With one week left in the minor league season, we're getting to the point where a number of prospects will get called up simply because their season is over and the major league rosters have expanded. Some will come up just for a taste of big league life, with no intention from their team of actually seeing the field. Others will get a month's worth of at-bats to get them some experience and to see where they stand for next year.
But not all top prospects are guaranteed to get a call-up, with many factors coming into play. Is a player on the 40-man roster? If not, will be have to be added to it this off-season anyway? Is there anything left in the tank? Is there any playing time for him in the majors?
The 40-man roster hurdle is often the biggest deciding factor. If a player is already on the 40-man roster, there is no obstacle keeping him from coming up to the majors in September. Even if he's not, if he is going to be added this winter (to protect him from the Rule V draft), a team will often times make the inevitable transaction now in order to get him to the majors.
Figuring out if there is anything left in the tank can be trickier. The minor league season is a month shorter than its big league counterpart, and many young players are at the end of their leash after the five-month trek through the minors. Adding another month to the slate involves asking them to play longer than they've ever played before. Is it setting them up for success to bring up a tired player and asking them to play against the best competition of their lives on a national stage for the first time?
This question gets especially relevant with pitching prospects. The Mets are facing such a decision right now with top pitching prospect Noah Syndergaard, who many expected to already be in the majors at this point. The Mets are considering calling him up, but as MetsBlog.com points out, he's nearing his pre-determined innings limit for the season and his Las Vegas team is headed for the Pacific Coast League playoffs. If his team makes any kind of post-season run, he'll likely be out of innings for the year and unable to pitch in the majors, assuming the Mets hold true to their intentions.
Even players who have played well enough to earn a promotion and are healthy and ready to go may not get the call if their teams don't have a place to play them. Maikel Franco hasn't had the best season, but he has been red-hot over the past two months and has likely justified a September call-up. As Ryan Lawrence of The Philadelphia Daily News points out, however, the team is still deliberating on whether or not to promote him come September 1st because they may not have a spot to play him.
With Ryan Howard blocking him at first base and their desire to keep Cody Asche in the lineup at Franco's natural third base spot, there may not be enough at-bats to go around for him in September to justify a spot on the 40-man roster. On a non-competitive team, it's not the end of the world to use a roster spot on a top prospect for only a handful of September at-bats, just to get him acclimated to the major league lifestyle and the speed of the game, but it is a factor nonetheless.
It remains to be seen what will happen with Syndergaard, Franco, and a number of other top prospects next week when the rosters expand, but it's important to remember that it's about much more than just talent. If a top prospect doesn't get a call-up, there's probably a reason.