June 4th, 2002.
That was the date that Kansas City Royals minor-league slugger Kila Ka'aihue was drafted. Little did he know at the time that nearly 1,000 minor league games, nearly 5,000 at-bats, and 154 homers wouldn't be enough to secure his spot on an Opening Day roster.
Ka'aihue has yet to get his chance to stick with the Royals big-league club, despite two cups of coffee, one in 2008 and the other last season.
June 9th, 2009.
That's the date the Atlanta Braves tabbed lefty Mike Minor with their first pick, and the 7th overall, in that year's draft. A little more than one year passed before Minor found himself making his big-league debut with the Braves, and now Minor is a serious competitor for the fifth starting spot in Atlanta's rotation.
What's the difference between the two players?
Well, a few things are to blame for Minor getting his chance to stick, and Ka'aihue not being given the same luxury.
First, their age. Minor was drafted out of college, and was already 21 when the Braves tabbed him in the first-round. Ka'aihue was drafted as an 18-year-old and spent his first three seasons below High-A ball.
Second, need. Minor was able to rise so quickly through the Braves system because he not only pitched well, but also because as the Braves' season wound down, injuries depleted their roster and rotation, allowing Minor to rise even quicker and ascend to a rotation spot to end the year. The Royals, on the other hand, have preferred veterans to inexperienced minor-leaguers, and have, for the most part, had another talented (somewhat) player occupying first base and DH.
Third, organizational philosophy. For a few seasons now, the Braves have shown the willingness to promote their prospects aggressively, giving them the chance to test themselves regularly against the best available competition. The Royals have done so to a similar extent, but have also allowed most of their prospects to make a gradual progression through their system. Ka'aihue, for example, played at every Kansas City affiliate in his time with the organization.
And last but not least, prospect status. Minor was tabbed as one of the most polished lefties to come out of the draft in years, in 2009. Everyone knew he wasn't going to be pitching in the minors for that long. Ka'aihue was drafted in Round 15, basically a flier on a player who would need a ton of minor-league seasoning. Minor has ranked in Baseball America's top-100 twice in two seasons now. Ka'aihue has zero appearances in nine opportunities.
All of these factors come into play when deciding when and where a top prospect should make his big-league debut. And even more factors have to be considered when deciding when a top player should be advanced to the majors for good.
With that in mind, here are the top-35 prospects in the game, according to MiLB.com's 2011 preseason rankings, and my estimated time of arrival (long-term) for them in the big-leagues.