For a majority of players, the path to the big leagues ends well before they reach the highest level of the minors. Some exceed expectations, and some fall short. There are bumps in the road, but pitchers who fail to get batters out with any kind of consistency once they reach a new level can signal that they've just reached the end of the line in their baseball careers.
Pitchers who dominate a level may not achieve MLB stardom, but it's not long before they are at least promoted to the next level and new challenges. Here are some examples from each minor league level of pitchers who are close to taking the next step and those who could find themselves out of a job in the near future.
RHP Kyle Gibson, Minnesota Twins
Season stats: 3.34 ERA, 72.2 IP, 63 H, 21 BB, 63 K
Passed over for big league call-ups on multiple occasions this season, Gibson has to show some more consistency before the Twins promote him. He appeared to be so close after pitching 17 shutout innings over two starts with five walks and 15 strikeouts on May 18th and May 25th, but he got rocked in his next start (6 IP, 6 ER, 8 H).
The 25-year-old, ranked by Baseball Prospectus as the organization's fifth-best prospect coming into the season, started a new streak of good starts on Monday (6 IP, 2 ER, 7 H, 2 BB, 4 K). Regardless, he should be in the Twins rotation for good by late June.
RHP Daniel Corcino, Cincinnati Reds
Season stats: 7.50 ERA, 48 IP, 70 H, 29 BB, 35 K
The fourth-ranked prospect in the organization after a solid 2012 season in Double-A (3.01 ERA in 26 starts), Corcino has struggled in his first Triple-A stint. Opposing hitters are now batting .338 against him after he allowed 12 earned runs and 21 hits over his last 13 innings. The 22-year-old has also walked 11 batters with eight strikeouts over that span of three starts.
RHP Rafael Montero, New York Mets
Season stats: 2.71 ERA, 66.1 IP, 53 H, 10 BB, 71 K (10 Double-A starts, 1 Triple-A start)
While the baseball world waits for top pitching prospect Zack Wheeler to arrive in New York, Montero (pictured) continues to prove that he's really not that far behind. He doesn't have Wheeler's ceiling, but he might be just as ready to contribute in the majors.
The 22-year-old has tossed shutout ball over his last two starts (13 IP, 0 R, 9 H, 3 BB, 12 K) after returning to Double-A after an impressive spot start with Triple-A Las Vegas (6.2 IP, 2 ER, 4 H, BB, 5 K). Even if Montero doesn't make it to the big leagues in 2013, expect him to be part of next season's rotation with Matt Harvey, Jon Niese and Wheeler.
RHP Deck McGuire, Toronto Blue Jays
Season stats: 5.40 ERA, 60 IP, 65 H, 27 BB, 53 K
The 11th overall pick in the 2010 draft, McGuire had an excellent pro debut, and he appeared on the fast track after reaching Double-A that season. He's been there ever since, though, losing 20 of his 39 starts and posting an ERA near 6.00.
With the Blue Jays' pitching depth in shambles, McGuire was likely a potential option after he made three consecutive strong starts in early May. But he'll continue to be passed over after he allowed 14 earned runs and 24 hits in 17 innings over his last three.
RHP Justin Nicolino, Miami Marlins
Season stats: 2.54 ERA, 56.2 IP, 55 H, 9 BB, 37 K
Acquired this past offseason in the blockbuster deal with Toronto, Nicolino (pictured) is making a strong impression on his new organization with just two earned runs allowed in 27 innings over his last five starts. The 21-year-old lefty has four walks and 25 strikeouts over that span.
RHP William Cuevas, Boston Red Sox
Season stats: 7.51 ERA, 38.1 IP, 48 H, 12 BB, 27 K
After he dominated in the New York-Penn League last season (8-2, 1.40 ERA, 77.1 IP, 55 H, 15 BB, 72 K), big things were expected from Cuevas in his first year of full-season ball. But the 22-year-old Venezuelan has had a rough go of it, allowing 13 earned runs in 12.1 innings over his last three starts.
RHP Pierce Johnson, Chicago Cubs
Season stats: 2.89 ERA, 53 IP, 52 H, 15 BB, 60 K
While the impressive trio of position-player prospects Albert Almora, Javier Baez and Jorge Soler continue to be the focus of the Cubs' farm system, Johnson is starting to emerge as the organization's best pitching prospect.
In his last three starts, the 22-year-old Johnson has allowed just two earned runs in his last 18.1 innings pitched with four walks and 24 strikeouts. He was the seventh-ranked prospect in the organization before the season.
RHP Mauricio Cabrera, Atlanta Braves
Season stats: 4.48 ERA, 60.1 IP, 54 H, 33 BB, 45 K
Cabrera's 2.70 ERA over his five starts would've been encouraging if not for the 16 walks and 13 strikeouts in 26.2 innings. That ratio has improved over his last six starts (17 BB, 32 K in 33.2 IP), but he's also allowed 16 earned runs and 26 hits in 18 innings pitched over his last three starts.
Only 19 years old, Cabrera was the fourth-ranked prospect in the Braves' organization coming into the season. He can throw his fastball in the high 90s but obviously has a way to go before he's ready to move up the ladder.