How to raise a prospect

There are many out there who question the Yankees methods in their advancement, instruction, and mentoring of prospects as they advance through the farm system. A few months ago, I examined the art of developing starting pitchers, and how the Yankees matched up with other teams. As it turned out, they are one of the best teams in the number of starting pitchers they’ve developed. With the time for promotions rapidly approaching (in some cases already passed), I thought it appropriate to examine when the right time to promote a player is.

There are a certain amount of promotions that occur out of need. Obviously if the major league team has a need to fill, the journey to the major leagues may be expedited for some lucky Triple-A or Double-A player. In those cases, there isn’t always a choice in the matter, and there’s not much strategy involved. An example of this is when the Yankees bullpen was decimated with injuries and they had to call on DJ Mitchell for some bullpen help, or last year when Romine was called upon to be the major league backup catcher.

The next type of promotion is the early promotion. We saw it this year with Ronnier Mustelier and Michael O’Brien. With a player like Mustelier it was obvious. He hadn’t found his level yet and it was becoming apparent that he might actually be able to help the major league team very soon. With O’Brien it wasn’t so obvious, but he had already spent close to a year in High-A and no one there could hit him. He’s had a similar experience so far in  Double-A.

Promotions like these are good because these players will get a long look at their new level and could be ready for another promotion by the end of the season. For O’Brien that could mean Triple-A. For Mustelier, the show. The disadvantage of this approach is that some players end up moving too fast. I’ve said this before but if a player is always adjusting to a new level, they will not be able to work on improving their skill set at each level.

Another in season approach is to wait until the minor league all-star break at the respective level, then promote. This approach works out best for young players who are expected to make the all-star team. The all-star game is a nice experience. Players can have some fun and enjoy a nice ego boost before moving up to the next level, where they may or may not be humbled. It also allows them to have a half season under their belt at the new level, which is more than the next two methodologies. This is sometimes enough time to decide whether a player is ready to move up yet another level for the start of the following season.

It also gives time for the improvement mentioned above which a player cannot obtain if they are always adjusting to a new level. At the same time, the player moves up before stunting any development. This is the midpoint between promoting right away and waiting until late in the season, or even after the season. Tyler Austin and Gary Sanchez will likely fall into this group.

In case you can’t tell, this is my favorite type of promotion when appropriately used.  By appropriate, I mean that the player should have good odds at making the all-star team, and be clearly equipped for the next level. Let me be clear about one thing, I do not believe damaging a player’s confidence by moving him too quickly should have any effect on their development. Eventually, every player is going to have to face adversity. If they cannot deal with that adversity, then they are destined to fail as an MLB player. That said, as mentioned above it is important that certain skills be developed at each level before being moved up to the next, otherwise the player may never have time to develop those skills, and their production can and will suffer at the next level.

For example, if Tyler Austin were not showing the power that he has shown in Low-A this season, it would not be so clear cut that he needed to be promoted at the all-star break. It was important that he develop that skill before moving up, where he would have to focus so much on adjusting to High-A pitching that improving his power would be put on the back burner.

The fourth type of promotion is the late season cup of coffee. The benefit to this approach is that it gives a player a good idea of what they need to work on before returning next season. The hazard in this, however, is that you better be sure that said player is going to stay at that level to start the next season. Otherwise you’ll have some unhappy players within the organization.

He could also be taking away playing time from someone at the next level in the midst of a playoff run. Depending on who that player is that could be a problem. All in all though, there isn’t much harm in doing this for a player, and there could be a significant benefit to it. I’m certainly in favor of such a promotion, as long as the player has done everything they needed to do and has nothing left to prove at a given level.

Waiting until the beginning of the following season to promote a player is the final method. It is clearly the most conservative method, and it tends to work well with younger players. Sometimes players will even repeat a level, a la Gary Sanchez. There is nothing wrong with taking the slow approach, especially when you are a team like the Yankees who can afford to sign free agents to fill holes in the lineup.

It is a fine line to walk, however, when a player is ready to move up and wasting away at a given level. There is only so much improvement a player can make against inferior competition. On the other hand, a player should not be promoted until they are ready. Dante Bichette Jr. and Angelo Gumbs are good examples of players who have enough to work on at their current levels that promotions probably wouldn’t be appropriate until the end of the season, even if they begin to really hit their stride.

Promotion schedule should always be tailored to the player, and that is important to remember. All of these promotions merit consideration in different players at different times. There’s no one right answer, but there is usually one right answer for one player each season. This is why coaches must reevaluate players frequently and make intelligent decisions. A player’s development depends on it.

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