When is it time to Promote a Prospect?

You can’t see it unless you’re there, but there is a wide array of data being collected at each and every minor league game.  Behind home plate sit scouts with notebooks and radar guns, as well as last night’s Pitcher, who is charting pitches.  Further up, somewhere in the press box level is a Trackman sensor that can capture upwards of 27 different and unique measurements grouped by release point, pitch movement, plate location, and batted ball.  In the dugout, the Manager and coaching staff are taking mental notes to include in the post game report they file for the affiliate’s MLB parent.  In addition, there are the observations from the club’s roving instructors, training staff, and front office staff that are compiled on a regular basis.  Depending on the time of year, front office staff may be in attendance, taking notes. As fans, we don’t get to see this, but there is a mountain of information collected every game.

For fans whose actual exposure to a minor league prospect consists of looking up their stats on milb.com while clamoring for the promotion of that player, they’re looking at the tip of the developmental iceberg, missing the bulk of that player’s characteristics which lies below the surface.

Promoting a player to the big leagues is a process that can be fraught with hazards.  In the words of Ben Lindbergh of Baseball Prospectus,

Grant promotions too early or too often, and they risk jeopardizing his future by burying him on the bench or subjecting him to the mental and physical rigors of major-league life before he’s equipped to handle them. Delay advancement too long, and they threaten to sabotage his development in a different way, blunting his talents against inferior competition while more expensive players with shorter shelf lives take up space on the big-league roster.

We could be talking about any minor leaguer, but of course, we’re mainly discussing Vladimir Guerrero Jr, who is shredding AA pitching at the tender age of 19.  The media has been full of suggestions that it’s time to promote the youngster, and Blue Jays-related social media has been circling the bases multiple times with that idea.

But as GM Ross Atkins told Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi, there’s more to promoting a player than his numbers:

“That’s just offence, right, when you say statistically,” the Blue Jays GM says in an interview. “There are so many more aspects of the game. And it’s only a month of performance above A-ball, as well. Look, man, we’re elated that he’s having this type of performance and it doesn’t look like this performance is going away, the way he’s doing it.

Atkins did not come out and say that Guerrero, who has played less than 200 games at 3B, needs more reps, but he certainly did suggest it:

“It’s really two things,” Atkins said of the developmental priorities for Guerrero, “it’s first-step quickness and how that impacts his defence, and best possible teammate, because he has the potential to be a leader.”

When it comes down to evaluating whether a prospect is ready for a promotion, teams go far beyond their stats (although minor league numbers, of course, tend to be a good indicator of future MLB success).  Everyone involved with the team’s minor league system has a say in whether a player is ready from a competitive and emotional standpoint for the next level.  For the Blue Jays, that line starts with VP of Baseball Ops Ben Cherington, whose focus with the team is on player development and their minor league system, through Atkins,  and includes Director of Player Personnel Gil Kim,  Director or Minor League Ops Charlie Wilson, High Performance Director Angus Mugford, Analytics Staff, Roving Instructors, Minor League team staff, and likely Special Assistant Tim Raines.  Gathering consensus from such a large group is probably quite difficult, but all have a say, and a player generally doesn’t move forward until it’s reached.  Atkins confirmed that process:

(W)e work through a very detailed process to understand all of the risk factors, all of the objective and subjective information in and around what’s best for a player’s development,” said Atkins. “That’s thinking about the complete player, factoring in environment, factoring in competition level, factoring in resources such as coaches, who he’ll be playing alongside of and what that means for putting the best possible challenge in front of our players in the best possible environment. It’s not about the right time. We’re constantly doing that. We’re constantly factoring in all of those factors.”

The biggest pitfall in promoting a player is that he proves not to be ready for that level, and many teams tend to err on the side of caution in that regard.  The Blue Jays have proven that they don’t mind being aggressive with their prospect promotions, but they have developed a one-step-at-a-time template that they widely adhere to.  Each level of the minors has its own developmental challenges for players, and the Blue Jays see value in spending time at each one – including AAA –  as Cherington told Sportsnet:

“We do feel like it’s important for players to play at the triple-A level. It’s an important development challenge to be here,” Cherington said. “We’ve got players here right now who we really believe in and believe are going to be good major-league players. They are being challenged by this level. This is an important level to be at for some period of time.

“It’s a different level of competition than double-A is,” he added. “Different kind of players you’re facing, different matchups, different game-planning strategies — it’s just a different level of play.”

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Blue Jays Bring in New Faces to Minor League Staffs

The Blue Jays announced their minor league instructional staffs this week, and there was a mix of old and new faces.

Tim Raines was welcomed back into the organization after having accepted an ambassadorship position with the White Sox.  Formerly a roving Base Running and Outfield coach with the Blue Jays, Raines will be serving as a Special Assistant.  Director of Player Development Gil Kim said that Raines will be on assignments during Spring Training, the regular season, and Instructs:

 While most of the focus will be on basestealing development, Rock brings a wealth of playing and teaching experience, and will be utilized in a variety of ways to help both our players and our staff.

The Blue Jays obviously don’t like to say good-bye to quality staff.  Just over a month ago, Assistant GM Andrew Tinnish appeared on his way to Atlanta, only to have a change of heart a few days later.

Bobby Meacham returns to Buffalo for a second year to Manage the Bisons:

Hart is a rising star in the system with his work as Dunedin’s Hitting Coach after joining the organization last year.  Only a couple of seasons removed from his playing days, Hart drew raves for his work in the Arizona Fall League, and seems destined for bigger things.  According to Kim, he quickly and easily builds a rapport with young hitters:

 Our hitters really connect with Corey – he loves talking hitting, knows how to teach the swing, knows how to teach approach, and stays simple and positive. 

Hart takes over from Blue Jays World Series hero White,  who will serve as Buffalo’s Outfield and Baserunning Coach.

New Hampshire will also feature a Blue Jays staffer whose stock is on the rise in Manager John Schneider.

   Schneider is a Blue Jays lifer, joining the organization after being drafted in 2002.  He began his dugout career in 2009, Managing the GCL Jays.  Schneider has worked in the lower levels of the system until last year, when he managed Dunedin to a share of the Florida State League title.  C Danny Jansen credited the former backstop for much of his success in handling Pitchers while with the D-Jays, and Ryan Borucki, who Pitched for Schneider in Dunedin as well, was pumped at the news of him moving up the ladder:

Nova Scotian Vince Horsman returns as the Fisher Cats’ Pitching Coach, and Andy Fermin will be back as Position Coach.  New to the organization is Hunter Mense, who was drafted by the Marlins, and served as the Hitting Coach with the Padres Northwest League affiliate last year.  Mense’s background is a good fit with the Blue Jays High Performance group, according to Kim:

Hunter has a background as a player and has coached at both the pro and collegiate levels.  He’s also a strong learner who has a Masters in Sports Psychology.  He has a strong work ethic, and a true passion for developing hitting.

Former MLBer Casey Candaele, who was the Mariner’s First Base Coach this year, takes over the Manager’s reigns at Dunedin:

Kim is thrilled with the depth of knowledge Candaele brings to Dunedin:

 Casey brings knowledge and experience in so many areas, having previous experience coordinating Infield and Baserunning development along with one year as a Field Coordinator.  He’s had experience as a Major League player, and as a Major League coach.  We’re excited to welcome Casey’s high energy and creativity as a leader in our department.

At Low A Lansing, Cesar Martin returns to helm the Lugnuts:

Antonio Carceres, who had served a stint as the Lugs’ Pitching Coach in 2009 and 2010, returns to Lansing after seven years with Bluefield.  Matt Young, who played with the Braves and Tigers, operated a baseball academy in Texas before joining the Jays this year, and will be Lansing’s Hitting Coach.

Short Season Vancouver will have a new man running the club this year.  Dallas McPherson, a two-time MiLB POY in the Angels system, takes over from the departed Rich Miller.  Longtime Blue Jays minor league Pitching Coach Jim Czajkowski returns, and will be joined by former Jays minor leaguer Aaron Matthews.  Matthews replaces Dave Pano, who will be joining Lansing’s staff.  Kim is high on McPherson:

Dallas McPherson comes to us from King’s Ridge Christian School in Georgia, where he served as the head varsity coach and also founded the Hard Knox travel ball program.  Dallas has a good knowledge of the game, experience as a player and strong leadership skills.  He’s open-minded and is constantly trying to improve himself

Veteran Blue Jays staffer Dennis Holmberg, who has been in the organization since 1979, returns to Manage Bluefield.  Adam Bernero, who Pitched for five teams in a 7-year MLB career, joins the team as Pitching Coach.  Bernero, who has a Masters in Sport and Performance Psychology, served as a Pitching and Mental Performance Coach with Dunedin last year.

Luis Hurtado will return as the GCL Jays Manager, along with Hitting Coach Paul Elliott.  Rafael Lazo moves up from the DSL to act as Pitching Coach, while Mark Worrell joins the team as a part-time Pitching Coach.  Former Blue Jays farmhand George Carroll, who helped rehabbing players at the Minor League complex last year, will joing the staff as a Position Coach.

John Tamargo Jr will return for a second season as the DSL Jays Manager.

Jeff Ware will return as the Roving Pitching Instructor, as will Ken Huckaby as the Catching Co-Ordinator.  Guillermo Martinez, who served as the system’s Hitting Instructor from 2011-2013, returns after three seasons with the Cubs.

After two seasons of little change among the minor league staff,  it was time to head in a new, more Sport Science-oriented direction.  Kim concluded:

 We’ve made several changes and additions in the past two years, and we’ve also seen some of our staff members take advantage of different opportunities whether that’s within or outside the organization.  We realize that at the same time that players are continuously striving to get better, we are as individual staff members and we are as a department.