Of course the Cincinnati Reds need the minor leagues. What a stupid question. And really, I’m sorry to have written it as the headline. But it’s ripping off the headline from an article that ran yesterday at Five Thirty Eight titled “Do we even need Minor League Baseball?”. The headline, of course, is incredibly misleading. At no point within the article does it suggest that Minor League Baseball should be eliminated. I don’t blame Travis Sawchik, the author of the article for the headline – authors rarely get to write the headline…. but whoever was in charge made it awfully clickbaity.
Some of the article’s focus is on how training, rather than playing in games, is what can and will lead to improvement today. The idea is that with the technology we have today, versus a decade or more ago, that the games simply don’t provide the best “learning” environment. High speed cameras, ball tracking, bat tracking, mechanic tracking – these things allow quick diagnosis of what one is doing right or wrong, immediately, and allow coaches and players to make adjustments today simply by looking at the video and data.
We’ve seen players and coaches speak directly of this, too. Being able to have the video of a pitcher releasing the ball can show why a pitch is doing what it’s doing. Or why it’s not doing what the pitcher wants to do. When you can shoot video at 3000 frames per second instead of the 24 to 30 frames per second that the camera’s have been shooting video footage at for 75 years, it allows you to get very detailed at exactly what’s happening. Being able to show that and explain it makes a huge difference.
Much of the early part of the article focuses on the Houston Astros. They have been doing things a bit differently for a while now. As noted in the Five Thirty Eight article, while some teams just now are getting into using high speed cameras (Edgertronic cameras), the Astros have been using them for years and even in the 2018 season had them in their farm system at every level, at multiple angles, to help them scout, develop, and coach.
Of course, there’s also the side of things where you need to actually play the game in order to learn. The situations matter. The guy at the other end trying to beat you matters. Whether that’s the opposing pitcher and catcher learning to attack hitters, or the pitcher learning to trust his stuff, or whether it’s the hitter learning to read pitchers or see a slider instead of a fastball – that’s stuff you aren’t going to be getting from the tech.
One interesting thing, and this gets a bit closer to the point of the headline of the article, is that the Astros eliminated two teams from their farm system chain. They currently have seven teams in their farm system. They have one team in the Dominican Summer League. And there’s one team at the complex level in the Gulf Coast League. They also have a short-season team in the New York-Penn League. And then there’s the four full-season affiliates. In 2017 they had two teams in the Dominican Summer League, and an additional team in the Appalachian League.
The Reds were the beneficiaries of the Astros dropping their Appalachian League team. Cincinnati bought the franchise and they became the Greeneville Reds. That, however, didn’t add a team to the organization. The Reds in turn eliminated one of their Dominican Summer League teams. When this happened one of the stated reasons was that with more limited resources – particularly in the Dominican Republic – (I’m paraphrasing here) there could be more focus and teaching with a smaller group rather than when there were two teams and twice as many players.
Not every team, at least right now, is looking at the “smaller is better” philosophy, though. The New York Yankees, who are viewed as a more forward thinking team around baseball, have nine teams. Of course, as recently as 2016 they had 10 teams, but like the Reds they have dropped down to just one Dominican Summer League team.
There’s some logic to both ideas. The fewer teams the more you can try to devote your focus to a smaller group of players and in theory, get more out of that situation. On the other side of the coin, the more players you can have under contract, the more chances you have for players to develop into Major Leaguers.
Current Major Leaguer Walker Buehler had this quote within the article, and I think it’s something that should be discussed.
At any affiliate, there are three players who have a chance to play in the majors. The rest of the players are there so they so they can play. I don’t think that’s fair,” Buehler told FiveThirtyEight. “You are preying on their dreams.
It’s definitely something I have heard from a whole lot of people over the years. Now, if the idea is that there’s three guys on a team that might be every day guys in the Major Leagues, there’s probably some truth to that. But the idea that only three guys on a team are ever going to be Major Leaguers doesn’t hold much water – at least once you reach A-ball.
The Dayton Dragons are in their 20th year of existence. They began playing in 2000 and they have had 102 players reach the Major Leagues. That’s an average of 5 players for team. But that number isn’t exactly accurate, either. The 2019 team obviously didn’t have a Major Leaguer on it (other than a rehabbing Kyle Farmer). The 2018 team hasn’t turned out a Major Leaguer yet, either. The 2017 team has one thus far – reliever Joel Kuhnel. That 2017 team had Taylor Trammell, Jose Siri, Tyler Stephenson, TJ Friedl, Scott Moss, Tony Santillan, Ryan Hendrix, and Dauri Moreta on it. There’s a pretty good chance that team’s going to wind up with a lot more than 5 future Major Leaguers on it.
Sometimes you simply don’t know who’s truly going to be a Major Leaguer. Ryan Hanigan went undrafted through 50 rounds and spent parts of 11 seasons in the Major Leagues. Brien Taylor was the #1 overall pick in the draft and didn’t spend 1 day there. Sometimes it’s the been the utility guy in Triple-A that somehow turned that role into the same one in the Major Leagues for a decade.
And finally, there’s the whole thing where Minor League Baseball helps grow the game itself. And for Major League Baseball, that’s something that they have been trying to focus on with a younger crowd for a long time now. For those of us who live in Cincinnati or Dayton, getting to a Major League game is easy. For those of you who live in Billings, Montana the closest team to you is the Colorado Rockies, a mere 520 miles away.
Minor League games are far more “family friendly”. First, the games are a lot cheaper. Second, the entertainment options are far better for children. Nearly all minor league teams do between-innings entertainment. Whether that’s something on the field, or on top of the dugouts, there’s good fan interaction. It’s not just something on the video board or a t-shirt cannon like you’ll get in the Major Leagues.
All of those words to say that, yes, we need the minor leagues. There’s an argument that maybe teams would be ok in terms of development with fewer teams in the minor leagues. But there’s also one that says they wouldn’t be. The article has some interesting things within it, so you should read it. But it misses a whole lot of what Minor League Baseball does, too.
Oh yeah, I’m selfish and Minor League Baseball helps pay my bills by existing.