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Friday, August 25, 2006

Rushing prospects    

Talking about the very aggressive promotion of Mariners prospects over at USS Mariner today, some interesting thoughts on how it all came about were aired. I'll just go through some of the interesting comments real quick.

First, Dave, one of the sites authors, noted:

[Bill] Bavasi has always believed in the need to fail before you can succeed. If you heard him talk at the USSM feed this spring, you heard him reiterate this point. He doesn’t want kids failing for the first time in the major leagues. He believes that it is in the best interests long term for a prospect to struggle, and then overcome, before he reaches the major leagues.

I don’t agree with him, and I wouldn’t do it the same way, but I don’t have enough empirical data to take an impassioned stance on the issue. He might be right. I don’t think he is, but I can’t say for certain that he’s not.

Basically, the M’s want [Jeff] Clement, Tui [Matt Tuiasasopo], [Adam] Jones, [Rob] Johnson, and [Oswaldo] Navarro to struggle, and they’ll keep promoting them until they do. They don’t look at Jeff Clement’s problems with PCL pitching right now as a bad thing. They see it as part of the necessary development of a major league hitter.

We’ll see, I guess.

Another interesting comment by a poster a little later:

In April, Bavasi was pretty clear in his reasoning. He thinks the jump to the majors is bigger than any of the steps in the minors, so it’s the place where players are most likely to fail. Furthermore, he thinks that players who fail for the first time in majors are more likely to become demoralised and believe they simply aren’t good enough to play there. As such, he wants them to fail before they reach the majors, and since the steps in the minors are smaller, in order to make the kids fail he needs to push them up really quickly to ensure they do.

And thus, when they do reach the majors and face an adjustment period, they won’t immediately think they’re permanently overmatched; instead, they’ll remember that they fought through just this situation before, and be more able to do it again.
As Dave mentioned, we don’t know if this actually works. But it does seem a pretty well thought out plan.

After some quotes basically supporting Bavasi's position, Dave responded again, with this:

I don’t know about this. The Braves were very patient with Chipper Jones, and he never really struggled his entire career. Same with Todd Helton - the Rockies let him have 400 at-bats killing the PCL, and he started hitting from the day he got to the majors. These are just two examples, but there are a lot more.

I’m not convinced that failure is a necessary key to success for supremely talented players.

So, it seems to me that Bavasi's position on this is a minority view, that people are more likely to complain that a prospect is being pushed along too quickly than being stymied. His position makes logical sense to me, and is actually attractive in that way, but it's definitely nervewracking too.

What do you guys think? I know Chas is a big fan of giving prospects time to develop and offering them safe landings. That's always sounded very nice to me, but I also feel pretty attracted to the notion that many prospects can't learn to hit major league pitching in AAA. Thoughts?


  • Your point about learning to hit major league pitching and the point attributed to Bavasi about learning through failure both have some appeal to me. At the same time, I see guys like Lester and Hansen, who came up too soon and are struggling, and a guy like Pena who came up way too soon and may never be the player he might have been. Is it related? I don't know; then A's and Twins seem to be two of the more patient franchises, but their young players still struggle also. So sometimes patience/caution works and sometimes it doesn't -- does that mean it doesn't matter (or even more wishy-washily, that different approaches work better for different players?)? Again, I guess I don't really have a clue. But my guess is that, at the conservative end of the spectrum, you keep a guy in the minors until he's had a chance to experiment with his approach for a while, and at the other end, you want to have a player with at least some kind of minimum seasoning/maturity that he can use the experience/failure and tinker a bit. Plus, I suppose you also have to factor in how an early callup can affect a player's options/service time.

    More concretely, I probably lean towards the conservative side, although I'd promote a player, even if I wasn't sure about their readiness, if they were "cheating" too much (not BALCO cheating -- pitchers nibbling too much or batters getting by with big holes in their swing, for example) and had mostly figured the other things out. Or something.

    By Blogger chas, at 6:09 PM  

  • I like the idea of challenging prospects, and letting them experience failure. One problem I see though is that, until they experience failure, they're gonna have a really inflated ego.
    This can lead to two possible negative consequences:
    1) guy makes it to the bigs, has yet to fix minor but significant flaws in his game, and has to figure it out under playoff chase pressure and management distracted by other important players (see: Felix, King) or;
    2) guy tears through the minors, but is blocked at the major league level, and his meteoric rise (don't meteors fall? how does this work?) is stalled at AAA (see Tampa Bay).

    By Blogger Alex, at 9:59 AM  

  • addendum to 2)

    the guy being stalled at AAA isn't so much the problem, as what it can do to his attitude. He's been living under the assumption that if he kills a league for 6 months, he can move up. Once that movement stalls, his ego can't handle it, especially if he's still playing well.

    By Blogger Alex, at 10:01 AM  

  • Interesting points. The more I think about it the more obvious it is that there's no formula that could possibly be right for every prospect. Also, how many prospects really never fail at some point in the minors? Is that really something you have to go out of your way to make sure happens? I don't that has me leaning more towards conservative again.

    Also, it seems more and more obvious that Bavasi's own rationale is internally flawed. The most aggressive, unfortunate promotions for the most part have been from AAA to the majors. In that sense, if his whole intention is to make people fail before they reach the majors, well, there's a problem there.

    On the other hand, I'm very skeptical of getting too stuck on things like the player that Wily Mo Peña (or Jeremy Reed, say) might have been. I mean, isn't it possible those guys actually had an innate absolute ceiling and are doomed to failure anyway? I'm not ready to give up entirely on either one of them, don't get me wrong, but if we assume a priori that they had major league potential, because, well, we think they did, we limit our view of the situation.

    So, I guess I like an aggressive approach for the most part, but I would favor a system that delegated a lot of authority on this kind of thing to managers in the minor leagues, or at least gave them a ton of input. Neither the development pattern nor the psychology of each player is likely similar to the last, so flexibility is probably the answer. Which is really not much of an answer at all, but that's the way I am.

    By Blogger Jesse, at 7:12 PM  

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