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Breaking Down the Prospect Promotion Incentive

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Now that the 2022 MLB Regular Season has concluded, Jeff Reed and I decided to look back at the Collective Bargaining Agreement and how the Prospect Promotion Incentive (PPI) program fared in its debut season.

Remember, during the most recent labor negotiations, players were concerned about fixing service time manipulation, and this is the incentive the sides settled on to try and stop the “alleged” manipulation by teams towards players.

We’re going to break down what qualifies a team/prospect to be eligible for the PPI program, along with what requirements they have to meet in order to qualify for draft pick compensation moving forward.

For starters, if you’re a Pittsburgh Pirates’ fan, Oneil Cruz unfortunately did not qualify for future draft pick compensation. Neither did the only other prospect eligible, Roansy Contreras.

In order for a team to qualify for the PPI program, they must roster a qualifying prospect long enough for the player to accrue a full season of service. Going into the season, a qualifying prospect must still have their rookie status intact with 60 days or less of service and be included on two of the three Top-100 prospect lists from the following publications: ESPN, Baseball America, or MLB Pipeline.

The cutoffs for rookie status, per Major League Baseball, are 130 at-bats, 50 innings pitched (30 appearances in the case of a reliever), or 45 days active on an MLB roster.

So, with all the rules out of the way, the question is: “Who ended up qualifying?”

By season’s end, it appears 11 prospects qualified teams for potential amateur draft pick compensation:

Shane Baz (Tampa Bay)

Reid Detmers (Los Angeles Angels)

MacKenzie Gore (Washington)

Hunter Greene (Cincinnati)

Nick Lodolo (Cincinnati)

Jeremy Peña (Houston)

Geraldo Perdomo (Arizona)

Julio Rodríguez (Seattle)

Joe Ryan (Minnesota)

Bryson Stott (Philadelphia)

Bobby Witt Jr. (Kansas City)

It’s important to note that just because these prospects ended up rostered for a whole year doesn’t mean their teams automatically get a pick—personal accomplishment now comes into play.

A team may acquire a max of one amateur draft pick after the first round if an eligible prospect wins Rookie of the Year or if they finish top-three in MVP or Cy Young voting. This applies during the prospect’s pre-arbitration years of control.

For example, the Seattle Mariners could receive a draft pick if Julio Rodríguez wins the AL ROY this season. The Mariners would then not be eligible to receive any further compensation. In turn, Bobby Witt Jr. may lose out on AL ROY to Rodríguez, but he could then qualify for a pick for the Kansas City Royals over the next two years if he were to finish top-three for MVP.

On a related note, based on reporting done by The Athletic regarding the new pre-arbitration bonus pool, it’s likely that Rodríguez would still qualify the Mariners for compensation, even though he signed an extension that made his arbitration years obsolete.

The report stated that despite signing an extension, Yordan Alvarez of the Houston Astros would still qualify to reap the benefits of the bonus pool. While no official reporting has been done regrading PPI and extensions, it makes sense that the same would apply to the other new rule.

*****

Now that we’ve gone through the process of eligibility and determined who would qualify for the PPI, we wanted to cover some interesting observations, pressing questions, and shortcomings of the new incentive we discovered while researching.

First off, does an injury account for anything in the official agreement? For example, Shane Baz opened the season on the 10-day IL, was moved to the 60-day IL, then eventually ended up back on the 60-day IL after only being active for a short while. Basically, Baz backed into a full year due to injury, and Tampa Bay may now qualify for a pick because of it, even though it may not have been in their plans to keep him up all year otherwise. Also, Baz is slated to miss all of 2023 due to Tommy John surgery, meaning he’ll burn one of his pre-arbitration years, disqualifying the Rays from one possible chance where he could place in Cy Young voting.

Does the actual incentive account for a situation like this? Right now, we don’t know, so we’re acting as if Baz qualifies

As covered, a prospect only needs to accrue a full year of service, meaning they don’t necessarily have to open the season on the roster, but be recalled/selected early enough to earn 172 days in the majors. Both MacKenzie Gore and Nick Lodolo are examples of players that didn’t start the season in the majors, but should still qualify.

Speaking of Gore, who reaps the benefit in the event a qualifying prospect is traded?

Gore was originally with the San Diego Padres when he was promoted, but traded to the Washington Nationals at the trade deadline as part of the blockbuster Juan Soto deal. This would’ve applied to CJ Abrams as well if he had accrued a full year of service and qualified.

Does San Diego get the pick because they called him up first? Or maybe Washington, as they allowed him to finish the season? Or does no one receive a pick once the player is traded? We won’t officially know until the actual agreement is released.

The incentive also differentiates between rookie eligibility (45 active days) and 60 or fewer days of service. While it’s not totally clear why they made that distinction, an example from this year may at least shed some light.

Reid Detmers, entered the year with 55 days of service (according to FanGraphs)—more than the 45 needed to surpass rookie eligibility—but due to time spent on the injured list, had only 24 days on the active roster. Therefore, he entered the 2022 season with rookie status and remained eligible for the PPI program.

That rookie eligibility qualifier also creates some issues that weren’t entirely clear until we really dove in.

Of the three lists, Pipeline’s is the only one that disqualifies a player based on the 45-day portion of rookie eligibility—ESPN and Baseball America only pay attention to the innings and at-bat qualifiers, disregarding active days.

While the idea that including three lists that determine eligibility differently is bad enough, bigger issues come to light when you really start to think about it.

Because Baseball America and ESPN only care about at-bats and innings, it’s possible they are including players on their lists that have exceeded rookie eligibility by MLB.com standards—players Pipeline would not include on their list.

For example, Aaron Ashby started 2022 with less than 60 days of service (according to FanGraphs) and accrued a full year; however, he was active for 46 days in 2021, meaning he wasn’t rookie eligible in 2022, disqualifying him from PPI status.

Ashby still showed up on both ESPN and Baseball America’s list, however. While this is no fault to the list makers—they didn’t ask to be included in MLB’s new rule—is it fair for prospect lists and PPI rules to conflict like this?

It’s potentially a question of fairness because it can backfire against certain prospects in a few ways.

One, it could prove to disincentivize teams from rostering prospects on Opening Day. Even if a certain prospect is on two lists—Ashby, for example—but isn’t rookie eligible and thus can’t gain them a pick, is that one less reason to roster that player from the beginning? This could also create the illusion that teams are thumbing their nose in the face of the new rule, even though in reality they really wouldn’t be.

Second, it could theoretically hurt fringe prospects who are showing up on only one list. Bringing the Pirates into the fold, we’ll use Nick Gonzales and Mike Burrows as examples. Gonzales still remains on the backend of the Pipeline Top-100, but recently fell off Baseball America’s list. Burrows cracked the Baseball America Top-100 but has yet to enter Pipeline or ESPN’s. Is Gonzales just outside the Top-100 for Baseball America or are either just outside for ESPN? If either list recognized the 45 days to graduate Baz, as well as other players who would fit this mold in 2023, such as Gabriel Moreno and Luis Campusano, would it raise Gonzales or Burrows to Top-100 status and give them the two-out-of-three qualification — giving the Pirates new incentive to start them in the majors that may not be there otherwise?

Obviously, the caveat is no one would expect the Pirates to actually let either player open 2023 on the roster, but it doesn’t negate the fact that there is still a possible issue moving forward that may disincentivize any other of the 29 clubs.

*****

After its inaugural season, the PPI program certainly is an interesting discussion piece.

From the start, it appeared to be doing its job, as more top prospects started on rosters than we’ve ever seen before. Pipeline reported this was the first year since they began ranking prospects in 2004 that three of their top four prospects debuted on Opening Day. However, several players that would have qualified ended up not receiving a full year of service anyway, such as CJ Abrams and Spencer Torkelson.

While it’s obvious that means what it always has—some top prospects aren’t ready for the majors immediately—there may still be teams that disregard the spirit of the incentive, deeming the extra year of service more important than a potential draft pick, such as the Pirates may have done with at least Roansy Contreras, if not Oneil Cruz.

Team behavior under these new incentives is obviously impossible to predict, but we at least got a chance to see the positives and negatives to the program under its first year. It will be worth continuing watching as we move forward under this new system.

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Ethan Hullihen
Ethan Hullihen
A longtime Pirates Prospects reader, Ethan has been covering payroll, transactions, and rules in-depth since 2018 and dabbling in these topics for as long as he can remember. He started writing about the Pirates at The Point of Pittsburgh before moving over to Pirates Prospects at the start of the 2019 season. Always a lover of numbers and finding an answer, Ethan much prefers diving into these topics over what’s actually happening on the field. These under and often incorrectly covered topics are truly his passion, and he does his best to educate fans on subjects they may not always understand, but are important nonetheless. When he’s not updating his beloved spreadsheets, Ethan works full-time as an accountant, while being a dad to two young daughters and watching too many movies and TV shows at night.

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