There Are Certain Truths You Come to Realize Watching Minor League Ball

Just about every year, minor league baseball is inundated with coverage from folks who simply don’t spend a whole lot of time covering it. In an obvious rebuild, that gets ramped up to 100.

This isn’t to say none of them understand what they’re watching, or their takeaways are worthless. It’s simply to say a trained baseball eye doesn’t always translate to the minor league game without taking some things into account.

First, the reality for most is that the game itself isn’t being watched, instead it’s ingested in video bites or worse, box scores. When you’ve done this for a while, you get to the point where you can watch a kid hit two bombs and not see it as progress. You take away that he has a great power tool, but the pitcher he’s facing maybe was throwing cement mixers all night. Maybe he hit one of them off his shoelaces and really never should have swung in the first place.

Pitchers have the opposite experience. Develop a strong slider or curve that you can place early on and 50% of the players you face won’t touch it before AA. Don’t develop it and you still might get away with it for a while. Hell sometimes if you can hit triple digits that in and of itself could get you through a level or two.

When watching this stuff long enough you start to parse it.

Don’t get me wrong, there is never a bad feeling when you smash a couple homers or strike out 11 over 5 or 6 innings. But it doesn’t always mean what you’d hope.

I made friends with a fairly accomplished scout in MLB a few years back, had some really great talks with him about the difference between scouting MLB players vs MiLB and I apply his knowledge to all my coverage.

  • Never trust a player fully until you’ve seen them fail and come back from it, nobody wants to see that happen in MLB for the first time
  • It’s not about the result as much as the right things done to achieve it
  • It’s time to move a player up when they are no longer challenged regularly
  • A player not challenged will sometimes become bored and give off the appearance of a struggling prospect
  • It’s not about doing it once, it’s about doing it routinely

These don’t prevent me from getting excited, or trusting my own eye but they do keep me in check and maybe more important, they keep me patient.

I’m not here to tell you who to trust for your coverage of MiLB, that’s entirely up to you, but I am here to say if you yourself are going to focus on watching some of these games and ‘scouting’ yourself, try applying some of these principles to your thought process.

You’ll surprise yourself with how many times you saw something you didn’t like in a successful swing or a strikeout predicated on a pitch they’d never get away with at the next level. You’ll watch that diving catch in center field and be the person who noticed it was caused by a bad break on the ball.

Baseball is the same game from top to bottom, and while the talent gap is vast, it’s crucial to remember there are very few players in the entire organization that aren’t the very best player to ever come from their neighborhood. Sure you have prep schools that skew that fact, but for the most part, they’ve all been the best player they knew for a large swath of their time playing the game.

So, beware calls to move up that player who went 3 for 4 tomorrow. Be wary of thinking one outing from that pitcher you saw on a list is enough to believe he’s ready. It doesn’t work that way, and with good reason.

You’re smart people, and if you’ve invested enough time into watching it this year, you’ll start to understand who is applying at least some qualifiers, they certainly don’t have to be mine, but there has to be some sort of understanding of what will play against MLB competition and what won’t.

Maybe this will help nail down my point. You’ve seen Dustin Fowler play for the Pirates right? Well in 5 at bats for the Indians he has a homerun already, an impressive blast. Should I think the Pirates were hasty or should I remember what I saw and realize it was a very poorly placed pitch that a player right on the edge of AAA and MLB should pound?

Take this in stride, and look deeper. MiLB is fun, if you’re watching for the first time, enjoy it, but do realize things aren’t always as cut and dried as you may believe.

Published by Gary Morgan

Former contributor for Inside the Pirates an SI Team Channel

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