One of my personal highlights each season is watching prospects I have observed for several years earn their debuts. With many prospects reaching the upper minor leagues in 2015, it wouldn't be surprising to see many of them make their way to the major leagues in 2016.
Last year, we got to watch Blake Snell utterly dominate the minors for a full season. I thought for sure he was going to fizzle out eventually, considering he was a 45 FV prospect heading into the season. Now Snell is the definitive top prospect in the system and he should make his pro debut this year. While Snell's mercurial rise will be hard to replicate by anyone this season, it will still be enjoyable to watch several prospects as they rise through the system.
In 2015, we saw several top prospects make their pro debuts. Outfielder Mikie Mahtook had a strong end to the season, hitting .353 with six home runs in September. Pitcher Matt Andriese also broke onto the major-league scene, coming out of the bullpen down the stretch as the attrition of pitchers piled up.
Second baseman Ryan Brett got the proverbial "cup of coffee", logging two hits in four plate appearances. Of course, Richie Shaffer made his debut and gave us a lasting image of high-fiving the air as his teammates ignored his first home run.
Besides those already mentioned, lefty Enny Romero and righty Andrew Bellatti should end up in the majors by the end of the season, and in Romero's case he could likely be starting the year on the 25-man roster due to his lack of options and thus far sterling performance in Spring.
All of the above should return this season, but there are several more players slotted for arrival in 2016.
The most highly anticipated pro debut will surely be that of No. 1 prospect, lefty Blake Snell. With a solid arsenal that probably still hasn't reached its ceiling, it will be hard to keep Snell in Triple-A for long. He will compete for a job in the starting rotation during spring training and I wouldn't be surprised at all if he gets one.
Snell is not the only top pitcher who could make his debut in 2016. Righties Taylor Guerrieri and Jacob Faria both finished strong 2015 campaigns in Double-A Montgomery. A start in Triple-A for them is not out of question, especially if they show strong stuff in camp. The biggest barrier to their reaching the majors is the plethora of pitchers in front of them. However, if last year taught us anything, it's that the injury bug can strike hard and the team will need all the depth it can get.
Righty Jaime Schultz is another candidate to debut in 2016. Schultz combines a big fastball-curve combo with suspect control. Leaving Alabama behind may help that, but he is also relatively short (5'10") for a pitcher, and without a solidified change up, he could end up limited to the bullpen. His promotion would seem to be contingent on his mastering his control, but you can never have too many arms in baseball. Schultz has a solid chance to join the major-league club when rosters expand in September, but could always force his way up sooner.
Taylor Motter could make the major-league roster right out of spring training, or get tapped as an injury replacement if he doesn't start in the majors. While he doesn't have any flashy tools, he can play most positions and he put up solid numbers throughout his minor-league career. He is one of my favorite less-touted prospects if for nothing more than his versatility and his ability to perform in-game consistently.
Infielders Jake Bauers and Daniel Robertson also ended 2015 in Montgomery and are nearing their ETA to the majors. Bauers put everyone on his hype train (myself included) with a breakout 2015. His strong hit tool should carry him to the active roster, and he could be a likely candidate for a September debut, if not an even earlier call up. The same applies to Robertson, but he first has to stay consistent after missing almost two months in 2015 with a broken hamate bone.
Shortstop Jake Hager was poised to start in Durham last season, but missed the entire year due to knee surgery. This certainly will delay his development, but it is still possible he breaks into the pros if he performs well and stays healthy. He will have to jockey for playing time with Daniel Robertson when they are both in Durham, but one of Hager's top attributes is his versatility in the field. That versatility combined with his solid fielding, could be his ticket to the pros.
Out of the mlb.com Rays Top 30, we could see 12 in the majors by the end of this season, including the multiple prospects who made their debuts in 2015 but still have their prospect eligibility.