I’m going to preface this by saying that every player should be evaluated and developed as an individual.
That said, every individual follows the same age path, and our bodies tend to follow the same path of gradual decline. Professional sports tend to favor players who are on the incline.
In baseball, we follow “prospects” from ages 18-22 — sometimes younger — and we make projections on what they can do based on many factors. Those factors can include their size, speed, ability to hit, ability to hit for power, ability to play defense, ability to throw a fastball 97 MPH, ability to throw a ridiculously spinning curveball, and so on.
Yet, at some point none of that matters.
At a certain point, all we care about is age.
Player A has skills and abilities, but he’s 25-years-old and hasn’t cracked the majors for good, so he’s now a “Post Prospect.”
The player was considered a top prospect in the game just a few years earlier. He had the same tools and abilities then as he does now. Obviously, that hasn’t led him to the majors yet. And at some point between the ages of 18-22 and 25, we all expect him to arrive and never go back to the minors.
We still give this player a chance.
We just turn the skepticism dial way up.
And if he turns 28, and isn’t in the majors by then, the hope switch gets flipped to the off position.
There’s no Player A, but you’re free to swap in whoever you were thinking about in the above description. There are countless examples to choose from throughout the game who could fit that description.
MLB is a game for 23-30 year olds. The absolute best players arrive earlier, and/or stay later.
Obviously, the above sentence won’t apply to every individual player. But the generalization applies to the masses.
But, what if…?
What if age is only a number?
What if every random player has X amount of good MLB seasons in him?
For some players, X could occur in the early 20’s.
For others, X could occur in the late 20’s.
Right now, Pirates fans are fretting about Ke’Bryan Hayes and Mitch Keller at ages 24-25, while celebrating Bryan Reynolds emerging as an impact player at age 26, and Jacob Stallings becoming a starter at the ages of 30-31.
I spend a lot of time lately thinking about the nuances of how we evaluate baseball players, and how we have created and perpetuated a system that puts such a massive emphasis on age.
So, today’s development discussion question: How much do you think age actually matters when evaluating a prospect’s future in the majors?