Spring Training is ramping up. Major league starting pitchers have edged their pitch counts higher, with aces now going five innings into games, just as Max Scherzer and Madison Bumgarner did on Tuesday. The other side is that clubs are now reassigning many of the players who populated these enormous spring rosters, including top prospects.
There are the minor league invitees who were no more than a pot shot, then you have the lowly-ranked prospects, who were really there for a bit of time as a major leaguer. The most interesting, though, are the top prospects. These players are legitimately fighting for a job out of camp and have often already proven they can dominate in the upper-minors.
Wednesday saw the number four ranked prospect, per MLB Pipeline, reassigned. Chicago White Sox acquired power-hitting outfielder Eloy Jimenez in the Chris Sale trade last winter. Jimenez has been sent down to Double-A despite expectation that he will be an everyday player for the White Sox at some point during the 2018 season.
Christian Arroyo had been the San Francisco Giants’ top prospect before he was traded to the Tampa Bay Rays this offseason in a deal that saw Evan Longoria head to north California. Arroyo is a versatile infielder, and already has major league experience. The Florida native was sent down this week as well.
The New York Yankees had looked certain to have a roster spot for fifth-ranked MLB Pipeline prospect, Gleyber Torres. The main piece of the Aroldis Chapman trade back in 2016 missed much of last season with surgery. With holes at second and third, Torres was set for a starting role. The arrivals of Brandon Drury and Neil Walker changed that. Torres was sent to minor league camp too.
Pipeline’s number 53, Texas’ Willie Calhoun, faced the same fate. The former Los Angeles Dodger was reassigned to work on his defence. Calhoun hit for .300 with 31 home runs in triple-A last season, but many think he is a long way from being a passable major league leftfielder.
Then we have the current Dodger – and 12th overall prospect – Walker Buehler. The hard-throwing righty was thought to be a contender for a rotation spot behind Clayton Kershaw in the absence of Yu Darvish, but he will have to wait for his chance after being sent back to triple-A. Buehler was given just two innings of work in spring.
Another rebuilding team, the Pittsburgh Pirates, sent down their top hitting prospect down. Austin Meadows has been blighted by injuries in the minors, but was hot in spring, hitting .368. Meadows seemed to be in line for an Opening Day job with Andrew McCutchen having departed.
Why do teams do this?
Although not the case for all of the aforementioned starlets, top prospects beginning the season in the minors is often done as a way of extending the years of team control. A player has to be an active major leaguer for 172 days for it to qualify as a year of service time. If a player has less than 172 days of service time in their first season, it gives the team seven years of control with the player getting four years of arbitration.
Reassigning players with 10 days or so of spring remaining is not all tactical, however. Sometimes, the chance for more plate appearances at minor league camp is part of it, and for others, like Arroyo and Meadows, rebuilding teams are simply trying not to rush prized assets.
Decisions in March can be reversed quickly in baseball. Being demoted to triple-A does not eliminate a player’s chance of winning Rookie of the Year. Don’t be surprised to see several of these top prospects called up before the end of April.