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Baseball Analysis  Mike McCann / Minor Leagues

May 2004


By Mike McCann

I recently received an e-mail from someone explaining that they knew a current minor league baseball player who had been skipped ahead to a High A team despite being a teenager.  The concern was that the team wasn't really taking proper care of the player, but instead they were pushing him up there very fast to see if he really had what it takes.  I really don't think that teams would try to hurt a player in any way, but I think it is an interesting question.

From what I've seen in minor league baseball, teams generally try to take very good care of their prospects.  The guys who are seen as having the ability to make it to the major leagues are given proper guidance to assure that they will be successful at the big league level.  I'm not saying that they don't care about the lesser prospects because they give them attention as well.  But like most investments, the players who have the bigger contracts will taken care of the best.

For the guys who are high picks and get large signing bonuses, they are usually placed at a level right around what their ability is.  In general, with guys who were drafted out of college, they are placed with higher competition than those who are drafted out of high school, and rightly so.  Many of the teenagers who are playing professional baseball are not quite mature enough to handle the pressures of such a high level of competition.  Often times, teenagers are placed in Rookie level ball in Arizona and Florida which are played at smaller fields which have very few people in the stands.  This makes it a smaller step from what they are used to.

There are also many players who are drafted out of high school who have the talent and maturity to play at higher levels.  Many teams will try to place these players slightly below where their talent level lies so that they are given a chance to boost their confidence and dominate at a given level for at least half a season.  If they are able to put up really good numbers, they are moved ahead where they will play until they can put up very good numbers again.  Sometimes, players really struggle with this, and they are moved back down to where they had dominated in order to rebuild their confidence.

If you look at the rosters of a High A team, for example, you won't see many players younger than 20.  And most of the time when you do, it is towards the end of the season when they are looking to fill roster spots due to callups and injuries and want to give a younger player a little taste of what the higher level is like.

The e-mail I received mentioned that the sender was told that players were sometimes moved up quickly through the system just to see if they had what it takes so that they weren't wasting the team's time.  I really don't think that occurs very often.  If the teams are making that big of an investment on a player, they aren't going to throw them to the wolves and see if they can handle it or not.  They want players to be prepared mentally as well.  There are many players out their who have the physical ability to play professionally, but there are many fewer players who can combine the mental prowess required to be successful as a professional athlete.

The scouts have a good idea of which players have the best potential for the future.  All minor league players are being scouted constantly so that their progress is closely monitored.  Each organization has a general plan in place for players to help them be successful.  If something unexpected occurs, a plan can be modified to fit the circumstances.

If there are people out there who disagree with my thoughts, I'd love to hear from you.  Players today are generally nurtured and not pushed to their limits.  Teams are so careful with things like pitch counts nowadays because they want to see all players succeed.  They do not want to force guys to fail.

I am always looking for topics to write about, so please send me an e-mail 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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