[Note from Brett: The Wife and I are headed home, which interferes with the Bullets once again this morning. Back to your regularly-scheduled schedule tonight/tomorrow morning.]
The long awaited, injury delayed, and arguably overdue promotion of Jae-Hoon Ha, 22, to Iowa along with the flock of minor league veterans being traded out of the farm system lately may be the harbingers of promotions to come. There are plenty of candidates in the system, as well as some non-candidates that are frequently discussed. How can we tell the difference? What makes a promotion candidate a promotion candidate? Why are players promoted at some time and not others? We’ll dig into these and related questions after a quick survey of the organization.
An organization, I might add, that features a couple of first place teams.
Iowa Cubs : 38-39
The Cubs are in first place by a full game over the Memphis Redbirds of the Cardinals organization. In any other division in the Pacific Coast League their .494 winning percentage would be good for fourth, but in the PCL American North that record is good enough for the top spot. There is a lot of baseball yet to be played, but first place is first place. I’ll take it.
Tennessee Smokies : 2-2
The Smokies are tied for first in the Southern League North (with three other teams) despite not yet playing at home in the second half of the season. Now that the promotions have apparently begun, it will be interesting to see what the team that competes for a second half playoff slot winds up looking like.
Daytona Cubs : 2-1
Daytona holds a share of first place in the FSL North in the second half, and they are doing it without Jorge Soler in the lineup (Soler is on the DL with a minor leg injury). The loss of his big bat does not hurt this offense very much, though. With Baez and Geiger continuing to produce behind Andreoli and DeVoss, the Cubs are going to have little trouble putting runs on the board the rest of the summer. Whether or not they can make the playoffs will largely be up to the pitching.
Kane County Cougars : 0-3
The Cougars have slumped their way to an 0 and 3 start to the season. Again, do not let that record confuse you. This team is one of the youngest and most talented in the league, but it lacks experience. In the minors, that counts for a great deal when we are talking about team winning percentages. The talent level here is high enough that I still expect the Cougars to make a strong run at a second half title and a slot in the post season.
Boise Hawks : 4-4
The Hawks are just half a game behind the division leader. The end of the first half of the Northwest League season is just a little over a month away, so they have plenty of time to make up that gap. Look for the Boise roster to change several times over the next few weeks as more draft picks sign, get oriented in Arizona, and assigned elsewhere in the organization.
Arizona AZL Cubs : 1-1
The AZL Cubs are just getting underway in the Arizona Rookie League. Currently they sit a game behind the first place Angels, but with just a few games in the books that does not mean a great deal. As with Boise, this is a roster that should be in flux for some time yet.
There are a few things to look for when scanning the organization for promotion candidates, and while success is certainly one of those things, it is not the necessarily the most important.
If a player is a little old for the league, the promotion odds for that player are likely a little higher than for a player with similar production who is younger. We see this most frequently after the draft when college players are assigned to Arizona and Boise. Thanks in part to their more advanced game and greater baseball experience, these former collegiates often beat up on their largely former high school competition in the lower levels of the minors. When that happens, the college guys are likely to be moved up rapidly while the younger prospects are left in those lower levels to gain some experience.
One good recent example of this was Tim Saunders in 2012.
- Games Played
A minor league season in a full season league is 140 games long, and many players spend about a full season at each of those four steps. That does not mean, however, that all 140 games of that season occur in the same year. A player who was promoted in the middle of the season last year is a solid candidate to be promoted again upon nearing the 140 games played threshold, even if that occurs in the middle of a season.
Matt Szczur is a very good example of this. He was promoted to Tennessee in the middle of last year after 121 games played for High A Daytona. He is still in Tennessee now in part because he only has 103 games at that level. Thanks to some injuries that kept him off the field for a time he likely has a few weeks before he completes a full season worth of games in Double A. He is probably a few weeks away from being a strong promotion candidate.
Jae-Hoon Ha, on the other hand, was overdue. Ha had spent 210 games in Tennessee; that’s about a season and a half. John Andreoli is similarly overdue in Daytona. His High-A games played meter currently reads 183.
- Half Seasons
There are some players that we expect to be promoted mid-season. Highly ranked prospects who are assigned to Low-A, for example, we generally expect to move up once they have learned what Low-A has to teach them. Javier Baez was advanced from Peoria after 57 games last year, for example. And Pierce Johnson was recently promoted to Daytona after 69.2 innings for Kane County.
Notice that I listed Johnson’s appearance quantity in innings, not games played. Pitchers typically have a season innings limit, and for a guy like Johnson in his first full season as professional, that limit is likely to be in the 140-160 range. Johnson, then, was moved to Daytona after spending his half season or so in Kane County.
Kyle Hendricks might be a mid-season promotion candidate to Iowa. He is up to 83 innings now, and I suspect his limit for the year will be right around the 180-200 mark. I would not be at all surprised to see him bumped up a level after his next start or so.
Or Not To Promote
But there are very good reasons to not promote a player as well. Sometimes the best thing for a prospect is sit still despite any amount of struggles or successes.
- Making Progress
This may sound counter-intuitive, but sometimes the worst time to promote a player is when they are showing marked improvements in their game and taking significant strides forward. It could very well be that they are making those improvements because they are responding well to the coaching at that level. If those coaches and trainers are having success teaching that player exactly what he needs to be taught, why would the team rush to rip that player away and into a brand new environment with new coaches?
Yes, I am talking about Javier Baez. Baez began the season as a hyper-aggressive free-swinger who struck out at a ridiculous pace. Lately he has been a much more disciplined hitter who has even managed to talk a few walks here and there. To some degree the credit for that transition has to go to the coaching in Daytona. Since he is obviously making tremendous progress under the care of that coaching, why move him? When he has learned all he can the coaches, not the stat sheet, well let the Cubs know. Until then, leave him be.
That said, if we check Baez’s games played total we can see that he is approaching the promotion line I mentioned earlier. I suspect he’ll only be in Daytona for another 30 games or so. Possibly somewhat less.
Age indeed cuts both ways. Sometimes, particularly with a player who is young, it is better to leave that player in one spot rather than knock him around from city to city. Moving is not an easy thing to do for adults. When you’re 19 and in a foreign country, it probably does not get any easier.
Take the case of Gioskar Amaya. Last summer Amaya put up some of the best numbers in the Northwest League. His OPS (.877) and home runs (8) made him (on paper anyway) one of the league’s best sluggers. Amaya plays second base. He is an excellent line drive hitter, but no one would ever mistake him for Dan Vogelbach. Despite his success, though, the Cubs left him in Boise all season. I strongly suspect his age had something to do with that.
The nice thing about Arizona and Florida is that it does not get cold there during the summer (if ever…). For a player, particular a pitcher who has had some arm trouble, that is a very good thing. There is no reason to risk aggravating a rehabbing injury by trying to warm it up and keep it warm in the frigid tundra of Iowa or Kane County when the sun-soaked meadows of the South are available. If that means a pitcher stays in Tennessee or Arizona for a few extra weeks, so be it. This crops up the most with pitchers left in extended spring training.