Many things are considered when looking at the value of a particular prospect. Does he have any plus tools? Does his body frame or mechanics figure to allow a lot of growth? When ranking prospects or projecting their future roles in the Majors, age truly does matter, arguably more than anything.
There is obviously no cut-off age for a player reaching the Major Leagues. Many older minor league players have not only contributed at the Major League level, despite not getting accolades as top prospects, but have had promising careers. Just ask Brendan Donnelly of the Anaheim Angels who didn't make his Major League debut until he was 30 years old and has posted a 17-8 record with a 2.57 ERA in his four season in the Majors ever since.
But to rank "prospects" properly, we first must understand what a prospect is. Webster's Dictionary defines the word prospect as "something expected." In the world of baseball, the word is used to define minor league players expected to have a key role on a Major League roster someday. In the case of Brendan Donnelly, a 27th round pick by the Chicago White Sox in the 1992 MLB Draft, his ascension and subsequent success in the Majors was not expected.
When looking at all the players that played in the Major Leagues in 2005, and averaging out the ages of their Major League debuts, the median age for a player to reach the big leagues is 23.4 years old.
Keeping that average age in mind, it is quite obvious that there are quite a few players making their debuts at an older age. However, a whopping 83.2% of current Major League players made their big league debuts before their 26th birthday, leaving just 16.8% of players at the age of 26 or older in their Major League debuts.
On the Padres 2005 roster, Chris Oxspring, Woody Williams, Scott Cassidy, Dave Roberts and Akinori Otsuka made their Major League debuts beyond the age of 26 years old. Two players, Otsuka and Oxspring, were imported from foreign countries and were either ineligible to play stateside or began their career late. Williams has carved out a nice career, as has Roberts, but the superstars are generally bred at an early age and thus make their debuts quicker.
Quoting an old adage: "Age is a matter of the mind. If you don't mind, it doesn't matter." While age might not be the ultimate determining factor on a player's Major League career, it does create certain unquestionable odds as to whether or not particular player will make it.
If the odds are stacked against a player, it can't be expected that he defies the odds. And if it can't be expected, chances are they are not a top prospect.
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