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Baseball Analysis  Mike McCann / Minor Leagues

September 2003


By Mike McCann

People often ask me what my favorite level of minor league baseball to watch is. I always say that I most enjoy watching AA ball. At these levels, the players are a little more refined and play a better baseball game. One would think that by this logic, I would most enjoy AAA games. The flaw in that is that the major league teams mainly use them for storing extra players in their system in case a major leaguer gets hurt. To me, I would rather watch younger guys on their way up rather than people who are hanging around in case a roster spot opens.

Traditionally, players climb through the levels and then make it to the majors. In recent years, teams have stocked their AAA teams with former major leaguers and guys who just aren't good enough to make the major league team. These guys are called up to the major league roster when the major leaguers are put on the disabled list. They need to have backup players at every position in case of injuries that they have access to in a day's notice.

In the past, the players who weren't quite ready for the major leagues and needed a little more seasoning would be playing AAA baseball. They would work their way up the system and play AAA for a season give or take. But now, teams aren't playing their top prospects at the AAA level since the team is made up of guys who need to be ready to jump up to the major league team at any time. Guys who are working their way up the ladder don't always fit this bill. They need to have a player who is good enough to play at the major league level starting for AAA teams rather than guys who need a little more minor league experience.

The top prospects generally jump from AA to the majors and skip over AAA completely. It seems like the once a guys masters AA baseball, teams deem them ready to play in the majors if they have a long term opening. They don't want to move this top prospect to AAA because they have their former major leaguer there in his position. They don't want to release the former major league player from their system in case they need him. Teams also want guys playing everyday, so that they are ready to come up when needed.

This definitely isn't true for all cases, but in general, there are many prospects who never play AAA. AA teams are made up almost exclusively of guys on their way up through the system rather than down. AAA teams have many guys who used to play in the majors, or who can't quite make the jump to the show.

This season I got to see AA players like Binghamton's Craig Brazell, Norwich's Noah Lowry, Frisco's Marshall McDougal, Laynce Nix and Ben Kozlowski, Wichita's Byron Gettis and Jimmy Gobble, and Arkansas's Rich Fischer. All of which are excellent up and coming players who you should know of really soon, if you don't already. In AAA, I saw Omaha's Mike Kelly and Benny Agbayani, Memphis's Jon Nunnally and Kurt Abbott, Sacramento's David McCarty, Oklahoma's Mike Lamb, Manny Alexander and Ron Mahay. All of which spent some time in the majors and aren't considered very good. They are trying to hold on for another shot in the majors.

Personally, I would rather see some younger guys who are both talented and have a little maturity and refined skills playing at AA, than guys who can't quite make the 25 man rosters, but are still good enough that major league teams want to keep the players around. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy watching baseball at every level. But if I had to pick my favorite, it would have to be AA.

I am always looking for topics to write about, so please send me an email and let me know what would be interesting reading for you. Feel free to ask any questions or give an idea for a column.

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