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Falls Count Anywhere: Young players providing immediate impact

Patrick Lyons Avatar
September 1, 2019

 

In this new series, BSN Rockies reporters Drew Creasman and Patrick Lyons battle for supremacy discussing various hot topics in-and-around the game of baseball.

Creasman vs Lyons… who you got?

Young players providing immediate impact

Topic #1: How are some of the best and most exciting players in the game typically the youngest?

Lyons: Ever since MLB banned performance enhancing drugs, the decline of players in the their early to mid-30s is back on trend from what we’ve seen throughout history. No longer are 37-year-old role players taking up spots on 25-man rosters and blocking playing time from prospects will little more to prove at Triple-A.

In addition, rookies fresh from the minors are being thrust into platoons or even starting roles as a place on the pine is less than beneficial. At one point, waiting in the wings had value for a young player as he learned the ways of the game while seated on the bench. Though this type of learning experience is lost in 2019 – take Ronald Acuna Jr’s recent lack of effort and subsequent benching as an example – the finishes touches on a player’s development are being done in the majors more and more.

Peter Alonso is great example of this argument. Deemed a defensive liablility throughout Spring Training, the Mets decided to look the other way and err on the side of offense. And boy, have they been rewarded. While Alonso has played less than stellar defense – he’s last among qualified first baseman in fielding percentage – he has set the franchise record for home runs, becoming the first player since 1938 to break a team’s record as a rookie. (That record was a whopping 23 home runs by Pittsburgh’s Johnny Rizzo.)

As for the excitement factor, young players have observed a change in obeying the Unwritten Rules of baseball, flipping bats, celebrating big plays and simply displaying more exuberance while playing the game. Let the kids play, suggests MLB; I couldn’t agree more.

Creasman: Even the rich teams are playing Moneyball now. It just doesn’t make sense to pay a player more than what they are worth in the modern game with so many other options available to you at any given time.

Why take a chance on a veteran who the Collective Bargaining Agreements says I have to pay at least a few million dollars when the data suggests there are plenty of guys out there making league minimum who have a chance at producing a similar level of production.

Take the Rockies current situation at second base. Plenty of fans are understandably frustrated that the team let DJ LeMahieu walk via free agency only to see him having such success with the Yankees that he’s liable to be the runner-up for AL MVP.

There are plenty of arguments to be made about the timing of this move and the money spent elsewhere, but even with his career season, LeMahieu is not 25 times more valuable than his replacement, Ryan McMahon, despite the fact he’s getting paid like it.

Last year, Trevor Story was an MVP candidate before hitting arbitration, making slightly more than the league minimum. More and more young players will get their chances because if they pan out even a little bit, they are an extraordinary power. Whereas veterans, the most you can hope for under the current system is for them to just play up to the level of their contract.

Topic #2: Is player development in the minor leagues better than ever?

Lyons: While the Rockies prefer their players get used to playing at altitude in Albuquerque before taking center stage at Coors Field – not to mention developing a mindset for pitchers to posses a certain mental fortitude – other organizations don’t have such restraints on young players. Instead, a quick navigation through the minors and occasional promotion directly from Double-A can equally prepare a prospect for success in the majors.

The physical demands of professional baseball are being met earlier and earlier by younger players every year as various training programs and quality of coaches continues to improve. Even before most players get drafted, they’ve had thousands of baseball games under their belt thanks the sport being played year-long in states like California and Florida as travel ball teams are getting as much credit, if not more, than high school programs for developing players.

On a side note, this type of specificity for constantly doing one activity is a major reason why players in baseball, as well as basketball, are breaking down at younger ages and having medical procedures done like Tommy John Surgery in high school.

Certainly, the mental aspects of becoming a big leaguer can often be what is practiced and preached throughout the minors, but such lessons can be learned by a prospect just as easily in a place like St. Louis as one level below in Memphis, for example.

Creasman: Scouting and developing have all improved in recent years and a lot of it has to do with the age of analytics. That being said, I also think we are still barely scratching the surface. Minor league ballplayers regularly are underpaid and overworked, without getting compensation for things like eating well and working out.

Eventually, some team out there is going to unlock a treasure trove of talent when they decide to bite the bullet that some of the resources spent at the lower levels will never result in production at MLB. There will be guys you invest extra time and money who don’t pan out. But that will pale in comparison to the hidden talents that they can unlock and discover by putting everyone in the organization in a position to succeed, not just the guys at the top.

Topic #3: Should major league teams give more opportunities to unproven, young players in the wake of this surge?

Lyons: Each case is unique, obviously, but with veteran players not typically having options to go to the minors, roster management can play key part in giving opportunities to young players. For a team in playoff contention, entrusting a certain ballgame to an inexperienced player could could derail an entire season; for one without October plans, such opportunities for youngster should be employed as the results of a singular game is much more negligible late in the year.

Overall, teams have increased their use of young players, especially as the demise of performance-enhancing drugs has removed a large majority of players in their mid-30’s off rosters, a staple of that era.

In addition, league minimum salaries and arbitration have also kept costs down for teams looking to put a more affordable product on the field. As the free agent market continues to suffer a downturn, young players have lost some of the value provided throughout the history of the game. With free agency no longer guaranteeing the monstrous paydays for everyone, teams may begin to pivot and give opportunities to more veterans in hopes of keeping a top prospect from reaching arbitration early as a Super Two player or controlling his rights for an additional season.

Creasman: It’s always nice to see the kids play, but let’s also remember that experience is still vital in this game.

It’s easy to remember the Trevor Storys and Cody Bellingers and Jacob deGroms who burst onto the scene, take the world by storm, and never let up as perennial All-Stars, but the reason we think of those names specifically is that they are the exception and not the rule. Plenty of other players with even gaudier minor league statistics flamed out because they were thrown into the fire too soon without the necessary experience to handle it.

Former Rockies starting pitcher Eddie Butler is a primary example that fits this bill. It’s a tightrope you have to walk, and I totally understand why MLB managers and GMs rely on veterans in a lot of situations. As long as young players represent the most exciting moments and best value contracts, they are going to remain at the center of the game.

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