Due to both the volume and caliber of players confirmed to participate in the 2013 World Baseball Classic, teams are in a unique position to offer their top prospects additional playing time over the course of the spring. However, despite the additional opportunities, it’s still extremely doubtful that any of baseball’s top prospects will make an Opening Day roster.
Now, I’ll be the first to admit that, over the course of a full season, there are certain prospect promotions that seem arbitrary and even unnecessary. In reality, though, there is almost always a specific plan in place for how to handle the long-term development of a top prospect.
On Thursday afternoon, Ben Nicholson-Smith of MLB Trade Rumors discussed the importance of considering service time when attempting to determine a prospect’s timeline to the major leagues.
In fact, unless the promotion is reactionary or rooted in necessity—such as when the Nationals summoned Bryce Harper from Triple-A in late April and less than 24 hours after Jayson Werth landed on the disabled list with a broken wrist—service time is arguably the most important factor in planning a well-timed big league debut.
So, why exactly is a prospect’s service time such a big deal?
If an organization is able to resist all urges and hold their prospect in the minor leagues past a specified date, they will be granted an extra year of team control for that specific player. Furthermore, holding an impact prospect in the minor leagues for an even longer time period will also reduce the likelihood of that player gaining “Super Two” status and an additional year of arbitration.
To supplement his thorough explanation, Nicholson-Smith also posted a chart with every top-ranked prospects'—only players with a realistic chance to contribute next season—key service time dates.
After perusing the entire list, there are only a few players—Hyun-Jin Ryu and Bruce Rondon, namely—who should be a lock on the Opening Day roster. Beyond those two pitchers, there’s a large number of prospects who will be competing for a vacant roster spot, and, if all goes as planned, there could be a few names added to that list.
But what about top prospects like Jurickson Profar, Dylan Bundy, Oscar Taveras, Wil Myers, Gerrit Cole and Zack Wheeler? More specifically, how can each player’s respective team justify the decision to keep a potential impact player in the minor leagues for an extended period of time?
In the cases of Profar and Bundy, both players lack a clear route to playing time in the major leagues—at least initially. Therefore, unless necessity dictates a change of plans along the way, it may make more sense for both the Rangers and Orioles to retain their prized prospects in the high minors.
As for those prospects with the potential to be promoted over first few months of the 2013 season, it’s conceivable that several players, such as Shelby Miller, Adam Eaton and Chris Archer, will debut prior to their service-time cutoff dates, and possibly as a result of a deficiency at the major league level.
And although the urge to promote prospects like Wil Myers, Zack Wheeler, Billy Hamilton and Travis d’Arnaud may be overwhelming at times, it seems more and more likely that each player will be kept in the minor leagues to avoid “Super Two” status. After all, if those players produce in the majors as expected, then the Rays, Mets and Reds could be on the line for several expensive years of arbitration.
Of course, there will be a few organizations that throw all service time-related concerns out the window and ultimately elect to promote a prospect to the major leagues ahead of schedule. Considering that exhibition games only began Friday, it’s difficult to predict which teams and prospects could fall into this category.
However, for the sake of predictions, it’s possible that some of the better offensive prospects, such as Oscar Taveras, Jedd Gyorko and Mike Zunino, will be expedited to the major leagues early in the season. The potential for a legitimate hit tool in the major leagues can sway even the most stubborn front office personnel.
As the 2013 season unfolds, it will be interesting to compare the circumstances surrounding each player's call-up relative to how it was presented on paper heading into spring training.