The year was 2015 and there was a buzz all over baseball about the former second overall pick, Kris Bryant, possibly making the Cubs’ Opening Day roster out of camp after just two seasons in the minor leagues. He certainly looked ready after a red-hot spring where he hit .425 with nine home runs.
Despite spring numbers one would even struggle to achieve while playing MLB The Show, the Cubs made the very unpopular decision to leave Bryant off of the Opening Day roster and send him to Triple-A Iowa to start the season. Give the Cubs some credit, they had a plan with Bryant and they stuck to it. They did end up calling Bryant up to the big leagues and he made his debut April 17, 2015.
Why did the Cubs wait 12 days after Opening Day to call him up? It was all part of the plan.
We hear the phrase “service time” a lot around a possible young superstar about to break into the big leagues. Once a player has hit 172 days during a season as a major league player, that counts as one service year, which would count as a year off of their contract and a year less until they can become a free agent. 172 is a hard number, meaning if the player is called up in April and only serves 171 days as a big leaguer, that does not dock the team a year of their services and they can postpone having to deal with this player as a free agent for another season.
What the Cubs did was deprive their lineup of Bryant for the first 12 days of 2015 in exchange for him becoming a free agent after the 2021 season instead of 2020. Is that a fair trade? Looking back, I think most Cubs fans and employees would agree that it was. All he did after his call-up was play 151 games, hit 26 home runs, bat .275 and win Rookie of the Year. It certainly didn’t prevent the Cubs from making the playoffs in 2015 and getting to the National League Championship Series.
Now, looking at this from the Padres’ perspective, could something similar happen to a Padres prospect in 2018? I am not saying the Padres will make the NLCS if they choose to call up Luis Urias or Joey Lucchesi early in the year, but the excitement factor would certainly increase for fans if one or both of them play the majority of the 2018 season in a Padres uniform. Bryant is a rare talent that the Cubs could not afford to keep down if they had World Series aspirations. Needless to say, the Cubs’ and Padres’ situations are a bit different.
First, let’s find the earliest day any of this could happen if the Padres wanted to give a prospect the “Kris Bryant” treatment. The 2018 season is 186 days long. Making sure there would be fewer than 172 days left, the earliest the Padres could call up a prospect without getting docked a service year is Friday, April 13, during a seven-game home stand against the Giants and Dodgers.
Among the Padres’ top 10 prospects, Luis Urias and Joey Lucchesi would make the most sense if the Padres did indeed go this route. Urias was just recently sent to minor league camp, but not before he hit .286 with five doubles in 16 major league spring games. He left an impression the Padres cannot easily ignore. It’s more than likely Urias will find himself at Petco Park this season, just maybe not on April 13th, but that’s not impossible.
Lucchesi is still in major league camp, mostly due to the fact that he has pitched like he belongs there. He has not pitched in a major league spring game since March 9th, but in three games and seven innings, he has yet to allow a run while walking just two.
— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) March 9, 2018
He has done nothing to make the Padres think he is not ready for the big leagues. Could Lucchesi get the call on April 13th?
It’s tough to put a hard date on stuff like this. We don’t want the Padres to call these guys up that day just because they can. If they struggle out of the gate wherever they start, why call them up? These are young ballplayers who are still imperfect and somewhat unpolished, although you wouldn’t know that looking at Urias’ approach at the plate or Lucchesi’s deception on the hill.
On the flip side, if they go on a tear in the first week or so down on the farm, why not? After April 13th, what do the Padres have to lose? Not a year of their services, at least.