Is Calling Up Top Starter Arms to Relieve in Playoff Runs Hurting Development?

Mike Rosenbaum@GoldenSombreroMLB Prospects Lead WriterSeptember 15, 2012

PHILADELPHIA - OCTOBER 29:  David Price #14 of the Tampa Bay Rays throws a pitch against the Philadelphia Phillies during the continuation of game five of the 2008 MLB World Series on October 29, 2008 at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

No matter how much a team struggles over the final stretch of the MLB season, a promotion of an organization’s top prospect is rarely an arbitrary or last-resort decision.

It’s a calculated move based on confidence in a player’s projection as a starting pitcher, which, in turn, speaks volumes about his potential impact out of the bullpen.

Basically, a team is always cautious with promotions and never wants to force a prospect (or in this case, an investment) into a situation where he may fail.

Calling up a pitching prospect and thrusting him into potentially decisive games with playoff implications always has the potential to impede development.

But that’s precisely why teams are so selective, yet confident, with their promotions. They’ve already determined that a specific player should be successful in the major leagues, both immediately and in the future.

Furthermore, a late-season promotion to the major leagues is the best way for a top pitching prospect to get his feet wet and experience a playoff-like atmosphere on a nightly basis.

Just like any other successful big league reliever, the prospect must possess at least two plus-pitches in addition to at least average command.

Most of the late-season additions to the bullpen also tend to profile as front-line starters; essentially, there’s a genuine belief that the prospects will excel under any circumstance.

As the No. 1 overall selection in the 2007 first-year player draft, it didn’t take David Price very long to reach the major leagues—13 months, exactly. The Tampa Bay Rays left-hander dominated at three different levels during the 2008 minor league season, working exclusively as a starting pitcher.

That didn’t stop the Rays from promoting him to their major league bullpen in mid-September. At that time, Price’s power arsenal and advanced makeup projected equally well as both a starter or reliever. However, it had already been decided that Price would return to the rotation in 2009.

So, basically, the southpaw had nothing to lose as a secret weapon out of the Rays bullpen.

Appearing in five games for the Rays over the final three weeks of the season, Price posted a 1.93 ERA and 0.93 WHIP in 14 innings. More importantly, he tacked on an additional 5.2 innings with eight strikeouts in five games between the American League championship and World Series.

Since Sept. 1, there have been numerous pitching prospects with front- to mid-rotation potential called up by hopeful contenders.

So, as the season unfolds in a presumably hectic and exciting manner, keep your eyes peeled for these future big league starters turned temporary relievers: RHP Trevor Rosenthal (Cardinals), LHP Nick Maronde (Angels), LHP Justin Wilson (Pirates), LHP Tony Cingrani (Reds) and RHP Shelby Miller (Cardinals).

Still, I wonder about the presumably magnified hesitation and concerns that would arise from the promotion of either RHP Gerrit Cole (Pirates) or RHP Dylan Bundy (Orioles)—two of the best pitching prospects in the game.

While many would argue that they're not worth the risk, I believe that both prospects have the stuff and composure to thrive in a late-inning shutdown role, as Price did in 2008.