Quality of Play in the Minors

— Just a quick note about an article in Baseball America (sub. req’d).  BA talked to some scouts who see play this year in the minors, after 20 months off, as being “awful.”  They see poor command by pitchers, too many strikeouts and bad defense.  As one characterized it, the players “trained to increase velocity and spin and they trained to increase exit velocity. That’s it. No one picked up a glove.”

Some of this is quantifiable, as BA points out.  K and BB rates have climbed very sharply.  So have errors.  Fielding percentages are down about ten percentage points in the minors as a whole.

There are probably a variety of factors contributing to these changes.  Some of these trends, like increased velocity and spin, and an increase in true-outcome hitting, are just following the trends in the majors.  Some issues were no doubt pushed along by the pandemic.  Average ages aren’t up in the class A leagues, but some players no doubt are skipping levels they wouldn’t otherwise have skipped.  We’ve talked about that with the Pirates:  guys have gone straight from rookie ball to high A (Quinn Priester) or even from short-season ball to AAA (Ethan Paul), to take just a couple of many examples.  That’s certainly happening in other systems.  Pitching machines can approximate real velocity and breaking balls, but nothing in the backyard can simulate the increased speed of the game as you go up in levels.  That’s especially going to impact defense.

A lot of what BA is discussing is part of the larger debate about the less interesting nature of three-true-outcome baseball.  I think MLB is well aware of the problem, but it can’t tear itself away from the impulse to use every issue as an occasion to try to increase advertising revenues.  Meanwhile, these trends are going to be felt more and more in the minors.

For us, watching the Pirates’ system, it’s just something to keep in mind.  What matters isn’t that we’re seeing a lot of strikeouts, but how the Pirates’ top prospects stand in relation to other players.

— Well, one more note.  BA also has posted one of their “hot sheets.”  Number 5 is Roansy Contreras.  No surprise there, but what I didn’t realize is this:  “Contreras is the fourth-youngest pitcher in the league.”