With camp in full swing, we’re watching some of the game’s very best prospects share the field with existing big leaguers. That creates opportunity both for excitement at the youngsters’ eventual regular-season ascent and consternation at the anticipated timing thereof. As teams near decision points on another crop of players, with accusations of service-time manipulation already lurking, let’s take a look at some interesting recent comments on prospect promotion timing:
- Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins discussed uber-prospect Vladimir Guerrero Jr. today in an appearance on MLB Network Radio on Sirius XM (audio via Twitter). Citing the organization’s focus on “development,” Atkins says of Guerrero: “I just don’t see him as a major league player.” While the consensus top prospect in baseball “has accomplished everything he can accomplish as an offensive player” in the minors, Atkins says, there’s evidently more he needs to work on before he’s to be trusted with a big league job. That includes “the physical aspect, the baserunning, the defense,” per the GM. (That first point represents a nod at Guerrero’s shape, John Lott of The Athletic suggests on Twitter.) The Toronto organization wants Guerrero to “start with an incredible foundation” once he reaches the majors so that it can “tap into all of that potential,” says Atkins. Some projection systems already regard Guerrero as one of the most capable hitters on the planet, even without having seen him against MLB pitching, so there’s no question of his readiness in that regard. The Jays, though, purport to believe that the other aspects of his game can benefit more from further game action at the Triple-A level.
- There are certainly those who’d take a skeptical view of the true motivations where Guerrero and others are concerned. Cubs star Kris Bryant is among them, as Sahadev Sharma of The Athletic reports (subscription link). Bryant believes the annual top-prospect hold-back represents an effort by teams to exploit “a loophole in the system.” His own promotion timeline more or less represents the most outwardly obvious service-time manipulation imaginable: Bryant was a polished, well-rounded college player who had laid waste to the upper minors and Cactus League pitching and was called upon as soon as the team secured the ability to control him for a full additional season. “It’s funny how obvious it can be,” said Bryant. “But now I can look back on it and just laugh about it because I was told to work on my defense too and I think I got three groundballs in those games that I played,” he added. The Chicago third baseman says that solving the issue will require “compromise” and “a logical solution,” noting that changes to free agent outcomes also serve to highlight the concerns for players.
- Another much-hyped young player, top Reds prospect Nick Senzel, also has adopted a realistic (bordering on jaded) perspective as he nears his debut. He tells C. Trent Rosecrans of The Athletic (subscription link) that he’s skeptical whether he really has a chance to head north out of camp with the MLB club. “Do I believe it? No,” he said of the Reds’stated intention to carry their best roster out of the gate without reference to service time. “But that’s just my honest opinion. We’ll see.” The Reds do have cover in this case, as Senzel’s 2018 season was cut short by injury and he’s transitioning to a new position, though he could put any questions to rest over the next few weeks. It’s particularly frustrating in Senzel’s case, Rosencrans notes, because he was on track to receive a late-2018 call-up before suffering a broken index finger that cost him the second half of last year.