Friday, May 23, 2014

Development Takes Time


 For my Twitter followers (thanks, Dad), you may have noticed that I'm not one to back down from what I feel is impatience and unwarranted criticism from Blue Jays fans about the club's prospects.
   As spring training ended, I took on a couple of fellow Twits who were very down on Kevin Pillar, preferring the toolsy but highly unpolished Moises Sierra.
  Earlier this month, I did battle with a critic of Marcus Stroman, who was ready to unload him after all of 4 major league appearances.
   Even though with his first three hit game of his young career did Pillar manage more hits in a game than Sierra did in almost a month with the club before being designated for assignment, we take no great pride in that, because it takes time to develop a major league ball player, and that process doesn't necessarily end when they're promoted to the bigs. Sierra just ran out of it with the Blue Jays.

   We're reminded of Crash Davis' advice to young Ebbie (Nuke) LaLoosh upon learning of Nuke's call up to The Show:

   Look, Nuke -- these Big League hitters 
                         are gonna light you up like a pin 
                         ball machine for awhile -- don't 
                         worry about it. Be cocky and arrogant 
                         even when you're getting beat. That's 
                         the secret.

   And then there was this little exchange with a follower who had made his mind up about Stroman pretty early in his MLB career.  Apparently, the scouts, front office personnel, and evaluators like Baseball America don't have a clue what they're talking about:

Fortunately for Toronto, it has young starting pitching ready to help in No. 2 prospect Marcus Stroman.
Stroman was Duke’s first-ever first-round pick in 2012, so he’s not a stranger to longshots, which is good because he faces more scrutiny for his size.
Stroman is just 5-foot-9, and since 1960, only two righthanders that size or shorter (Tom Phoebus and Tom Gordon) have made more than 30 starts.
What he does possess is plus stuff. Stroman has a heavy fastball at 92-95 with above-average movement, and he has an out pitch in his upper-80s slider. His weapons also include a plus cutter that can touch the low 90s and an average changeup that flashes plus potential.
He also possesses quick-twitch athleticism and is an excellent defender, helping cut down on other teams’ running games. One thing to note is Stroman was suspended for 50 games in August 2012 after he tested positive for amphetamines.
Coincidentally, the Jays have kept Stroman and McGowan on the same schedule, meaning Stroman could step right in, with McGowan moving to the bullpen, where he was successful last season. McGowan is expected to start Tuesday, but clearly, the Jays are expecting more.
Stroman’s size might scare off some teams—or fantasy owners—but not the Blue Jays. John Lott of the National Post in Toronto cited a source within the Jays’ management who said Stroman is a “fully-formed pitcher” ready to help now and just needing a spot to open in Toronto.
Stroman is 1-2, 2.18 at Triple-A Buffalo with 26 strikeouts in 20 2/3 innings and while his changeup still needs work, his fastball and slider appear ready for the big time. His control remains a positive, as he’s walked just six after walking just 27 in 112 IP in 2013.
But Stroman, who turns 23 Thursday, had only pitched 131 innings as a pro entering the season with a high of 112 in 2013 and it’s unclear how much of a burden Toronto would put on him this soon. Expect the team to monitor his innings and pitches likely for the entire season, should he be called up this early.
-Baseball America, April 29, 2014

  1. rather than just watch, you should probably read and research as well. You obviously lack a lot of baseball knowledge
  2. the way you speak of him, you already think he's a star. He's not. You yourself remind me of Gibbons. Unreal.
  3. he hasn't since he was called up. Talk to you in September, that's if you don't mind being wrong
  4. Stroman is an overrated prospect at best. He's 5'9". That height can cut it in minors, not in the bigs. Silver platter.
  5. can't go by MILB numbers. He doesn't have it. Stop comparing him to Halladay. That's ridiculous.

      Even though Stroman was sent back down, we have no doubt that he will be back, and while there's still some question as to whether his long term future lies in the rotation or the bullpen, he has an electric arm, and not only does he have little left to prove in AAA, it may have a negative impact on his development if he spends too much time there.
   And to be clear, we weren't suggesting that he was another Halladay, but we did point out that Halladay was rocked in his second major league season, posting a 10.64 ERA, the highest in MLB history for a pitcher who threw more than 100 innings in a season.  If Twitter existed back then, it's likely that fans like Mr Adornetto would be screaming for Halladay's demotion.  Our point in making the comp is that development takes time.  In Halladay's case, that meant going all the way back to High A ball and completely rebuilding both his delivery and his confidence.  It wasn't until his fifth year in the bigs that Halladay started to fulfill the promise that had led the Blue Jays to take him with the 17th pick in the draft eight seasons earlier.
   The Blue Jays roster, of course, is full of players who needed multiple chances to finally prove themselves and stick in the bigs.  Jose Bautista's career was all but over when he got a chance to play everyday at the end of a lost season for the club in 2009, and smacked 10 home runs in September.  Bautista had been discarded by five teams (four of them in one season), before breaking through in 2010 at the age of 30, and capturing the AL MVP.  Edwin Encarnacion, who just beat the Red Sox with his bat and his glove as the Jays swept the Beantowners, took three seasons to stick with the Reds, but they gave up on him in his fourth year, insisting the Blue Jays take him as part of the Scott Rolen deal.  The Jays optioned, then DFA'd Encarnacion in June of 2010, meaning that all 29 other MLB teams could have taken him, but passed.  Brett Lawrie seemed to take a step back in his third season last year, and while he seems to have rebounded at the plate, he's still onlymbl 24, several years away from his prime.  RA Dickey's minor league adventures are too detailed to list here.
   Baseball is full of jumps for most players (high school/college to rookie ball, rookie to full season, A to AA, AA to AAA), and of all of them, the leap from minor league to major league ball is the biggest.  Some make the necessary adjustments, and manage to stick their first time up.  Many, many others need one or more stints back in AAA, and some of those fail to adapt, and run out of options.  When a team promotes a player, it's not a throw at the dart board; it's only when the minor league team's coaching staff, the parent organization's scouting staff, farm system people, and management agree that the player is mature enough and developed sufficiently that they feel that they will at some point respond to the challenge of being in the major leagues, and that keeping them in the minors will likely only serve to limit or impair their progress.  If it's a warm body a team needs to replace an injured player at the MLB level, there are plenty of those in AAA, and organizations will choose one of those  if a prospect is deemed not ready.  That Marcus Stroman struggled more likely was his inability to handle the initial pressure as well as the transition from starter to reliever, and not his ability as a pitcher.  He has been successful everywhere he has pitched, including college, and this experience was more of a speed bump than a roadblock.  He's been hearing he's too small for quite some time.
   It's hard to quantify how long it takes for a player to prove he's an MLB regular.  Generally speaking, the larger the signing bonus the player was paid, the longer time the team will give a player to play himself in or out of a job.  Whether that's 300, 400, or 500 plate appearances, or 100, 150, or 200 innings depends largely on the player's performance, bonus, and the team's status as a contender.  The Jays have invested $1.8 million in Stroman, and while that was below slot, it still represents a hefty expenditure, and the club isn't likely to give up on him just yet.  Since his change is still a work in progress compared to his fastball and slider, that's likely what the club has instructed him to continue to work on in Buffalo.  There was nothing wrong with his velocity in his brief MLB stint, but he quickly found out major league hitters can square up a 95 mph fastball that catches too much of the plate. It's the location/velocity/movement of the fastball and the quality of secondary pitches that get hitters out.  Just the same, 6 big league innings are not enough to prove that Stroman is either destined for greatness or a bust.  The club thought that putting him in the bullpen would give him the best introduction and chance to succeed in the bigs, but it just didn't work out that way, and with both the starting rotation and the bullpen having stabilized, there wasn't enough work available for Stroman, and it's better for him to pitch in Buffalo than sit in the bullpen in Toronto.
   It takes time to develop not just baseball players, but pro athletes in general.  That the Toronto Maple Leafs have one of the poorest drafting records of any professional team is testament to the fact that maybe the organization (not to mention the fans) hasn't grasped this. If there's one lesson that we've learned from all of this, it's that even the most heralded of prospects can struggle once they reach the majors, and that an organization needs to be patient.  Development doesn't stop when a player reaches MLB, and for some, it can continue for several seasons.

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