Though extremely rare, that isn't always the case. Some players, such as future Hall of Famer Dave Winfield, head straight to the majors after being drafted. Others, like the White Sox' Chris Sale, serve brief apprenticeships in the bushes before being called up to the parent club the same season. Sale was drafted last year with the 13th overall pick, signed with Chicago on June 20 and made his major league debut on August 6.
In fact, college pitchers like the Sale, who played at Florida Gulf Coast University, often take a quick path to the majors. David Price debuted with the Tampa Bay Rays in September 2008 after being taken first overall out of Vanderbilt the previous June. Just last summer, former San Diego State star Stephen Strasburg electrified the baseball world in his debut for the Nationals, which came almost a year to the day after Washington took him with the first pick.
In 2011, several of the college hurlers chosen in the opening round are already relatively close to the majors. Below are four pitchers, plus one position player, who have the best chance of reaching the big leagues before the rest of their draft class.
Skinny: Cole is the obvious choice because his raw stuff is electric. He has phenomenal stuff, almost a carbon copy of Strasburg's: a fastball in the mid-to-upper-90s, and a biting slider and hard changeup. If the Pirates' player development staff can tweak his mechanics, the former UCLA star will be in Pittsburgh soon. He needs to make some very important adjustments, especially in his arm stride, which is to say, how he separates his arm from his glove and brings it into a throwing motion. That needs to be changed before he makes it to the big leagues.
Rough ETA: End of 2012
KEITH: Cole part of Pirates' pack of promising pitchers
Danny Hultzen, SP, MarinersNo. 2 overall, Virginia
Skinny: As a lefthander, which Seattle has a need for, Hultzen has a good chance to get there quicker than No. 3 pick Trevor Bauer, a righty from UCLA who went to the Diamondbacks. Hultzen doesn't have to throw incredibly hard but lefties have to get the majority of their outs down in the strike zone and they have to have an effective change. Hultzen has both of those attributes. He does have awkward mechanics, however, that prevent him from using his lower half well and that, combined with a truncated arm stroke, makes him an injury risk. If he stays healthy, he has the stuff to be in Seattle shortly.
Rough ETA: End of 2012
Chris Reed, RP, DodgersNo. 16 overall, Stanford
Skinny: Reed is fairly signable so there's a good chance he gets in the Dodgers' system right away. Add that to the fact that he's mature, intelligent and profiles as a lefthanded relief specialist, which are always in demand and always in short supply, and he could be the first in his class to reach the majors. His stuff isn't sensational but it can be used to effectively target lefthanded hitters. Reed has a fastball he can run in on a lefty's hands and two breaking balls -- a quality curve and an even better slider -- that will run away from them.
Rough ETA: If he signs early and does well in the minors, September 2011.
Tyler Anderson, SP, RockiesNo. 20 overall, Oregon
Skinny: The Rockies took Tyler Matzek in the first round in 2009 and pinned a lot of hopes on him but he's struggling. That, along with the departure of Jeff Francis and the injury to Jorge De La Rosa, has opened a clear path to the majors for Anderson. He seemed like a need pick to fill that role of a lefty starter. For the most part, he's big-league-ready, with a low-90s fastball and an excellent changeup, though he needs to use his lower half a little better in his delivery. Any time you don't use your legs properly you have a tendency to be up in the zone and then you're in trouble. One thing he also needs to do is to work on thinking along with the game; at Oregon, every pitch was called form the bench.
Rough ETA: If the Rockies are still in contention, he could make it as soon as this year. More likely is the middle or end of 2012.
Skinny: He's very advanced defensively and has the potential to be a Gold Glove-type player. Wong already is very close to having major league-ready defensive skills. He's a mature player with good instincts. He doesn't hit for much power but the Cardinals aren't expecting that -- their incumbent second baseman, Skip Schumaker, is only hitting .223 and has just one home run. Wong has the type of stroke that translates to coming to the big leagues quickly because it's not long or loopy so he doesn't figure to get fooled as often. All he needs are some wood bat at-bats. He doesn't have great speed but there's not a lot of holes in his game and his fundamentals are close to MLB-level right now.
Rough ETA: Mid-2012
All of the players listed above played in college, where the tougher competition and maturity level required to succeed there gives them a better chance of reaching the majors faster than a high school player. Historically, top high school draftees, pitchers in particular, are rarely rushed to the major leagues because teams are mindful of the David Clyde disaster. The first overall pick by the Rangers in 1973, Clyde, a left handed pitcher, was heralded as the second coming of Sandy Koufax. Rushed to Texas as a box office ploy to make his debut just days after being drafted, Clyde pitched well in his first start but quickly washed out, winning only 18 games in his career that was over by 1979.
Protective of their investment and wary of the Clyde saga, organizations develop prep players slowly. Pitchers are kept on strict pitch counts and hitters need at least 1,000 -- and sometimes as many as 2,000 -- pro at-bats before they can be deemed big league ready.
From the 2011 prep draft class, pitcher Dylan Bundy and shortstop Francisco Lindor will likely reach the majors first. Bundy, a righthander from Oklahoma taken by the Orioles with the fourth overall pick, is physically mature, shows big league stuff and exhibits mechanics that are exceptionally advanced -- far beyond the horror show scouts often see with amateur hurlers.
Lindor, meanwhile, will require a significant number of minor league at bats, but his defensive skills are already near big league quality. If the Indians, who chose the Florida native with the eighth overall pick, need defensive help soon in the middle infield, they could use Lindor's glove while placing him at the bottom of their batting order. With time and with experience, he'll move to the top.