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Rays' Souza owns up to rookie struggles
- · Marc Topkin, Times Staff Writer Wednesday, September 23, 2015
BOSTON — The towering homer and three other hits Steven Souza Jr. logged in Wednesday's 6-2 win over the Red Sox won't do much to improve his feelings about a tough first season with the Rays he refers to as "a trial."
Brought in with much hype to replace Wil Myers and at the cost of two promising prospects (infielder Trea Turner, pitcher Joe Ross), Souza has struggled much of the year, hitting .222 with 16 homers and 38 RBIs in the 102 games he has played while serving two stints on the disabled list.
Souza, to his credit, puts the blame on himself.
"The pressure of coming over here and stuff, I tried to fend it off as much as I could, but I really didn't do a good job of handling it," he said. "It's like a dog stuck in a pound. I was always under the radar, and all of a sudden you let it out and I'm all over the radar, and you kind of don't know how to respond. I didn't do a good job of responding and being accountable to that stuff."
That manifested in many ways, taking Souza, 26, away from what worked for him during a stellar 2014 Triple-A season that capped his climb back since a personal and religious redemption that followed a tumultuous start to his pro career.
Most glaring was how he routinely tried to do too much.
"I was taking a load I didn't need to take," Souza said, "trying to carry the team and hit a homer every single pitch. That's just not realistic."
As telling was what he did when he was sitting on the couch.
Souza had rarely paid attention to baseball when he wasn't at the field, but now he was coming home and flipping around the TV to look in on how other players were performing and, to a more troubling extreme, how he measured up. His wife, Mikaela, asked what he was doing.
"I think I just got wrapped up in everything, in baseball, in what everybody else was doing," Souza said. "I got put in a pretty esteemed category of players out of the gate, and when everything was going good, it was fun to compare. And then as soon as a scuffle hit, comparing wasn't as fun anymore. … Comparing became disheartening."
"It was like I was not performing up to that part, and I needed to do more. And it would just kind of add on," Souza said.
"I needed to find outlets and they were the wrong ones. … Instead of going home and spending time with my family and spending time with the Lord — those are the things I did most often in the past … but I didn't make it a priority to do that — I was consumed by what other people were doing, like he's hitting this, or he's struggling, too, okay, good."
Souza is confident he has learned from the experience and will be better for it, as well as being more comfortable with more time around the Rays, who improved to 74-78 with the win. The 4-for-5 game, after extensive pregame work, snapped an 0-for-10, and the homer was his first since July 4.
"There have been some times where I know I can do the type of things that make me bad and there are some things that I need to stick to that will make me click," he said.
"And through it all, remembering who I am and why I'm playing the game."
WHEN ONE PITCH IS ALL YOU NEED
0Last Wednesday night, there was a moment when Carlos Gonzalez probably thought he might be able to come up big. Down two runs with two out in the bottom of the ninth, Charlie Blackmon had managed to single off of Dodgers’ closer Kenley Jansen just before CarGo stepped to the plate, and with a man on, one swing of the bat could’ve tied the game.
Then reality set in. The count went quickly to 0-2, and in that situation, Gonzalez was likely going to strike out. That isn’t an indictment of CarGo, just a statement of fact: Jansen strikes out 42.5 percent of all the batters he faces, and that figure rises to almost 67 percent after he’s ahead in the count 0-2. After managing to take a close pitch and foul another off, Gonzalez got a rare Jansen slider he couldn't handle. (You can watch it here in .gif form.)
We often get used to dominant relievers being consistently great. For the elite guys, the end of the game is almost automatic most days, and the warm and fuzzy feeling you get as a fan knowing you have proven options at the end of a game is a special one. However, sometimes we need to take a step back and measure the ridiculousness of the stats some of these great relievers are producing.
And so we have Jansen. We know he’s great. He’s been great for a few years now; with his almost sole use of a hard cutter, it’s easy and fun to compare him to a version of Mariano Rivera. With that lofty comparison made, it might not be surprising that he’s putting together a very unique, special season.
Consider this fact: Jansen went the first month and a half of his season without walking a batter. He was injured for April, but after he debuted in mid-May, he didn’t issue a walk until June 28th. During that time, he struck out 26 batters in 15.2 innings. That’s a mind-boggling mix of dominance and control, and it’s formed the basis of what Jansen has become in 2015.
Jansen is the current season leader of a very useful statistic: strikeout rate minus walk rate (K-BB%). K-BB% is a quick way of getting a good look at a pitcher’s overall performance, as it's the stat that comes closest to roughly estimating a pitcher's ERA. It’s obviously not perfect -- one fairly simple statistic is always going to have trouble encapsulating the many factors that go into a pitcher’s overall performance -- but it works quite well in a back of the napkin situation.
Even if K-BB% isn’t perfect, a pitcher is doing a lot of things right if they find themselves toward the top of the K-BB% leaderboard, as they’re striking a lot of batters out while issuing very few walks. Last year we had Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller, Sean Doolittle, and Brad Boxberger as the leaders in K-BB% as relievers, and we know they are some of the very best late-inning pitchers in baseball. We still have a few of those names this year, but with one big change. Take a look at the top 10 for greatest K-BB% in 2015 among qualified relievers:
You could say Jansen has joined the club, but that’s an understatement: he’s leading the pack by a wide margin. The thing that makes Jansen special is that he’s been able to limit his walks so effectively this season. To strike a ton of batters out, you usually need to throw hard. When you throw hard, you have a more difficult time controlling where the ball goes. Very few pitchers are able to hold these two opposing forces in balance; Kenley Jansen seems to now be one of them.
To further illustrate the excellence of Jansen’s season, let’s take a look at the 10 best seasons for K-BB% since 1990 (relievers only):
Not too much of a surprise -- we only have pitchers from recent seasons. The nature of the strikeout has changed drastically in the past decade, which is what makes comparing this era to other eras difficult. Still, we have some incredible company here: there's Craig Kimbrel's outstanding and unhittable 2012 (which may be at the top of this leaderboard for some time), a couple of Chapman seasons, and Eric Gagne's famous 2003 Cy Young campaign. Billy Wagner and Brad Lidge are the only two older pitchers who can really hold their own in the face of the incredible strikeout rates of the past few years, so we should give them a little extra credit where it's due.
By far the most remarkable element of Jansen's season is the way he's gone about putting up these numbers. Here's the rate at which he's thrown his cutter every year since coming into the league in 2011: 73.3 percent (2011), 89, 85.9, 83.5, 85.1. He has a small percentage of pitches that were classified as four seam fastballs (usually between 5-10 percent), but they could very well be misclassifications, meaning his rate of cutters could be slightly higher. Jansen strikes out over 40 percent of the batters he faces with basically one pitch. His slider is good (as we saw above with the CarGo strikeout), but he only uses it about 10 percent of the time. This is almost all about the cutter.
Does the fact that he has such dominance with one pitch make Jansen's cutter among the best pitches in the game? Perhaps. By run values among relievers, there are many fastballs considered better than Jansen's, but they're thrown by guys who normally have at least a few more pitches. The only other reliever who relies on one pitch as much as Jansen does is Zach Britton (who throws a sinker), but he hasn't posted anywhere near the unbelievable strikeout rates that the Dodger's right-hander has this season.
In Jansen, we have a rarity: a preternaturally dominant closer who relies almost entirely on one pitch. In 2015, he's taken a leap forward, cutting his walk rate while increasing his strikeouts, vaulting him into rare territory among the best strikeout/command relief seasons in the past two decades. For the Dodgers, the steadiness of their closer has been a welcome trend in a season filled with a few bullpen problems. For Jansen, he'll keep doing what he always has -- cutter, cutter, cutter. Just like Mariano Rivera, everyone knows what he's going to throw, and they still can't hit it.
"This is a grown-up game, and once you get into it you've got to understand it's a business. If you don't understand that, you're going to be lost."
The professional baseball league played in 43C heat
- · 5 September 2015
At 110F (43C), beads of sweat form on exposed skin almost instantly. When the sun blazes, the heat takes a heavy toll. Walking is an effort, never mind sustained physical exertion.
And yet in Arizona, this is baseball weather. Every June, hundreds gather in spring training complexes run by Major League Baseball (MLB) franchises on the outskirts of Phoenix to play in the 10-week-long Arizona League. It's the bottom rung of professional baseball, the farthest point from the big leagues one can inhabit while still drawing a paycheque.
The League of Fire, as it's sometimes called, is populated by a collection of teenagers fresh out of high school, former university-level players, recent arrivals from overseas teams and veterans working their way back from injury.
They've received invites - or were drafted - by one of the 30 Major League baseball clubs. Housing and some meals are provided by the clubs, and players earn $1,100 (£719) a month before taxes.
A lot of these guys aren't going to make it. The numbers aren't with them, but they're all tryingGreg Thomas, Arizona League fan
For a few it's the first step toward a professional baseball career that ends in fame and fortune. For others it's the last stop before a more traditional career - one that doesn't involve running around on grass and hitting leather balls with cylindrical pieces of wood.
On a typical night in mid-July, the A's face the Rangers at the former's training facility in Mesa, Arizona. The evening temperature hovers around a relatively balmy 103F. The players, however, have been out since mid-afternoon, stretching, drilling and taking batting practice.
"You really can't prepare for this kind of heat every day," says Sean Doran, the strength and conditioning coach for the A's. "Some players just aren't ready for it, especially the new kids. They try to go hard, and it's too hot. They're sweating all day, and they don't know how to replenish."
Although the two teams play by the same rules and wear the same uniforms as their big league counterparts, the Oakland A's and the Texas Rangers (based near Dallas), that's where the similarities end.
There are no cheering crowds. Although admission is free, few area residents know about the games - and those who do aren't particularly interested in braving the evening heat when there are no food vendors, no public address announcers and no jumbo-sized scoreboards showing player names or instant replays.
Often the games look more like a community softball match than the proving ground for future stars.
The small metal bleachers are mostly filled with teammates not playing that day - pitchers and the injured - who have to stay at least until the game is halfway through.
On this night, Mesa resident Greg Thomas, and his son Jackson, 12, constitute the bulk of the A's non-player cheering section. The father says he learned about the league from a friend and loves the chance to watch some free baseball.
"If you look, there are some good players out there," Thomas says. "They're all trying to reach the majors. A lot of these guys aren't going to make it. The numbers aren't with them, but they're all trying."
Those numbers are daunting. Of the thousands of players who pass through Arizona and a league in Florida for East Coast teams, only 3% will ever rise through the ranks and set foot on a Major League field. For the A's that means tours with teams in places like Burlington, Vermont; Midland, Texas; and Sacramento, California.
So close, so far
One player in the stands has come close, however. Jeff Urlaub, a pitcher who grew up in nearby Scottsdale, Arizona, made it as far as Sacramento last season, four rungs higher than the Arizona League and just one step below the majors.
"It was awesome," he says. "You're realising that you're getting closer and closer to your dream the higher up you go - but the higher you go, the better the talent is."
Now Urlaub is back in Arizona, recovering from surgery on his throwing arm. He notes that casual fans don't appreciate how hard the players have to work; how professional baseball - which he's played for five years - is a daily grind.
"Unless you go through a week in our shoes, nobody has any idea," he says. "You don't realise when you're in the minor leagues, there's practice before every game, the travel is incredibly hard at some levels, you've just got to get used to playing every day, playing through soreness, playing hurt. It's all part of the job."
Dakota Chalmers - an 18-year-old from Georgia - is just starting to learn about the endurance test that is a professional baseball season. During the evening's game, he sits at a table behind home plate, jotting down information on the night's starting pitcher, Xavier Altamirano.
Just a few months ago, Chalmers was pitching in high school. Now, as Oakland's third selection in the 2015 player draft, he's the second-youngest player on the A's team. He's also a millionaire.
Although the standard pay for Arizona League players is meagre, high draft picks are offered a one-time signing bonus. Chalmers, who can throw a baseball 94 miles per hour and mix in slower pitches that swerve and dive as a batter swings, pocketed $1.4m to play for the A's.
He says despite his top-pick status, however, he's not treated any differently.
"Once the draft is over, everyone is on the same team," he says. "You're at the same spot, and you all have equal opportunities. Just going out there and doing what got me here is good enough."
Even Altamirano's work isn't finished after he leaves the field. When the starting pitcher is done playing for the night, his next task is to recover balls hit out of play. In the budget-conscious Arizona League, foul balls aren't fan souvenirs, they're team property.
"Gotta have that," Craig Lefferts, director of player rehabilitation, barks to Altamirano from his seat in a golf cart near the bleachers, as a ball sails over the fence behind them.
Lefferts pitched 696 games in the big leagues over an 11-year career, including twice in the World Series. Now, he's enjoying watching Altamirano sprint farther and farther into the night to chase down errant balls.
"It's just natural to want to help out," Altamirano says. "You're not better than anyone else, that's my mentality."
A grown-up game
Garvin Alston, pitching co-ordinator for the entire A's organisation, is another ex-Major Leaguer, having spent three years with the Colorado Rockies before an injury ended his career. He points to a long scar that runs up the inside of his throwing arm.
"It was everything I dreamt of," he says. "Unfortunately, I got hurt early."
He says he knew when it was time to go, although he wishes he had made more effort during his playing days to enjoy the journey.
"It was all about career, it was about baseball," he says. "Instead of creating memories with friends and doing more."
Now he tells the players he coaches to keep perspective and learn to handle the physical and the mental aspects of the game.
"They want to impress and try to do things to make sure we remember them," he says. "They don't understand that it has nothing to do with that. It has to do with your everyday preparing, getting ready for the game, how you deal with failure and how you deal with the successes."
Alston's son, Garvin Alston Jr, also plays baseball - although he opted to turn down a contract from the Chicago White Sox to take an athletic scholarship at nearby Arizona State University.
"I told him, son, it's too early for you," he says. "This is a grown-up game, and once you get into it you've got to understand it's a business. If you don't understand that, you're going to be lost."
Meanwhile, on the field, the game rolls on. A new pitcher, Jesus Rivas from Venezuela, gives up a string of hits to the Rangers, who take the lead.
"Tranquilo!" shouts A's manager Ruben Escalera to his rattled pitcher. Calm down.
More than half the 37 players on the A's hail from Latin and South America, so Spanish often is the primary language in the dugout.
A few of the US-born players in the stands echo him. "Tranquilo! Tranquilo!" they shout, half-jokingly.
It may be the only word of Spanish they know, but if they're going to make it in the Major Leagues - where 29% of the players are Latino - a bit of Spanish fluency isn't a bad thing to have.
The exhortations are in vain, however, and the A's end up losing. After the game, outfielder Brett Siddall packs up his gear, drenched in sweat from a long day of work. The heat might be hardest for him.
Born in Windsor, Ontario, just a few months earlier Siddall was playing university-level baseball at Canisius College in Buffalo, New York.
"I try to tell myself I'm getting used to it, but it seems to be getting hotter every day," he says.
"But it's been fun," he continues. "I'm meeting a lot of new guys, the coaches and players. I get to know everybody's name. Things are settling down now."
For Siddall, however, that routine wouldn't last long. A week later, after batting .342 over 19 games, he was promoted to the next level, joining the Burlington Lake Monsters and putting the League of Fire behind him - with any luck, for good.
The average summer high in Vermont? 79F.
No easy way for Matt Harvey
By Tim Brown
That said, Matt Harvey’s got to pick a lane.
He is a grown man, 26 years old, facing a difficult decision, one that could run his career – his life, even – in so many directions. Harvey, who has thrown 176 2/3 innings with 12 games left in the Mets' schedule, is surrounded by strong adult figures with strong opinions, people with his best interests in their hearts but also their own to abide by. They’ve gotten him this far, too, to where he perhaps hasn’t had to make too many consequential decisions, beyond fastball or changeup.
So here he is, to pitch and help the Mets and win the hearts of Mets fans, or to part-time pitch and help the Mets a little and possibly hurt them and risk the ire of Mets fans. And all for a hazy concept of elbow preservation that may or may not be real, along with – let’s be honest – a quarter of a billion dollars that may or may not be waiting.
It’s a lot to consider. Harvey is not a bad person, or a soft person, or a greedy person, for hesitating. He has one pitching arm. One career. The Mets will have many seasons of baseball.
It is, however, time to make that decision, and then to defend it. He cannot act the victim, not as a 26-year-old, as a grown man, as the one in charge of what happens from here. When Terry Collins removes him from a game, Collins owes him no explanation. When Collins explains himself as a courtesy, Harvey should look him in the eye and thank him for his time and concern.
When reporters ask him if he is on board with the club’s decision to limit his innings and therefore put itself at risk for games such as Sunday night’s, Harvey must be accountable for his part in that. The plan, after all, is his. The agent works for him. The doctor is merely guessing. The team has its own agenda.
Matt Harvey is in the middle. That’s why he has to decide. More, he has to own it, whatever it is and whatever becomes of that. He may as well get used to it, because he has a whole life of the same ahead.
The Double-A Jump
SEPTEMBER 22, 2015 BY ALEX SKILLIN
In a sport where empirical analysis has become vitally important, little is now taken for granted within baseball. Indeed, one of the central tenets of sabermetrics is to question everything, to challenge even the game’s longest-held assumptions in the hopes of correcting any unseen biases. Conventional wisdom isn’t so much attacked as it is scrutinized and re-examined in a manner where faulty generalizations are remedied and room is made for nuance.
In the world of scouting, the jump from High-A to Double-A has long been seen as the most critical for a prospect’s future. Double-A, the thinking goes, is where a minor leaguer’s true ability is tested for the first time against competition that can also list “future big leaguer” as a realistic goal.
It’s the level where weaknesses are often uncovered — that hole in a hitter’s swing now exposed, that pitcher’s inconsistent command now a problem that needs fixing. If you excel in Double-A, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll get a shot in the majors, and sometimes you’ll even bypass Triple-A altogether.
But why is Double-A the proving ground for prospects? Why is this level the place where the game’s most talented youngsters truly cement themselves as major-league ready?
Why, in other words, are the adjustments made at Double-A so telling and significant for a prospect? And is this still the case, as conventional wisdom has long assumed?
“Double-A isn’t a magical level where unexpected things happen,” FanGraphs’ lead prospect analyst Kiley McDaniel told me via email. “It’s more a product of how the minor league promotion system works.”
This reality becomes more clear when looking at the makeup of Triple-A squads, which aren’t stocked with prospects but rather used as “more of an inventory level for big league rosters,” as McDaniel puts it. While plenty of future major league stars make their way through Triple-A, the level is also filled with failed and fringy big leaguers who are in their late 20s and early 30s — aged long past the point where they can still be considered legitimate prospects. Every once in a while, said players will even become folk heroes.
A step below in Double-A, however, teams are still looking to shape future big leaguers from less fully formed balls of clay. Rarely do you see players aged into their late 20s (except on rehab assignments), and the overwhelming majority of players on the roster have a reasonable chance of reaching the majors.
As a result, McDaniel says, “Double-A is the highest level where development is still happening.”
Further down the minor league ladder in A-ball, the competition isn’t nearly so consistent and challenging, especially for baseball’s most talented youngsters.
Speaking about the differences between the lower levels and Double-A, long-time prospect writer John Sickels talked about the “winnowing process” that has occurred once players move into the upper minors.
“This sounds banal, but it is true: The players are simply better [in Double-A]. At the A-ball level there are many ‘organization players’ and roster-filler types who aren’t likely to succeed at higher levels…pitchers with 86 mph fastballs, position players who can defend competently but don’t have impressive bats, etc.”
Sickels also pointed out how there are 60 rosters at the A-ball level, but just 30 Double-A teams. “There are half as many roster spots to fill. It is the key step in distinguishing roster-fillers from genuine prospects.”
So what differentiates a minor leaguer who performs well at Double-A from those who simply succeed against weaker competition down in the lower levels?
For one, hitters have to show they can excel against pitchers with plus velocity and good secondary offerings.
“A Double-A pitching staff will have more genuine prospects, more guys throwing in the 90s, more guys with refined breaking pitches and more guys with sharper command,” Sickels said.
Consequently, young hitters who feast on easier competition due to athletic ability alone often have difficulty making adjustments.
As Al Skorupa, a member of Baseball Prospectus’ prospect team told me, “In A-Ball, some guys have loud enough tools that they succeed without refining their approach.” He said that’s no longer the case in Double-A, where pitchers “really throw more strikes and locate a lot more consistently.”
Given that pitchers possess better command across the board, hitters aren’t able to succeed by taking tons of pitches and getting ahead in the count against hurlers who don’t consistently locate their fastballs.
“Lots of hitters will show a falsely good approach in the low minors,” Skorupa said. “Those guys get promoted and suddenly you’re not waiting out Double-A pitchers like that. Suddenly you’re down 0-2 a lot and your slash line plummets. Most of these issues aren’t exclusive to the Double-A jump, of course. All these issues exist at every level jump to some degree. It’s just at that level, we see the biggest degree of differences.”
Of course, pitchers face similar challenges upon reaching Double-A. Where once they could dominate lower-minors competition solely with big velocity, hurlers now have to mix in secondary offerings and sharpen their command.
“One noticeable change for pitchers moving from High-A to Double-A is the ability to consistently locate a breaking ball while also throwing around 90 mph,” McDaniel said. “Those two abilities alone will likely get a pitcher through the A-Ball levels pretty easily.”
Just as hitters face a tougher brand of competition, so too do pitchers have to prove that they can continually succeed against better quality opposition. At a level where batters are beginning to develop a smarter, more refined approach, young hurlers can’t overmatch batters without their own well-executed plan.
“A typical Double-A hitter is less likely than his A-ball counterpart to chase junk pitches outside the strike zone,” Sickels said. “You’re more likely to find hitters capable of handling major league quality fastballs; there are fewer weak bats that you can just overpower. If your command isn’t sharp, or if you don’t have something to go with your fastball, those weaknesses will get exposed quickly in Double-A.”
As a result, fastball command and the consistent ability to get ahead in the strike zone grow in significance once a pitcher reaches the upper minors. The emphasis is less on developing and improving upon new offerings and turns instead toward sharpening up the rough edges remaining in one’s game.
Development, in other words, is no longer always the primary motivation. With the bright lights of the majors beckoning, the sharpening of tools into usable big league skills takes a more central role. And this notion — that Double-A is the place where the focus begins to shift toward the major leagues — is what separates the upper minors from A-ball. Adjustments are now made with a view toward how one can contribute at the major league level. Room for growth still remains, especially among the youngest players, but Double-A is where prospects begin preparing for how they’ll contribute in the majors.
As Skorupa told me, “In Double-A, it’s time to stop focusing on developmental issues with players and shift focus to ‘how can this player help the major league team in the near future?’”
“You really are just a phone call from the majors once you hit Double-A, so we’ve gotten to the point there where teams are thinking of your place on the depth chart.”
With the game far more competitive between the lines, players also have to take their preparation off the field more seriously. When a prospect reaches Double-A, there are few guys still remaining who can be labeled as “projects.” Players who have the talent but not necessarily the work ethic and/or desire to improve on their weaknesses rarely reach the upper minors.
“Players really need to have their heads on straight by Double-A. You can’t be someone who’s not taking his prep work seriously at this point,” Skorupa said.
Indeed, the increased professionalization of the game at Double-A is another challenge prospects face. The talent level is more uniform in a way many minor leaguers have never encountered before, with few youngsters able to succeed on their athletic ability alone anymore.
For the first time, a prospect who has long dominated his peers, from Little League to high school to the lower minors, might have to experience extended failure. A player’s aptitude for making adjustments, putting in the extra work and being open to advice from coaches only grows in importance.
What this underscores is the tremendous nuance in player development and all the adjustments prospects have to make — both on the field and off — at a young age to succeed against increasingly tougher competition. Just about every player who reaches Double-A has the physical skills to play in the big leagues, but those skills become less and less of a separating factor the further one climbs up the minor league ladder.
This is what makes projecting a prospect’s future performance so difficult, of course. The process of determining why one prospect failed while another thrived, why one youngster makes the necessary adjustments and the other can’t is remarkably opaque. So many factors affect a young ballplayer’s maturation, and organizations are just starting to focus on those.
Since hiring Gabe Kapler as the club’s director of player development last offseason, the Dodgers have begun concentrating on numerous new ways to aid the growth of their prospects. They memorably posted a sign in their dining room during spring training that declared the club as “the healthiest team in pro sports,” with Kapler emphasizing the importance of nutrition and eating healthy. Under Kapler, the team is also stressing the value of communication and mental health, two factors that have been frequently overlooked in player development.
You can bet the Dodgers aren’t the only organization bringing progressive thinking to the minor leagues, even if the club’s efforts are the most publicized. The impact these different approaches ultimately have on prospect development remains to be seen.
This season, of course, a bevy of talented youngsters have debuted in the majors, and many are making a big impact from day one. Plenty of rookies, moreover, have gotten their initial exposure to big league competition straight from Double-A in 2015, with the likes ofMiguel Sano, Byron Buxton, Michael Conforto and Kyle Schwarber all skipping over Triple-A to contribute to their big league teams.
From this perspective, the significance of Double-A on a prospect’s path to the majors hasn’t changed one bit. If anything, the upper minors have grown only more competitive and more vital to a youngster’s development into a major league-ready player. As Jeff Zimmerman has shown at FanGraphs, players are now hitting their primes earlier, with their best performances coming at younger ages than we’ve traditionally seen.
Much of this is the result of how players are developing down on the farm, and Double-A is still the place where a prospect must make the most crucial adjustments to his game. Not every minor leaguer who excels at Double-A will turn into a major league star, but the level still tells us the most about a prospect’s outlook.
With baseball’s best players only growing younger, Double-A remains the proving ground where prospects are shaped into major leaguers.