The Pipeline To The Majors

Some thoughts on what it takes to build a successful farm

There was another great article that was put up yesterday on ESPN Insider (yes, it’s a paid subscription, but well worth it) written by’s Jason Churchill.

As the pic suggests, it’s about the minor leagues and what it takes to build a good farm system, a.k.a. the talent pipeline. But it also bears repeating that there is no one right way to do this. Tampa Bay (#2 this year per Keith Law), for example, leans heavily on the U.S. for its talent; Texas (#1 last year) has been aggressive with international signings and/or trading for international talent.

As we’ve already seen in the comments from yesterday, there are philosophical debates as to when and how high to draft high schoolers… and there are teams that have had success (Kansas City) and teams that have not (*ahem*).

Among the highlights from Churchill’s article…

Recycling Talent — Which means developing players for both the parent club and trade fodder. It’s common for folks to remark about how it’s tough for a third baseman with Zimmerman at the top. But that also handicaps Washington if he were to get hurt, decline, or demand a trade. Having the next Ryan Zimmerman ready gives the team options that right now it doesn’t have.

Balancing The Draft Against The International Market — This is a bit of a third rail for Nationals fans, but Churchill points out that while the domestic draft is considered safer, some teams have been successful leaning heavily on IFAs. His overall point? Any team that doesn’t go outside the U.S. is at a disadvantage. My personal opinion is that folks obsess too much about the high-dollar IFAs, when the evidence is ample that spreading that money out over more players is a better value play. Doesn’t mean I’m right, of course.

Spending — Teams that go over slot tend to get better talent. In a related story, being tall is conducive to playing basketball. But Churchill points out how a “rich” team like the Mets (#26 per Law), which has not been a big spender, is languishing while a team like Cincinnati (#8) has been both spending and getting results. Unfortunately, there are teams like Philadelphia (#5) that seem be able to spend conservatively and still get good results, which contradicts Churchill, too.

The Right Kind Of Depth — I’m going to quote Churchill directly: “The kind of depth that matters means having a true abundance of a particular position or skill, such as starting pitching. Having a good player is nice, being able to spare one is better.” (The italics are mine because it echoes my sentiments exactly). The whiners Folks wrung their hands over not being able to trade for Zach Greinke and Matt Garza, but that’s primarily because such a move would have been almost literally betting the farm (which is basically what Milwaukee did, coming in at #30 per Law and not having a single Top-100 prospect).

Today might just be another multiple-post day, but I thought I’d give the snowbound folks a little some to read and discuss while we wait for the thaw.

Author: Luke Erickson

Since 2009, Luke Erickson has been chief writer, editor, and bottle-washer of Potomac is his home base as a season-ticket holder, but he has visited every affiliate north of Florida at least once, with multiple trips to Hagerstown and Harrisburg.

14 thoughts on “The Pipeline To The Majors”

  1. I was drawn to the “Development” section more than any other

    This quote resonated with me

    “You can’t stop after scouting and signing. Handling these kids properly is essential, and having the right people in the right places can make all the difference in the world.”

    This is where the jury is still out for the Nationals. They are spending on the draft, now they need to show that they can develop that over-slot talent into major league players

    1. Agreed — especially when it comes to position players.

      The other thing that always strikes me when I read books about life in the minors is how much the players are on their own. I’m not saying they should be necessarily housed and fed military-style, but I have to wonder if the team that makes more of an effort to make the frat-house lifestyle the rare exception will reap the benefit down the line.

      1. Of course, the other side of that is to draft players who have a high inner motor and factor that in as part of your equations in evaluating players. Seems to me that Rizzo values maturity off the field as well and that may be another reason that he gravitates towards college players early in the draft. I’d love to be able to have the opportunity to see how his draft strategy changes if he has a team with a solid 25-man and a minor league system in the Top 10.

    2. I think Brian’s skepticism has already been anwered in part. In an interview 2-3 weeks ago, Aaron Fitt @ Baseball America said that Cole Kimball is a perfect example of how well the Nats are doing in development. They took a guy with a strong arm who had no idea whatsoever how to pitch and look to have turned him into a ‘lights out’ reliever.
      There’s always going to room for recreational moaning (e.g. fly), but I think another barometer will be how well Eury Perez at Potomac & Sanchez and Hood at Hagerstown develop.

    3. “You can’t stop after scouting and signing. Handling these kids properly is essential, and having the right people in the right places can make all the difference in the world.”

      Looks to be already vastly different and better than what was there previously? For evidence consider former prospect Maxwell, Justin.

      Ben Goessling:

      Nationals took in the fourth round of the 2005 draft. With a 6-foot-5 frame, sharp defensive instincts, a good arm and the ability to hit for power, Maxwell looked like the team’s center fielder of the future and a fixture in the Nationals’ lineup. He was playing at Single-A Potomac at the end of 2007 when, in one of former general manager Jim Bowden’s more curious moves, Maxwell was called up to the majors in September.

      That put him on the 40-man roster earlier than he would have otherwise arrived there, and as his option years ticked away, Maxwell struggled to catch on.

  2. Great post. On the international front of guys that have even been touted and are viewed as possible middle term options I think that there’s Eury Perez, Rafael Martin (who seems to have stalled) and Yunesky Maya (who remains a question mark). I guess we can count guys like Berandina as well, although he is from the jurassic Montreal days. Do you think that you are seeing more low minors international signees yet under Rizzo? My guess is no given the recent gripes we’ve had during most international signing periods.

    The redundancy argument is an excellent one. Do you think a guy like Hague can play 3rd or would be asked to play 3rd if Zimmerman wasn’t “blocking” him? Especially now that Zimmerman is getting closer to free agency it seems like it’s not a horrible idea to value redunancy and leverage. Redundnacy is also excellent because that’s what allows to consider moving one of the shortstops, maybe not this year, but certainly going forward because of some C+ guys coming after them in Lombardozzi, Hague, and maybe Sanchez. Rizzo seems real committed toward redundancy in the middle infield.

    I try to get my Dad and my brother, both Mets fans, to realize how utterly indefensible the Mets’ unwillingness to go overslot in the draft has been.

    I ain’t giving the Four Letter Network a dime but thanks for this helpful summary.

  3. Brian is correct about player development being one of the major problems with Nats system.

    Yes they have failed internationally and are just now spending over slot money but the fact that so many of their high draft picks fail to progress point to a weakness in development.

    Always used to point out this on Brian’s site. Spin Williams is still there and the turn over in the Infield, OF, base running instructors shows up every year in the MLB product. Nats players do not learn the fundamentals in the farm system. Pitchers can not bunt, Ian D never learned to charge a routine grounder and base running and stealing is nothing but a quick two out inning most attempts.

    I do finally see progress with Danny E and Lombardozzi but I bet they were fundamentally sound before they were drafted. Norris on the other hand still can not set up and receive and frame balls…that should be fixable.

    1. Welcome to the ointment, my favorite fly 😉

      Don’t give up on Norris behind the plate just yet. He made an awful lot of progress last year despite having an injury to his glove hand. I’m just disappointed that Knorr won’t get a chance to work with him until he makes it to Syracuse.

  4. guys it is all about player development , You can draft the best guys and that is great only on baseball america, but develop them , nuture them, and look for the diamonds in the rough. Guys like Andy petite, I believe 27th round pick. Every guy in the minors can lay the game, but where project and develop is everything

  5. You have done a nice job filling some big shoes….it is much appreciated. Now if you could just get Ross D and the rest of these under achieving pitching drafts to show some progress….that would be great!

    1. Thanks, but I think if I truly could solve a riddle like Ross, I’d be working (and playing) in a much warmer climate than the DC area.

  6. Reposting from earlier comment:

    Keith Law:

    … the 2011 draft, one that features one of the top college pitching classes in memory and a potent high school crop to boot.

    This will be a key draft for Mike Rizzo. I wouldn’t be surprised to see all 3 top picks go for three college hurlers. This draft could make or break his tenure as GM.

    2012 Could be a very, very interesting year in Woodbridge.

  7. This quote by Churchill appears to describe the current plan the Nats (Rizzo, Clark, Kline et al) are using to rebuild the minors?

    Having a power starting pitcher, a catcher and a shortstop that profile as well-above-average major leaguers and are also banging on the door to the show is what the special assistant called “gold.”

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