Baseball prospect development intriguing

For the casual sports observer, last week’s Major League Baseball draft is at the bottom rung compared to the other major pro leagues in North America.
Unlike the trio of Seth Jones, Nathan MacKinnon, and Jonathan Drouin, who are widely expected to go in the top three spots of this month’s NHL draft and play in their rookie season, the top picks in the MLB draft won’t be making their first appearance on the big-league roster for a couple of years.
While that may seem strange to some, for those who follow the development of baseball players, it’s all just part of the process of making it to “the show.”
“I find it extremely interesting as to how you can take the top player on a high school team, and they are not even close to stepping onto the same field as the players who are in the lowest levels of the minor leagues,” said Jason Parks, director of minor league and player development content for Baseball Prospectus.
“The difference between the levels of talent is extreme, as is the attrition rate itself, and one of the things that I love about baseball is that it is a game of failure,” Parks added.
“The developmental system itself is a mechanism that encourages failure and the recovery from that failure to take steps forward, and how the players respond to those challenges,” he noted.
While most fans won’t know much about their prospects until just before they get the call up to the major-league roster, there are some players whose hype alone means that many supporters want them to make their debut right away.
One of those players is 19-year-old Minnesota Twins’ outfielder Byron Buxton, who is tearing up the Midwest League for the Twins’ ‘A’ team in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and quickly has become the most talked about prospect in the minor leagues.
“Well, I want Buxton up, too, but that’s entirely for selfish reasons as he can be really special,” Parks joked.
“When I’m talking to fans about prospects, they get excited about it because it represents the future and hope, and that is something that is very easy to sell,” he reasoned.
“I can talk about how awesome Buxton is doing but for those Twins’ fans watching their major-league team struggle, that hope is not enough as they can’t see it yet.
“They want to know when they are going to witness it for themselves,” Parks conceded. “They want to see a player like that make an impact on their team and help them in a positive manner.”
The hype around top prospects also has become more increased over the last couple of years, especially after Mike Trout of the L.A. Angels and Bryce Harper of the Washington Nationals put up monster rookie seasons in 2012 when they were 20 and 19 years of age, respectively.
“When you have guys like Trout, Harper, and [Manny] Machado [of the Baltimore Orioles] playing as well as they are at such a young age, that is going to alter people’s perceptions a little bit,” Parks said.
“Those guys are special for a reason, and the player that your favourite team just drafted is probably not going to be one of those people,” he stressed.
Those top prospects often don’t even make it to the big leagues for the team that signed them after the draft. Some are dealt to get big named major-league talent in trades, such as what the Toronto Blue Jays did over this past off-season.
“They had been very aggressive in how they had built up their talent pool when it came to prospects, but they are just commodities,” Parks explained.
“The Jays had reached that point where they decided to push a little bit, and they made the trade where they acquired nearly the entire [Miami] Marlins’ team because they felt it was a time where they needed to win at a major-league level.
“Having a ton of talent at the minor-league level is great, but you have to eventually win at the major leagues,” Parks added.
“And I liked the ways that the Jays did it even though they are struggling at the moment.”
When it comes the first round of last Thursday’s draft, Parks was quick to point out that it’s hard to evaluate so soon after the fact and what is going to happen in the next few years with each player, but he feels there is a chance that some of those selected may make an impact in the big leagues one day.
“I thought the [Houston] Astros took it safe with taking [pitcher] Mark Appel number one, as there wasn’t a class with a true first overall guy.
“And while Jonathan Gray [who was taken third overall by Colorado] has better stuff, he also more questions marks around him,” Parks explained.
“I loved what the [Chicago] Cubs did going with [third baseman Kris] Bryant at number two,” he added.
“For an organization that is starving for pitching talent, they took the best player available as they understand that you can package together your top potential talent for a big-league picture, which is what they Royals did with trading Wil Myers to Tampa Bay.
“But I really loved what the [St. Louis] Cardinals did, especially when they took [pitcher] Rob Kaminsky at No. 28, as he was a top-10 talent who fell because he is a six-foot lefty as size is something that teams have a bias about sometimes,” Parks continued.
“However, Kaminsky is a guy who can get it up to 95 m.p.h., has a ‘hammer’ curve-ball, and was one of the best college arms in the draft,” said Parks.
“And I guarantee that he’s going to make teams hurt as the Cardinals are going to develop him well like they have with nearly everybody in their system.”