six victories in his final nine starts. He was also consistent with his strikeout power in that stretch, as he fanned at least five batters in all but one of those appearances.
Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo pointed out on Burns & Gambo that Kelly's close to 2019 is one of the reasons he deserves a starting spot (h/t Arizona Sports's Kellan Olson): "I think Merrill Kelly deserves an opportunity to start baseball games. He was absolutely lights out and getting after it."
If Kelly puts together a similar run in 10-12 starts, he could turn into a decent back-end fantasy option.
Prediction: 5-3, 3.75 ERA, 65 strikeouts.