Theorizing Prospect Call-Up Dates
Friday’s “Kris Bryant” day came and went with almost no action taken by teams to call up their stud prospects. Before we speculate on when the next crop of top-tier prospects will see MLB, let’s recap the pertinent dates teams are considering.
For those unfamiliar with the term that isn’t really a term — just something I say loudly to myself while complaining about my fantasy teams — Kris Bryant day is the exact date each season when a team can call a prospect up and retain an extra year of service time on that player. Although many prospects are affected by it and lodge complaints, Bryant was notable in that he was one of the rule’s most vocal critics (along with his agent Scott Boras). I won’t get into the ethics and merits of the rule — just know that it’s smart business from the team perspective to keep your players down until they pass this date.
The second, and less important, date looming is the Super Two cutoff. Per Fangraphs’ handy “Sabermetrics Library,” Super Two status is defined as the following:
“In general, players must have accrued at least three years of MLB service time (written as Years.Days) before they can be eligible for salary arbitration. While players with 3.000+ years of service are eligible for arbitration, players with between two and three years of service may be eligible if they rank in the top 22% of service time among players with between two and three years of service.”
We don’t know when the actual Super Two cutoff date is, but it usually comes around two-and-a-half months into the season. So once we get past the Kris Bryant date, the next important deadline for a prospect would be roughly mid-June. This date doesn’t often affect your top-tier prospects — they’re usually ready to perform as soon as the season starts, which makes it tough to ask them to spend nearly half the season in the minors. Middle-tier guys who suddenly have a good year in the minors are more likely to be affected by the Super Two cutoff date.
This year there were several big names on the list of potential prospect call-ups but few actually received the call, which means I have some extra work to do. Today I’ll discuss the big names, why they didn’t receive the call, and when we can expect to see them on their respective Major League rosters. Obviously this is a fool’s endeavor, because no one can predict what is going through the mind of a baseball team’s front office. The best I can do is rationalize and reason with myself, even if someone with the title of “President of Baseball Operations and Hot Dog Quality Assurance” making $10 million a year is going to completely prove me wrong a week later. Let’s do it!
Ronald Acuña – OF, Atlanta Braves
The Kris Bryant of 2018, Acuña’s fans are calling for his golden bat to ascend to the Majors so he can hit .400 and go 40-40, while his detractors (there aren’t any — he’s really good) point to his .139/.244/.167 slash with no homers and only one steal in the minors this season. Now, I get the hesitance because of those numbers, but I’m also going to scream Small Sample SizeTM at you.
Last year’s .325/.374/.522 line in 612 plate appearances is more indicative of his talent than this 41 at-bat sample in Triple-A this year. That line is ugly, but it’s also worth pointing out that, just like with Major League teams, we are dealing with second winter in large parts of the country. It’s entirely possible that once the weather warms up, his bat will as well.
Acuña is a generational talent, just like his Japanese counterpart Shohei Ohtani. So if Ohtani can succeed in the Majors with little to no experience, why can’t Acuña? Although I’m certainly on the more bearish side of Acuña’s production this year, there’s no reason he couldn’t meet lesser expectations if he were to be called up right now.
All of the psychopaths who drafted him expecting 20-40 right out of the gate are kind of getting what they deserve, but for those of us who had pegged for something along the lines of 15-20 (and didn’t get any shares because we didn’t want to pony up for such a question mark) we are looking a little smarter. Of course, this could all change at the drop of a hat, so it’s not only worth monitoring his performance, but also watching the Braves and their performance/roster.
Atlanta is currently rocking an outfield of lineup mainstays Ender Inciarte in center field, Nick Markakis in right, and surprising performer Preston Tucker in left. Tucker’s success certainly plays into Acuña not being called up, but I don’t expect the true reason for him staying down is the 27-year-old Tucker having a solid 50 plate appearances. Defensive whiz Peter Bourjos and everyone’s favorite Quad-A player Lane Adams round out the outfielders on the Major League roster. I can say without a shadow of a doubt that right now Acuña is better than three, possibly four, of these outfielders, so with the Kris Bryant date having past… I really have to question the Braves’ logic here.
The Braves are sitting second in the AL East to the Mets with a 9-6 record and 84 runs scored versus 57 runs allowed. That means the offense isn’t exactly hurting, so you could make the argument to keep him down because an offensive upgrade isn’t needed. But I’ll make the opposite argument — it’s worth calling him up because they can afford to and won’t have to rely on him as a main offensive force. You can call him up, bat him sixth or seventh with little pressure and see what he can do.
In my opinion, there’s no way the Braves can wait for the Super Two cutoff date for Acuña unless he gets hurt or really struggles. If he’s hitting over .240 with any sort of counting stats, he will get called up sooner rather than later. If I were to guess why he’s down, it’s a combination of things including his slight struggles. I think if he goes into a 5-f0r-12 stretch, the numbers not only look fine but that argument goes out the window. If any of the outfielders currently on the roster get hurt, I expect him to be called up instantly. Conversely, I think if Tucker falls into a slump that also means he gets called up (I think Markakis and Inciarte have much longer leashes, so they won’t impact Acuña based on performance).
Verdict: I think Acuña gets called up by the end of the month, but I can foresee his name getting called any day now.
Gleyber Torres – INF, New York Yankees
Unlike Acuña, Yankees super prospect Gleyber Torres actually is tearing the cover off the ball in the minor leagues. In 44 plate appearances, Torres is hitting .366/.386/.537 with a homer and a steal, and his strikeout rate is down to 18.2%. Torres is not quite the prospect that Acuña is, but he is a middle infielder with some pop who isn’t a zero in the stolen base department. He’s been solid defensively but doesn’t project as an everyday shortstop, with his future likely being at second base. And that’s where the issues for Torres arise.
The Yankees are a team with a lot of pieces. In addition to current infielders Didi Gregorius, Ronald Torreyes, Neil Walker, and Tyler Wade, the Yanks traded for infielder Brandon Drury in the offseason. Drury has been ou with migraine issues, and though there is no set date for his return the team is expecting him to come back sooner rather than later. Gregorius and Walker are the only two guys who “should” be given starting roles, with Torres’ talent level being greater than that of Wade and Torreyes, but with those two names already on the roster there’s no reason to rush Torres to the majors. Another name of note on the team is Miguel Andujar, a fellow prospect (albeit less heralded) who is being given the opportunity to take the starting third base job and run with it.
The Yankees are sitting right at .500 at 8-8, but the offense — despite struggles for sluggers Stanton and Sanchez — has not been the problem. The team has scored 89 runs and allowed 78, and the pitching staff’s 4.47 ERA is not going to cut it. Since Torres can’t exactly help them in that regard… he’s still in the minors. I think it’s pretty doubtful that the current roster can support Torres as-is, so there will have to be major changes for a path to playing time to appear.
It’s also worth noting that Torres did miss a huge chunk of last season after Tommy John surgery. Although TJS isn’t as big of a deal for an offensive player as it is for a pitcher, the Yankees were likely going to take it easy on him to begin with. Of course, this is also a good excuse to keep him down in the minors, possibly all the way to the Super Two cutoff date. This situation is the one I have the least confidence in, and unless Andujar really continues to struggle, Drury doesn’t make it back, and Wade or Walker struggle or get hurt, I’m not sure we see Torres for awhile. It’s also entirely possible if that situation comes to fruition, the Yanks go after outside help instead, so that looms over the scenario as well.
Verdict: I’m going to say June here, even though I have zero confidence in that pick. I think if Torress stays in the minors that long, he’s definitely staying past the Super Two date. We may not seem him until September call-ups. Not much will surprise me with this situation.
Nick Senzel – INF, Cincinnati Reds
Nick Senzel was the number two overall pick in the 2016 amateur draft and is considered by many to be an elite prospect with plenty of hitting potential. His quick ascension through the minors saw stops at High-A and Double-A last year where Senzel managed to hit .321/.391/.514 with 14 homers and 14 steals. Defensively, he can play second or third, and the Reds even floated the idea of Senzel at shortstop with second and third blocked by Scooter Gennett and Eugenio Suarez. The jury is out on whether or not that could happen, but it’s an interesting possibility for a team that could really use another quality hitter in the lineup.
Suarez is scheduled to miss 6-8 weeks with a broken thumb, so there have been plenty of rumblings for the Reds to call up Senzel and see what they have on their hands. Some might consider this a tricky situation for the team, but in my opinion this one is an easy decision. The team is off to a 3-13 start and, let’s face it, they aren’t going anywhere this year. If the Reds had a realistic shot at landing a playoff spot I could see them handing the reigns to Senzel to make a push. As it stands, there is zero reason for the team to start the service time clock on its top prospect, so I don’t think he shows his face anytime soon. Unfortunately for Reds fans, that means that you’re going to be seeing a whole lot of Cliff Pennington for the foreseeable future.
Verdict: September. I don’t see them even thinking about calling up Senzel this season. It doesn’t make sense from a business standpoint, which does also work in Senzel’s favor because sometimes the Reds make questionable decisions. We will likely be having this exact discussion about Senzel this time next year, but if you’re an owner just cross your fingers and hope the Reds do something brash.
Eloy Jimenez – OF, Chicago White Sox
Following last year’s trade to the White Sox that I forgot/didn’t forget, unfortunately unless the team magically undoes the standings 14 games in (4-10) and drastically improves the rest of the team there isn’t much reason to give Jimenez a shot. After thinking about it for a bit even though he’s busy destroying baseballs in Double-A I don’t see him getting the call until much later in the season at best. A September call-up is probably the best he can hope for at this point.
Victor Robles – OF, Washington Nationals
Even if Robles hadn’t suffered a nasty injury to his elbow there just isn’t a whole lot of playing time here right now. The Nationals likely weren’t going to call him up to fill in for Adam Eaton, considering his injury wasn’t too severe, so he probably doesn’t come back up until he’s healthy and the Nats outfielders aren’t. And he might not be healthy this year with that elbow injury.
Walker Buehler – SP, Los Angeles Dodgers
Though the Dodgers’ rotation doesn’t look pretty, they do have plenty of names to fill out a lineup card. Once a few of those names go down, look for Buehler to make his debut. I like him a lot and have him on a lot of redraft teams. I’ll say he’s up within a month to take an injured pitcher’s spot. Also, FYI, he’s really good.