Originally written December 19, 2012 on Taking Bad Schotz:
One thing that consistently confuses me as someone who pays attention to the inner workings of the baseball industry is the propensity for prospects to be rushed through the minor league system based on reputation and roster needs, rather than results. The minor league system, at its core, provides a process to separate the major leaguers from the washouts, the wheat from the chaff.  Ideally, an organization should only promote players after they have proven to be effective at their current level.  Year after year, players have average seasons in A ball, and they get promoted to High-A, or even Double-A because they were first round picks, or because the Double-A team has a need at the player’s position.  Instead of making minor league transactions with the distractions of draft position and future potential in mind, teams should attempt to view these transactions without subjectivity and solely based on merit. Photo Credit: AP One team that seems to be rather skilled in this regard is the Tampa Bay Rays.  They are notoriously slow to promote their minor leaguers, and when they do, it is for good reason.  Take the case of Jeremy Hellickson. Drafted in the fourth round of the 2005 draft out of his High School in Iowa, he threw a handful of innings in 2005. His first real season in professional baseball, however, was 2006.  He threw 77.2 innings for Tampa’s short-season team, posting an ERA/FIP line of 2.43/2.08.  Following these impressive results, he was sent to the Ray’s South Atlantic League affiliate for 2007.  He continued to impress, putting up a 2.67/3.11 line in 111.1 innings.  He was promoted to High-A the following year and posted an ERA of 2.00 in 76.2 innings.  He was given a mid-season promotion for the first time in his career to Double-A where he pitched to a 3.94/4.37, despite a BABIP of .350, in 75.1 innings.  Instead of moving the then-22 year old to Triple-A, the Rays sent him back to Double-A to prove that he could consistently get hitters out at that level.  He did just that, posting a sub-3 ERA and FIP in 56.2 innings, bringing his career ERA at the Double-A level to 3.27 in over 130 innings.  He finished the 2009 season with 57.1 innings at Triple-A, where he posted a 2.51/2.66 ERA/FIP line.  Regardless, he was sent back to Triple-A for most of the 2010 season where he again showed he was more than capable of retiring Triple-A hitters (2.45/2.73), and was rewarded with a cup of coffee at the major league level.  In 2011, the Rays were finally impressed enough to promote Hellickson to the major league level, where he has remained since. This patient approach to developing prospects has yielded many valuable major leaguers for Tampa Bay, and also contributes to their wealth of depth at the minor league level.  The Rays continue to play above their payroll and compete with teams outspending them by over 100 million dollars. This mindset regarding minor leaguers is one of the main reasons this is possible.  Rays’ GM Andrew Friedman has proven capable of drafting well and developing those draft picks into major league players, and these players provide cheap production for a team continuously strapped for cash.  General Managers around baseball would do well to take a page out of the Rays’ book. -Albright
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