There are a lot of things I haven’t done in life… yet.
I haven’t gotten into and remained in shape… yet.
I haven’t written that article I need to write this week… yet.
I haven’t finished the book I wanted to read this month… yet.
I’ll definitely write that article, and I might finish that book, and I probably won’t get in shape. But as long as I add the “yet” or “not yet” to the end of those incomplete tasks, I can see them exactly that way: Incomplete.
Yesterday I took a dive into the world of psychology, looking at Stanford professor Carol Dweck’s concept of a “growth mindset” and the power of the word “yet”. Dweck found that when you included the word “yet” or “not yet” to statements like mine above, the result is greater confidence and persistence in the person. That allowed for better grades and performances from the people who were presented with their shortcomings as merely an incomplete task.
The human mind is a mystical thing. Each one of us is born alone. We have nothing in our brains except what others tell us and say about us since birth. In each case, we’re told something enough times that we believe it to be truth. If you’re told that you’ve failed enough, you will think of yourself as a failure. If you’re told that you just haven’t succeeded yet, then your mind still thinks you’re on the right path.
I’ve been relating this stuff to baseball development, because there is a lot of failure in that arena. One percent of high school baseball players go on to make the majors. Most of the minor leaguers you’re pulling for in the current Pirates’ system won’t reach the majors. Almost all of them will fall short of the loftiest of projections placed upon them.
Anything the organization can do to impact their mindset, and make them ignore all of the people all over the internet writing about them in a “their future is basically set” kind of way is a good thing.
There is a key difference with the “yet” tactic in baseball though.
It’s one thing to say “I haven’t learned how to not allow empty soda cans to pile up on my desk… yet.” I’m only 38 years old. One day, I’m going to learn how to avoid this.
It’s another thing to say “Mitch Keller hasn’t reached his full potential in the majors… yet.”
Baseball provides a timeline that can lead to the question “If not yet, then when?”
Mitch Keller turns 26 in April. He hasn’t established himself as an MLB player yet. I think he will, but if he doesn’t do it in 2022, there will be some tough questions for the Pirates to answer. Under the previous MLB Collective Bargaining Agreement, Keller would be arbitration eligible following the 2022 season. If he’s coming off a bad year, entering age 27, that might be it for him with the Pirates.
In that scenario, Keller would likely enter the realm of post-prospects who spend their careers on the waiver wires, or on the first plane trip available out of their club’s Triple-A city. Each of those post-prospects still has a “yet” attached to their shortcomings. Keller could still have success, even if he doesn’t have it in 2022. The problem is that there are so many of those post-prospects, and entering post-prospect realm can be a bottomless pit of being told that you have in fact failed at something, which could make it difficult for a player in Keller’s situation to turn things around.
There’s a limited window for each player at every level. If you’re not good enough to go in the top rounds as a high school pick, you can go to college. If you’re not good enough for the top rounds after college, you can still enter pro ball and play in the lower levels. If you’re around age 22-23 and still stuck in the lower levels, you’ll start to edge toward being released, and most players released from the lower levels are finished.
If you make it to the upper levels, you’ve got a few more years. If you make it on the 40-man roster, you might add a few more years beyond that. Regardless, MLB’s system has a time limit that can make “not yet” an issue.
The challenge for the Pirates is changing the mindset and instilling an infallible level of confidence in as many players as possible, in as little time as possible.
Take, for example, those post-prospects. The Pirates can pick up a guy like Anthony Alford for nothing and try to change his mindset. But they’ll have maybe a year or two to make any progress while they’re a losing franchise. They might have months to work on that type of player when they’re contenders.
If the Pirates could work some psychological magic in that short amount of time, then there would be no limit to what they could do in the farm system with even more time. This is what it sounds like, unlikely magic.
I don’t think it’s unlikely that the Pirates can change some mindsets in the minors. Those players are at an age range where they are very malleable, getting their first independent experience in the real world, and their first test at their first career choice. That’s the most likely time for this sort of approach to work.
And that approach could work, even if there’s a timeline making people wonder “When?”
The “When?” just provides the reminder that no development approach can be guaranteed for success in such a highly competitive industry that is high-pressure, with a limited-window of opportunity.