Us Twins fans have been gifted with an embarrassment of riches in the minor leagues. Byron Buxton has the makings of an All-Star. Miguel Sano will provide a ton of pop with his bat. Alex Meyer and Jose Berrios could be headlining the rotation in the coming years, and there are plenty of relievers ready to contribute in the near future as well.
Buxton leads the group here, and for a time was also leading the major leagues as the #1 prospect. However, a lost year has caused him to slip in the eyes of some. His crown has now been bestowed upon the Chicago Cubs' Kris Bryant, a player that could be considered to be an even better Miguel Sano. He is currently a third baseman, but his sheer size (6'5", 215 lbs.) and defensive struggles could lead to him being shifted to the corner outfield.
By many accounts, Bryant is ready to perform in the major leagues. The scouts know his bat is ready. The stats (.355/.458/.702 in 297 Double-A plate appearances, .295/.418/.619 in 297 Triple-A plate appearances) say that his bat is ready. His defense probably isn't, but he will be a force in the middle of the lineup and when you can swing the bat, the team will find a spot for you.
Except that spot for Bryant is going to be in Triple-A come Opening Day.
Mike Petriello of FanGraphs wrote about this last week, so I'll be referencing his piece a bit here. Every single year, teams commonly keep their top prospects in the minor leagues for a few weeks even though the player is very likely ready for the major leagues. The reason is to gain an extra year of team control over the player. Normally, players will reach free agency after accruing six years of service time. One year of service time is equal to 172 days, and there are roughly 183 days in a major league season. Thus, if you can just keep your top prospect down in the minor leagues for a few weeks, you can avoid him hitting that sixth year of service until his seventh season in the majors, meaning that you've gained an extra year of that player.
For Twins fans, this scenario could come up with Byron Buxton next year. Let's say that Buxton does make his major league debut in September, earning about 30 days of service time in the process. The Twins might then spend the 2016 season with Buxton in Triple-A for a little over a month before finally calling him up, therefore causing him to end the 2016 year with less than one full service year. Boom, now Buxton is under the Twins' control for seven years instead of six.
Depending on your point of view, that could be good or bad. The sabermetric/wannabe GM crowd would see this as a good move, as an extra year of Buxton in his prime is worth far more than a few weeks to a month of Buxton at the beginning of his career. Meanwhile, the casual fan would be upset that the hot new guy that everyone's been raving about ever since he was drafted will be stuck in the minors yet again.
This is exactly what Cubs fans will be experiencing with Bryant. The team will say that he needs to work on his defense, even though pretty much everyone knows it's just to skirt the service time rules and that he's definitely ready for the majors. Many fans would rather see him break camp with the team for Opening Day and will be outraged considering he's now gone deep nine times (nine times!) this spring. Meanwhile, there's also the contingent that believes that his additional year as a Cub will be supremely valuable, even if it ruins our enjoyment of the game in early April this year.
Through this whole thing, I'd much rather see the player stay around for an additional year than be in the majors just a few weeks sooner. Nevertheless, the delayed call-up is still frustrating, and like Petriello suggested in his article, I'd like to see it changed. However, I don't have any solutions or even good suggestions. Any difference made will still have its flaws and teams will be smart enough to find loopholes. All I know is that when (or if) the Twins have this same issue with Byron Buxton in the future, they choose to do what's best for the team.