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June 14, 2011

Future Shock

Mike Trout vs. Super Two

by Kevin Goldstein

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It's "Super Two" time around baseball, and that means it's also time to debate the merits of the current service time system. Teams manage the Super Two rules in different ways, and both have their merits.

The San Francisco Giants won the World Series last year, but they also barely slid into the playoffs during the last weekend of the season. Catcher Buster Posey was ready for the big leagues on Opening Day, but the desire to save a few million down the road nearly cost the team a playoff spot. Meanwhile, the Braves threw caution to the wind with Jason Heyward, and he played a key role in several April victories, leading one to the conclusion that if the Braves had waited, they would have been sitting at home in October. Still, Heyward is going to get expensive one year earlier, so was it worth it?

Players and teams alike aren't especially fond of the system. It keeps players in the minors when they should be in the big leagues, and it forces teams to make financial decisions to the detriment of the win-loss record. The problem is finding a solution.

"Absolutely, the Super Two should go because it hurts both the clubs and the players," said one National League executive. "Beyond the Buster Posey example, another predicament is that speculation and distrust the spreads between clubs and players. Teams are accused of holding players down, and it isn't good for the game or its fans when the future is being held back by the perceived savings of a few million dollars three years down the line."

The problem is, nobody really has a good solution for the problem. "I think it's unlikely that we'll have a solution in the next collective bargaining agreement," another NL front office employee said. "For every player that a team supposedly holds back, there are 15 or more that jump into a new service class because they do get Super Two status. It's a matter of millions of dollars for those players and I can't see the union wanting to do something about that."

"The problem with getting rid of the Super Twos is that you aren't changing anything, you are just moving the deadline," added another NL exec. "Instead of waiting until early or mid-June, teams will be making the same decisions in April to keep guys from getting three years of service time. It will always be a problem."

One way or another, there will be a service-time factor to arbitration and free agency in the next agreement between the union and the players. Assuming that the same rules are in place, here are five prospects who could see their debuts delayed to avoid Super Two status.

Paul Goldschmidt, 1B, Arizona Diamondbacks
Few players have done more for their stock this year than Goldschmidt, who has spent the first half of 2011 proving that last year's California League MVP campaign was more than just a function of the high-octane offensive environment. With a greatly increased walk rate and greatly decreased strikeout rate, Goldschmidt has a line of .343 AVG/.465 OBP/.687 SLG for Double-A Mobile while leading the minor leagues with 21 home runs, and he's lining himself up for a very long look next spring. Juan Miranda has been a surprising contributor in the big leagues this year, but Goldschmidt is looking more and more like the long-term answer for Arizona.

Shelby Miller, RHP, St. Louis Cardinals
There was some thought to starting Miller at Double-A in April, but the Cardinals stayed the course with the 2009 first-round pick and merely moved him up one level to the Florida State League to begin the year. Nine starts and 81 strikeouts in 53 innings later, he was moved to Double-A, and he won't turn 21 years old until after the season. A pure power pitcher with an outstanding fastball/curve combination, Miller has continued to miss bats in his first two starts for Springfield (14 K's in 12 innings) and could be ready by next spring. But his age will make it easier for the Cardinals to manage his development.

Matt Moore, LHP, Tampa Bay Rays
Moore has led the minor leagues in strikeouts in each of the past two years, but he is merely fifth this year with 92 strikeouts in 68.2 innings, with his remarkable rate of 12.1 per nine actually representing a career low. One of the better scouting finds in recent memory, Moore, was an eighth-round pick out of a small high school in New Mexico, and he's dominated at every level since thanks to 93-95 mph heat and one of the better curveballs in the minor leagues. Double-A has not been much of a challenge this year, and scouts think he could be nearly big league ready if he can make some small improvements to his command and control. The depth of the Rays' system gives Tampa time.

Mike Trout, OF, Los Angeles Angels
Angels fans want him up now, but it's easy to forget that one of the best prospects in baseball (if not the best) doesn't turn 20 until August. Still, even as a teenager, the upper levels of the minors have failed to slow him down, as he's hitting .323/.427/.547 in his first 55 games for Double-A Arkansas with seven home runs and 21 stolen bases while playing a top-notch center field. He could arguably provide the Angels a boost this year, but 2012 is a far more realistic expectation.

Jacob Turner, RHP, Detroit Tigers
The Tigers are well-known for pushing their prospects, and they took care of two levels with their 2009 first-round pick when he split his full-season debut between Low-A and High-A. Now in the Double-A Eastern League at 20, he has a 3.05 ERA after 11 starts with an impressive 61-to-18 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 73.2 innings. Beyond his size (6-foot-5, 210) and velocity, Turner's command is highly advanced for his age, and he already has a plus curve and rapidly developing changeup. Very young pitchers like Jeremy Bonderman and Rick Porcello have broken camp with the Tigers in past years, so Super Two status may or may not be in play here next spring.

A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider Insider.

Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

7 comments have been left for this article.

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