Prospect development is a tricky thing. Which is like saying Russian Roulette is a game of chance.
One of the things fans want to know the most about their team’s impending prospects is when they will finally get to see them in the majors. And while a prospect’s ETA is somewhat predictable assuming everything progresses as planned, how often does that actually happen?
The biggest delays occur when a player misses an entire season, or in some cases, parts of two seasons. Sometimes this delay throws a prospect off his track, never to see him recover again. Other times it is simply a bump in the road.
This year, there were a number of big-name prospects who experienced a lost season, and some still have more missed time to come.
Jarrod Parker was cruising through last year as the top prospect in the Diamondbacks organization, and one of the top pitching prospects in all of baseball. After 16 Double-A starts, Parker, just 20 at the time, was having little difficulty with the Double-A Southern League experiencing elbow tightness in early August. The team shut him down for the season, hoping that rest and rehab would allow him to begin a throwing program in the fall and be ready for the 2010 season. By mid-September, he was throwing from 45 feet, leaving fans cautiously optimistic, but by the end of October, it was evident that Tommy John surgery was the only option.
TJ typically knocks a player out for a full season, and Parker’s case is no different, although Parker is back throwing again. After a few weeks of a throwing program, Parker threw off a mound again for the first time in late May. By June, Parker was throwing twice a week off a mound and the Diamondbacks considered trying to get him into some game action before the end of the season, but Parker never appeared in any season games.
In a case like Parker’s, the Diamondbacks don’t have too much to worry about long-term. He’s still young and should make a full recovery. There’s no reason to believe he won’t make a full recovery, and given that he was already in advanced leagues for his age, a missed year hasn’t even put his development that far behind.
The same may not be said about Jared Mitchell in a few years. It’s not that Mitchell is any less of a prospect than he was when the White Sox drafted him 23rd overall in 2009. Mitchell’s best attributes are his extreme athleticism (he did play football for LSU after all) , but having split time between sports, the biggest issue for Mitchell was expected to be his lack of baseball experience.
Mitchell found success during his first half-season after signing, posting a .296/.417/.435 line in the South Atlantic League. Heading into spring training, Mitchell appeared headed to High-A ball with the potential to move quickly if he had as much success there as he did in the Sally League until he tore a tendon in his right ankle making a spectacular catch. His season ended on the spot.
The potential issues with Mitchell depend on whether his plus speed returns (which it should, at least for the most part) and just how far behind this sets his development. It certainly doesn’t mean he can’t make up for this season and gain experience down the road, but for a player who had already shared time with D-I college football, Mitchell could afford to lose playing time even more than most prospects.
Mitchell is slated to play in the Arizona Fall League, so he will get a chance to make up for some of his lost time, and we’ll know soon if he’s lost a step.
But I’m pretty sure I still don’t want to race him.