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April 18, 2014

Skewed Left

How Service Time Dictates Top Prospect Promotions

by Zachary Levine


If you stretch, maybe you could come up with a good baseball reason for the Astros not to have called up outfield prospect George Springer until earlier this week. And yes, GM Jeff Luhnow probably did need to stick with baseball reasons in his public explanations of the delayed promotion: Springer needed some more at-bats to work on cutting down his strikeouts, or the team wanted to see whether Robbie Grossman could start this season as strong as he finished the last one, etc.

You understand why Luhnow can’t say the real reason, but at some point, you wish that we could let a smart guy be a smart guy and tell you that by waiting two weeks, he was able to exchange a minimal amount of Springer in a bad season for a full year of Springer in what could be a good season. That would be the 2020 season, which is now part of the Astros’ control period on Springer as he won’t have a full six served after 2019. (Read more of the details in this Evan Drellich piece at the Houston Chronicle.)

It would be nice if Luhnow could just come out and say that adding Jason Heyward to the Opening Day roster in 2010 will end up depriving the Braves of a full year of him, or that doing the same to Jose Fernandez last season may take him out of Miami sooner. But obfuscation about the impact of service time is part of baseball’s unspoken tradition (as well as a good way to avoid a problem with the Players Association). You weren’t aiming at the batter. You just had dirt on your hands. And George Springer just happened to be ready as soon as enough days ticked off that calling him up wouldn’t cost the Astros a full season.

Last year, like most years, we were having this discussion later in the season. That time, it was Wil Myers who happened to be ready as soon as the projected cutoff date passed for Super Two status, which makes a player eligible for arbitration four times instead of three. Myers was called up in mid-June. (You can read more about the Super Two system here.)

It isn’t just anecdotal that waiting until midseason is the more common way of manipulating service time. Springer’s promotion sparked a question about just when prospects are called up, so let’s map it out. Courtesy of our infinitely talented researcher Rob McQuown, we have a list of debut dates of all 409 prospects from their team’s BP top 10 prospects list who made their major-league debut in a year in which they were on the list.

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<< Previous Article
Baseball Prospectus Ne... (04/18)
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