You have just articulated the 'typical' reality of baseball player DEVELOPMENT.
And this is perhaps why I've felt like I'm banging my head against a brick wall in regards to recent postings regarding Branyan and prospect blockage.
IMO, the *KEY* point in the above is not the obvious - (good MLB players often struggle when first called up). The *KEY* point is "most good MLB players get sent back down - often more than once).
IMO, Tui and Adam Moore are perfect examples of kids who NEEDED to return to the minors. The first taste was extremely bitter. Doesn't mean they are done. Doesn't mean they'll hit .800 next time around. But, SOP for 29 other MLB organizations is - when your prospects appear to be in over their head - you send them down - and they STAY down, usually for several months - regardless of how much they might beat up on the minor league talent. There is stuff being taught - adjustments being made - psychological damage being repaired.
Yet, it seems today that many really smart people have the patience of Veruca Salt when it comes to prospects.
("Doctors Pineda and Ackley - please report to the E.R. Code Blue. Stat!")
GOOD player development is not easy - and it's not quick - and it isn't always simple. GOOD player development has to adjust to the players individually within the context of a reasonable approach.
The Braves "plan" this year was for Hayward to start the year in AAA. He *BLEW* through AA and AAA in 2009 -- but because it was so fast, the sample was very small. After ST, however, they basically looked at the kid and said: "Right now - we can't think of anything he NEEDS to learn in the minors. We might as well give him shot right now."
And it has worked out greatly. That is the path fans WANT to take. They want Hayward or Pujols jumping into the lineup and posting .900 OPS numbers from day one. But, that doesn't happen often. Your 10-step plan IS the norm. And those trips back to AAA are not JUST because of convention. They are because no player ever improved by simply getting older. They improve by getting better at SOMETHING.
At BaseballHQ, they're in the business of predicting the performances of baseball players. Better predictions mean more money.
They're not perfect -- maybe they're not even better than Taro and CPB; I don't know -- but do keep in mind the important difference between them and us. HQ is accountable. They're tracked. People go back and count up their mistakes. That's the difference between a serious process and blowing your nose: metrics.
As they sort through the "noise" to try to gain the edge over their professional competition, they develop "Laws of Physics" that help the confused roto owner develop his little yellow post-it notes for draft day.
HQ's laws of physics include axioms such as:
- Rotisserie (and MLB player projection) is not a game of precision. It's a game of human beings and tendencies.
- Draft skills, not statistics.
- A player's ability to defy gravity (post good stats) despite lousy underlying skills will eventually run out.
One of the most important Laws of Physics are those addressing Post-Hype Syndrome. The typical fan's attention span on a blue-chip prospect lasts, oh, eight at-bats or ten innings. If Michael Pineda comes up to Safeco and has a bad first month, his entire evaluation will roll over in its grave. To fans.
One HQ principle is: Age can be trended with 100% accuracy. Age never regresses. :- ) A player will turn 26 after he is 25. Heh!
Another is: if a player celebrates his 26th birthday already playing in the major leagues, he is a candidate for a breakout (big-stats) season. Question: how old is Michael Saunders? Hint: he's 23.
=== ARod 10-Step Path to Stardom ===
As a savvy roto owner, you don't lose interest in a blue-chip prospect after 50 weak at-bats. You realize that few star prospects hit the ground running; you realize that Barry Bonds hit .223 as a rookie. And that ARod OPS'ed 16 (!) in 1994 and OPS'ed 72 in the M's dream season.
As a savvy owner, what you expect from ML All-Stars is a path something more like the following:
1. Prospect logs amazing minors numbers.
2. Media machine notices prospect.
3. Prospect gets called up.
3a. Prospect struggles.
4. Prospect gets sent back to the minors.
5. Prospect well-and-truly embarrasses minor leaguers, Year 2.
6. Prospect gets called up again, probably as a role player.
6a. Prospect struggles again (maybe in AB's 100-300).
7. Prospect gets demoted.....
8. Media, and local fans, abandon prospect in disgust.
9. Prospect tears it up in minors, maybe even in majors for a few months. Everybody shrugs their shoulders.
10. Prospect gets starting role in Y3 and explodes. An HQ owner scores a franchise player for $4.
=== In Other Words ===
Michael Saunders' first 224 at-bats in the majors -- in and of themselves -- don't deter SSI. Not even a little bit.
He could be a Hall of Famer and have those first 224 AB's. Or not.
You have just articulated the 'typical' reality of baseball player DEVELOPMENT.
One of your strongest suits, the feel you have for player development, presumably because of seeing it done right in Atlanta :- )
Would think that 80% - 90% of MC / SSI regulars are inclined towards patience with Ackley, patience defined as:
1) Probably give him a shot to super-impress in ST
2) Bring him up in May or June 2011 *IF* he is ripping it up
I think we're pretty open to various options with Ackley, leaning towards waiting. He's a special player, though. Zduriencik himself said that kid, as soon as he is comfortable with curve balls, he's in there.
Pineda? Am pretty sure I'm the only one that announced him as ready to impact the AL right now.
And once the M's fell out of the race, I was open to delaying his service-time clock. Zduriencik's decision on pressing the 2010 season is an intriguing one ... you could get 40 posts to a thread like that real quick. Oh, wait...
With Ackley and Pineda, you've got two different dynamics.
Ackley, *I* would prefer to give a whole season in AAA - (at least, as the plan - unless he's really destroying AAA quickly). Hey, I'm anxious to see him in the majors, too. I'm a UNC Alum, after all. But, I really believe shoving him into Safeco in 2011 could very easily lengthen - not shorten - his development time table.
He's got a great eye. He's got great hand-eye. But, he's a hitting "intellectual". If he's in the majors - and he knows winning or losing is more important than his development, he's going to do what he CAN - not work on what he can't. I believe, in the majors, he could probably become Willie Bloomquist with 100 patience very, very fast. But, he's got the potential to be much, much more.
Give him time to develop, and I think he's Pedroia quickly - with an upside of Utley. You rush him and turn him into Bloomquist++, you've cheated yourself out of the grand prize and settled for the consolation.
Ackley WANTS to win - and even in the minors, he's going to have to fight the urge to just slap it to left because his team needs a hit - instead of working on 'loading' for the power stroke. But, it's a WHOLE lot easier to get the guy to buy into the development needs when playing in front of 1,000 people instead of 30,000.
The "why" for keeping kids in AAA to work is not just the level of competetion. It's whether the games MATTER. If you're Pittsburgh or KC, you can get away with bringing up anyone anytime, because there isn't any pressure to win. In Seattle, there *IS* pressure to win. Maybe not like Boston or NY - but it's there. And you *WANT* it to be there, as a given, if you're going to become a top-flight organization.
Pitchers are a different animal. Bringing up AA pitchers to help out a bullpen is done routinely. But, usually by "disposable" arms - guys you don't care about burning the slavery clock on. The choice on Pineda isn't about stunting growth. If he's got 'stuff' and control pitchers can move very quickly. (The big danger is the kid who learns how to get lesser competition out when he needs to by exploiting the weaknesses that major leaguers won't have).
The club also doesn't really "need" another Figgins (without the steals), which is the best you could hope out of Ackley at the moment. But, the bullpen is in dire need of improvement. While the offense is hapless - Ackley doesn't have what it needs most - power. Pineda, on the other hand, is precisely what the bullpen needs.
The question with Pineda is the slavery clock. Judging what value he might add immediately - "most likely" as a bullpen arm -- versus the continued development and increased workload that he's currently getting as a starter in the minors. The rotation isn't desperate for an arm at the moment - (not like in the Feierabend, HoRam, Weaver days). RRS is battling. (I think he's ultimately doomed - but you don't want to penalize hyphen following a successful rebound -- it's bad for him AND the sense of fairness players need about their organization).
Honestly, I'd like to see Pineda pitch in Tacoma the rest of the year - and get about 10 innings in September (in relief). I seem to recall a stud SP named Paplebon coming up and discovering his destiny was not as a starter - with great results for his team.
An Ackley anecdote from the incomparable Larry Stone:
"This has been a great year for Dustin," Grifol said. "You want to see guys face a little adversity. I hate to say failure; adversity is a little nicer. You want to see a kid face adversity and see them come out of it."
Ackley appears to have done just that. He has his average up from well under .200 early in the season to .249 after Friday's West Tennessee game. That includes 18 doubles, two homers, 24 runs batted in, eight steals in nine attempts and, most impressive, 47 walks, leading to a .385 on-base percentage.
"For this kid to be doing what he is now is a tribute to his makeup and mental strength," Grifol said. "The kid was hitting .131 when I was in West Tennessee 13, 14 games into it. He was at the bottom of the barrel. I walked into the clubhouse, and he was with Pineda teaching him English with Rosetta Stone.
"That struck me a little. This guy has something in there; he knows good things are going to come his way. Sure enough, he's been on a real hot streak, and his on-base percentage is off the charts. That's a key for us. He's a professional hitter. There's no question about it: In all our opinions down here, and I don't think anyone sees it any differently, this kid is going to hit, and hit for average.
"Here's a kid who's faced adversity, come through it at a very high level, with a change of position. We think he's got a chance to be pretty special."
I agree with you that Ackley absolutely has things to work on. But the great ones are always working, always trying to improve. Tony Gwynn and Gar were ALWAYS in the cage, maintaining what they did well and working on what was bugging em.
Promoting Ackley might cause him to press, but it doesn't seem to be his makeup thus far.
Another guy who's a worker: Nick Franklin.
It's barely noticeable, the small notepad tucked away in the dugout or the clubhouse, but it's a big a part of Nick Franklin's success as a hitter.
Franklin, a switch-hitting middle infielder with the Clinton LumberKings, journals about his at-bats. He writes quick notes during games and later reflects on his high points as well as any areas of concern.
"To really understand switch-hitting, you have to be a student of the game," said Franklin, who is hitting .299 with 14 homers, second-most in the Midwest League. "It takes a lot of thought, a lot of time. I write down notes during the game, then after the game, I write down thoughts like, 'My right-handed side, I wasn't getting through, or I was a little late.'
"Being a student of the game is watching how players pitch you, how they approach you," Franklin said. "I think about taking a different approach against different pitchers."
Sometimes you want your athletes just to be special. See ball, hit ball. But Franklin and Ackley seem to want to make it as hard as they can on opposing pitchers while they're racking up the at bats to get to, "see ball, hit ball."
I don't care where Ackley plays - just get him at-bats against good pitching. Franklin I just want to see get to the plate again since no one seems to know where he's been for 4 days...
And it speaks to Ackley being tough because of who he is as a person, as opposed to using will power or a painted-on toughness.
What an awesome story.
Since I've already hijacked this into an anecdote thread, here's one on Smoak from Baker's blog, from a Red Sox blogger who was in the AFL interviewing players.
"I interviewed Matt Wieters and Tommy Hanson and Brian Matusz and Logan Morrison... and made arrangements to talk with (blank) of the NY Yankees. When I arrived in Surprise, I also talked with Justin about doing an interview with him... I explained I had an interview to do with (blank) he agreed to sit down with me the next day. When I showed up in the clubhouse, (blank) and Smoak and two of their teammates were playing cards. The P/R guy went over to (blank) to tell him I had arrived. (blank) responded with disinterest, and the P/R guy said: "You agreed to this interview". (blank) asked the guy where I was from, and he told him I have a Red Sox blog. (blank) responded he wasn't going to do an interview "for any (expletive) Red Sox fan".
The guy came over to tell me what was going on, though I already knew because I had overheard (blank), and as he was talking with me I saw Smoak get up from the card table in the middle of his game. He walked over and asked me if I wanted to do the interview -- then and there. I asked him if he was sure, and he said "Yeah, it's just a card game. You came all the way out here for an interview and you should get an interview". He spoke with me for about 20 minutes."
I really hope Smoak and Ackley and Franklin are the baseball players I think they can be, because I'm enjoying the sort of men they appear to be already.