The Super-2 deadline is an ambiguous term. Unlike the signing deadline for draft picks or the major league roster expansion on Sept. 1 each year, no one knows exactly when the Super-2 deadline is on any given year. FanGraphs has a full explanation of how that deadline is determined each year, but essentially the top 22 percent of players with two years of service time get an extra year of arbitration. The years of team control remain the same, so it’s a financial concern that keeps prospects in the minors until the end of June when they could be helping their teams right away.
It’s a deadline that teams can choose to ignore if a need arises. The Rangers faced such a predicament when Ian Kinsler face-planted his way to the disabled list a few weeks ago, calling up top prospect Jurickson Profar to take his place long before they had planned. The Cardinals are prepared for a similar situation with top prospect Oscar Taveras should one of their outfielders go down. But we’re getting to the point in the season where teams are calling up top prospects for reasons other than just pure necessity.
The Pirates announced that Gerrit Cole will make his major league debut tonight in a move that is part necessity, part readiness. I discussed the Pirates and Cole in this very spot just two weeks ago, ending with this paragraph:
“It was expected that Cole would be joining the Pirates pitching staff sometime in the next few weeks, but with their current rotation having success, a number of veterans returning soon, and Cole’s struggles, it looks like that timetable has been pushed back. Much can change, of course. Cole could begin to dominate once again—after all, the talent hasn’t gone anywhere—and, as the Dodgers have shown us this season, pitching depth can disappear in a hurry. But for now, the mid-June promotion we all expected appears to be further off on the horizon. “
I expected the Pirates’ run of starting pitching success to slow down, but not so drastically, so quickly. Injuries to Wandy Rodriguez and Jeanmar Gomez in the same week forced the Pirates to turn to Cole just as he was in the midst of an 18-inning scoreless streak.
Cole isn’t the only major league-bound prospect, however. The Nationals have already turned to Anthony Rendon to help their anemic offensive situation, and just up the beltway, the Orioles have unsuccessfully tried to force 2012 first-round pick Kevin Gausman into their starting rotation. The Cardinals, battling through rotation injuries of their own, have already turned to fellow 2012 draftee Michael Wacha for a pair of starts.
But one team has refused to call up its top prospect despite a glaring need for his production.
The Tampa Bay Rays entered Monday night’s games six games over .500 but also in fourth place in the American League East. They are not a strong offensive team and have a black-hole at DH in Luke Scott and two corner outfielders who can’t lit lefties in Matt Joyce and converted second baseman Kelly Johnson. Yet their top prospect, Wil Myers, is sporting an .874 OPS in Triple-A.
I argued two weeks ago that it was time for the Rays to call up Myers, and the need for his bat was never as evident as it was on Monday night when Sam Fuld came up with the winning run on base. But the Rays refusal to add to Myers’ future earnings is a part of their long-term plan to stay competitive and they refuse to waver from that plan, even if it means missing the playoffs by one game this season.
Unlike some teams delaying the promotion of their top prospects, the Rays are actually playing for something. The Mets, on the other hand, are certainly not.
That’s why the Mets can make announcements like the one they made this past week: Top pitching prospect Zack Wheeler will make his major league debut as part of a double-header on July 18. The Mets can afford to cost themselves a couple of wins in a lost season to ensure that Wheeler gets only three years of arbitration.
Mid-July should solidify that for the Mets, but the next few weeks constitute a gray area for teams and their prospects. Most are likely trying to hold their prospects off like the Rays are with Myers, but for contending teams, that patience is coming at the cost of wins. Others are being forced to make moves in response to injury, which is the reason to have organizational depth in the first place. Either way, the next few weeks should give us plenty of new prospects joining their teams on the biggest stage.
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