One of the biggest questions I get all the time is when a particular prospect will reach the major leagues. Every fan wants to know when his team's top prospect will be there. The answer is always tricky. It's easy to slap a year on a player as an ETA, and often times that will end up being correct, but there is always more too it than that. A lot of things can go wrong or right between now and that date that either speed up or slow down that time table.
In a ten-part series scheduled to run each weekday over the next two weeks, I'll take a deeper look at each of the game's top prospects. I'll be using the Top-101 list from Baseball Prospectus because, well, I'm biased and think it's the best list because I played a small part of the behind-the-scenes discussion in coming up with their list.
Well, we'll start off with an easy one. Romero made his major league debut late last season, so it won't be long before he's in the majors for good. He's made as many Triple-A starts as major league ones (1) so he could use some time in Durham, but he'll be in the Rays minds when they need an additional starter this season. He'll be in Tampa at some point in 2014.
What Could Speed It Up: An opening in the Rays rotation.
What Could Slow It Down: Injuries or all healthy starters in the majors.
Johnson has just eight High-A starts to his name, so Cubs fans desperate to see some pitching prospects come up still have a while to wait. As a former collegiate arm, he could move more quickly than some prospects and he'll be 23 in May. That could lead the Cubs to be aggressive with Johnson and start him in Double-A this season. If he starts in Double-A and has success, he could move quickly, including a late-season call-up. That would be a best-case scenario but one that would take a lot of things falling into place. Most likely is that he spends the majority of this season in Double-A and gets called up at some point during the 2015 season.
What Could Speed It Up: Starting the season in Double-A and having success.
What Could Slow It Down: Struggling with the jump to the upper minors.
92. Jake Odorizzi, RHP, Tampa Bay Rays
Another easy one. Thanks to the injury to Jeremy Hellickson, Odorizzi is slated to be the Rays fifth starter this spring.
ETA: Spring 2014
What Could Speed It Up: How much faster do you want?
What Could Slow It Down: A horrendous spring that forces the Rays to look elsewhere. Unlikely.
These low-ceiling, major league-ready prospects are easy to predict. Davidson made his major league debut with the Diamondbacks last year but joins a new organization this season. He has little left to prove in the minors and is what he is at this point. The only thing that stands in his way in Chicago is if they have a residual commitment to the contact they gave Jeff Keppinger last winter.
What Could Speed It Up: Nothing, it's Opening Day.
What Could Slow It Down: The White Sox overpaid Jeff Keppinger last year. If they want to keep playing him, there's no room for Davidson. Unlikely.
Biddle is the Phillies best pitching prospect and spent the entire 2013 season in Double-A, with mixed results. His 10 strikeouts per nine innings indicated an ability to miss bats that the Phillies could use in their rotation right now, but his 5.3 walks per nine was a disaster. Clearly there is more work to be done. Biddle is slated to spend the entire 2014 season in Triple-A, both because he needs the work there and because the Phillies actually have pretty good pitching depth at the major league level. The addition of A.J. Burnett gave them seven major league options ahead of Biddle for five spots. Things can happen, of course, but it doesn't look like the Phillies will need Biddle this season. If he proves he's ready, on the other hand, he could force their hand. The most likely scenario is that the Phillies fall out of the race and want to give Biddle a taste of the majors in August and September.
ETA: Late 2014
What Could Speed It Up: Injuries or ineffectiveness by Phillies major league starters coupled with success by Biddle in Triple-A.
What Could Slow It Down: Continued control issues.
Gallo is known for his prodigious power, and it's what will get him to the majors. That power, however, comes with a ton of strikeouts. If the Rangers are okay with that or don't think he'll ever develop into a more refined hitter, then they can move him at their own pace. If they want to see if he can develop into a hall-of-fame level power threat, however, they'll need to give him plenty of time in the minors. Gallo just turned 20 after the season, and should spend his entire 20-year-old season in High-A ball. He will probably need an entire minor league season at each level, which could still put him in the majors at 23. Something tells me he won't get that much time in the majors, but if the Rangers decide to do a multi-level year with him at some point, it probably won't be until the upper minors. If he develops properly, I could see him spending only a short stint in Triple-A.
ETA: Summer 2016
What Could Speed It Up: If he gets the strikeouts under control without sacrificing too much power, he could really shoot through the minors. He's already productive, he just needs to learn how to control it.
What Could Slow It Down: If the strikeouts don't improve, he could need 2,500 minor league at-bats.
Dozier isn't flashy, nor does he have a high-ceiling, but he does a lot of things well and gets the "gamer" tag. That, coupled with being a college draftee, make him a candidate to move quickly. He was just drafted in 2013 and has yet to reach full-season ball, but he could easily jump straight to High-A Wilmington to start the 2014 season. That's a tough assignment for a hitter but if he handles it, he could finish the season in Double-A and be looking at a 2015 call-up. If the Royals play it safe, it could be more of a 2016 ETA. A lot will depend on his placement this season, but there's not a ton of development left in his game so he won't need a ton of time at each minor league level.
ETA: Late 2015
What Could Speed It Up: Handling an assignment to Wilmington well.
What Could Slow It Down: The Royals being conservative with his assignment this year and putting him in Low-A ball.
Not all raw prospects take forever to get through the minors, and Tapia could be an example of that. He has yet to reach full-season ball despite having recently turned 20, but once he does, he could be a player that jumps two levels in a year. He will likely never have a refined approach at the plate no matter how much time he spends in the minors, so the real question is how his ability to barrel up the ball (a plus skill on his part) works at higher levels. If it does, he could handle both Low and High-A ball in 2014 and hit Double-A as a 21-year-old in 2015. That would put him on a track for late 2016 in the majors. If he needs more time than that, we're looking at 2017.
ETA: Late 2016/Early 2017
What Could Speed It Up: If the low minors aren't more of a challenge for him than short-season ball was, he could get bumped to the upper minors quickly.
What Could Slow It Down: Struggles against advanced pitching in the upper minors.
Another young player who has yet to reach full-season ball, Reyes could also move quickly once he does. He has the complete package and is already somewhat well-developed for an 19-year-old. The Cardinals, on the other hand, have been conservative with some of their international pitching prospects, most notably Carlos Martinez. Martinez spent three full seasons in the minors after his initial half-year in a short-season league. Using that schedule, we could see Reyes in the majors towards the end of 2016. With the Cardinals, there's also always the possibility of a blockade at the major league level.
ETA: Late 2016
What Could Speed It Up: Dominating the low minors.
What Could Slow It Down: Needing a full season at each minor league stop.
99. Jorge Bonifacio, OF, Kansas City Royals
Bonifacio is only 20 and has already spent some time in Double-A, so you'd think he'd be on the fast track, but that's not necessarily the case. Most scouts believe that Bonifacio will hit for power, but it simply hasn't happened yet. If he wants to continue to move quickly, he'll need to do so soon. His path through the minors depends solely on that development. If the power comes, he'll move quickly. If not, he could spend a while in Dobule-A.
What Could Speed It Up: The development of his power.
What Could Slow It Down: If the power doesn't come, he's a below-average major leaguer.
100. David Dahl, OF, Colorado Rockies
Dahl should have a full-season in Low-A under his belt, but a hamstring injury all but cost him his season. He could return to Low-A ball this year, but he won't be there for long. The Rockies could also choose to start him in the High-A California League. Either way, many scouts expect Dahl to take off once he gets on the field. He should begin the 2015 season in Double-A either way, putting him just a step from the majors if need be. An ultra-aggressive approach could see him as a September call-up next fall, but 2016 is more likely.
ETA: June 2016
What Could Speed It Up: If he tears though the low minors like he never missed the 2013 season.
What Could Slow It Down: If he struggles more than expected in full-season ball.
At just 18-years-old and having yet to leave the complex Gulf Coast League, Thorpe is perhaps the furthest player on our list away from the majors. There are any number of things that could go wrong in his development between now and the majors. As an Australian-born player, he'll likely need plenty of time in the minors. He'll probably stay back in extended spring training this season then pitch in a short-season league, hitting full-season ball in 2015. If he spends a full year at each level, that puts him in the majors in 2018 at age 22.
What Could Speed It Up: If he handles the transition to full-season ball well.
What Could Slow It Down: Any number of variables from injury to developmental issues.