This is part-eight of a ten-part series taking an in-depth look at when the top prospects in the game will reach the majors. For the rankings on this list, I used the Baseball Prospectus Top-101.
An OPS comfortably over 1.000 in 62 games in Triple-A should be enough to convince people that there's not much left for Springer to prove in the minors, but that doesn't mean he won't start the 2014 season there. Of course, if Springer doesn't make the Astros Opening Day roster, and there's a decent chance that he won't, it will be more for financial reasons than about his talent. Regardless, he'll be in the majors no later than June.
ETA: June 2014
What Could Speed It Up: A red-hot spring that convinces the Astros to ignore common-sensical things like service time and controlling arbitration costs.
What Could Slow It Down: Only an injury to Springer will keep him from getting to Houston this summer.
21. Mark Appel, RHP, Houston Astros
Appel may actually be one of the Astros five-best starting pitchers right now, but much like with Springer, there's much more to the equation than that. In addition to the contract concerns, there's also still more to get out of Appel and the Astros aren't going to rush their most recent top overall pick to the majors. Appel is talented enough, however, that he will get to the majors quickly enough on his own without being rushed, perhaps as soon as this fall. I'd expect him to begin the season in the High-A California League and hit Double-A by the all-star break, if not sooner.
ETA: Late 2014
What Could Speed It Up: If Appel dominates early in the season, he could theoretically be up by the summer, although that would be extremely quick.
What Could Slow It Down: Appel didn't dominate in his stints after signing last year, and if his performances are simply adequate (by his standards) again, the Astros could allow him to take some more time.
It's difficult to tell what the Reds are going to do with Stephenson to start the 2014 season after giving him two mid-season promotions, each of which resulted in four-start stints in High-A and Double-A, respectively. They could send him back to Bakersfield, but that's not a place you want your pitching prospects to spend much time. If not, he will head to Pensacola where he should spend most of the 2014 season. They've been relatively aggressive with him so far, however, and a really strong season could see him in the majors towards the end of the year.
ETA: June 2015
What Could Speed It Up: An assignment to Double-A and a strong performance once there.
What Could Slow It Down: Being assigned to the California League and running into trouble once there.
The center field job is Bradley's to lose, and he should be much more prepared for it this season than he was last year when he was forced into action prematurely. The Red Sox haven't even prepared themselves with too many other options outside of Bradley other than stretching the limits of Shane Victorino's aging legs.
ETA: Opening Day 2014
What Could Speed It Up: N/A
What Could Slow It Down: I guess a terrible spring could make the Red Sox waiver, but i doubt it.
The Pirates are pretty predictable when it comes to promoting prospects, so we can safely assume that we will see Polanco get called up to the majors when the Super 2 deadline has safely passed sometime in June. It's the procedure they used with Starling Marte in 2012 and Gerrit Cole in 2013 and they have it down to a science. They even kept right field wide open for him by deciding to use the pu pu platter of Travis Snider and Jose Tabata there until they are ready to promote Polanco. Essentially, there's nothing standing in his way.
ETA: June 2014
What Could Speed It Up: The Pirates won't let themselves be tempted by a strong spring or terrible play in the majors. He won't be up before June.
What Could Slow It Down: An injury or a terrible start to the spring could hold the Pirates off from promoting Polanco.
We're going to start seeing the first few waves of Cubs prospects soon, likely as soon as this year, but Almora will be one of the last waves to reach the majors. Almora was great in 2013 in Low-A ball, but after missing part of the season with a hamate bone injury, he played just 61 games. They went very well, however, so he could easily start the 2014 season in High-A Daytona. The Cubs are likely willing to give him a full year at each stop, but he may not need it, and the Cubs have shown a willingness to promote top position prospects mid-year as they did with Javier Baez.
ETA: Late 2016
What Could Speed It Up: If Almora continues to hit the way he did in the Midwest League, he won't need a full season at each level.
What Could Slow It Down: The Cubs could return him to Low-A ball, though I doubt they will, and that would throw off his timetable.
The Rockies direction this off-season has been difficult to figure out, but they appear to be trying to contend. When that doesn't work, they're going to have to turn to their top prospects to keep fans in the seats. Butler, who should start the year in Double-A but probably won't need the entire season there. He could be in Triple-A by mid-summer or skip it altogether if the Rockies so choose. Butler has come in extremely strong in prospect circles over the past six months, and that will likely lead to a big league call-up at some point in 2014.
ETA: Late 2014
What Could Speed It Up: If the Rockies season goes south sooner than expected, they could turn to Butler.
What Could Slow It Down: If the Rockies want him to spend most of the season in Double-A and/or hit each level of the minors.
When should he get called up or when will he? I'm a big Stroman fan and believe him to be one of the Blue Jays five best starters right now. I'm usually the one arguing for keeping prospects in the minors until they are completely ready and calling them up when it's contractually advantageous, but the Blue Jays want to go for it, and Stroman allows them to do that. He probably won't make the Opening Day roster, however, because the Blue Jays have other options and Stroman can still realistically head to Triple-A for a few months.
What Could Speed It Up: Stroman is one prospect who could actually wow his way into a rotation spot this spring.
What Could Slow It Down: If the Blue Jays starting pitchers have success and block him temporarily, or if he struggles in Triple-A.
The Diamondbacks appear prepared to enter spring training with a battle at shortstop featuring Owings and Didi Gregorius, so when Owings will get back to the majors is very much in his control. We do know that he'll be there at some point in 2014.
What Could Speed It Up: If he wins the battle in spring training.
What Could Slow It Down: He could get blocked if Gregorious beats him out and then plays well.
At just 18, the Royals have plenty of time to develop Mondesi properly. He already has a full year of Low-A ball under his belt, so the next logical step is High-A Wilmington. That's a tough place to hit, making it unlikely that he hits his way into a mid-season promotion. Mondesi will likely take it level-by-level, and that's fine given his age.
ETA: June 2017
What Could Speed It Up: If, at some point, he really takes off with the bat, he'll jump a level mid-year.
What Could Slow It Down: If he struggles in Wilmington as so many Royals hitting prospects have, he could need a return trip there next season.