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Twins Fan From Afar

How Good Should Our Minor League Teams Be?

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[Originally published at Twins Fan From Afar]

I've been thinking about this question lately. Baseball farm teams are, by nature, really interesting. General managers don't set the rosters, or even acquire the players. And I bet if the Rock Cats GM gets a call from Terry Ryan suggesting that he play the back-up shortstop because "something may be in the works," the back-up shortstop will get a lot of playing time, regardless of what that does to New Britain's chances. In the minor leagues, the best-performing players often don't last with the team very long, because they are bumped up to the next level. With the Twins' system, we've already seen that take place this year (Lucas French and Deolis Guerra to AAA, Caleb Thielbar and BJ Hermsen to AA to take their places), and we will see it dozens more times this season.


So, as fans, how good should we expect our farm teams to be? On the one hand, it's easy to look at things in the abstract and simply say, "for every player promoted, there should be an emerging player ready to take that vacated roster spot." But that's not baseball -- that's not life. Guerra, for instance, was putting up disgustingly good numbers for the Rock Cats; he was undoubtedly their best reliever -- their Glen Perkins. It would be great if Caleb Thielbar could instantly achieve the success that Guerra had in the last part of 2011 and 2012, but that's anything but a given. Similarly, French was arguably the Rock Cats' best starter this season -- their (fill in the blank if the Twins had a good starter). Good starting pitching is tough to replace, and although it seems that BJ Hermsen is ready for the next level, it's doubtful that he will replicate French's stats (French's success at AA should be partially attributed to the fact that he has MLB and AAA experience). I think a better approach, rather than expecting seamless roster transitions, is to expect competitiveness. Some years drafts are going to be pitcher-heavy. Right now, the Twins have a surplus of outfield talent at the MLB level and down on the farm. Over the course of time, it's the responsibility of the front office to have depth at all positions and all levels, but it's difficult to imagine -- on any one day -- having perfect Low-A, High-A, AA, AAA and MLB depth in any one organization.


In 2011, Baseball America rated the Kansas City Royals as having baseball's best organizational ranking. The Omaha Storm Chasers, the Royals AAA affiliate, had a 79-63 record last season and won the Pacific Coast League championship. The Northwest Arkansas Naturals, the Royals' AA affiliate, finished 73-64, and won their division championship. The High-A team, the Wilmington Blue Rocks, failed to make the playoffs, going 66-72, good for 6th out of 8 teams in their division. Finally, the Low-A team, the Kane County Cougars, went 65-74, and also failed to make the playoffs. The Royals' farm system is just one team, and just one example, of course. It's interesting, though. Their AA and AAA teams were very good last season, despite the fact that the Royals have several young players, like Eric Hosmer, that have been called up recently. It's notable, though, that their lower level teams were both sub-.500 last season, despite the fact that Kansas City almost always has a very high draft position.


So what does this mean for our Twins and their farm teams? I think it's just something to keep an eye on. New Britain, the team I'm following, is 15-9, off to a good start. After going 44-98 in 2010, they finished 72-70 last year, and are on an even better pace now. The Rochester Red Wings are 9-14, still a better pace than they had last year. The Beloit Snappers are 14-11, and the Ft. Myers Miracle are 9-15. Some good so far, and some not so good.


The other notable thing about fielding competitive teams throughout the system is that players get used to playing winning baseball. I'm sure you remember the stories from last season about certain young Twins players (Drew Butera, Danny Valencia, Trevor Plouffe and Luke Hughes were all named at various times) that didn't particularly care whether the Twins were winning or losing; rather, they seemed preoccupied with being big league ballplayers. Many of those guys played on awful Rochester and New Britain teams. If you have no expectation of winning each and every game at the minor league level, and your behavior is modified accordingly over the course of several hundred games and thousands of at-bats, why would that automatically change once you get "the call?"


I imagine it's difficult for the Twins -- or any organization -- to successfully achieve balance at all levels of the system. That's why the Twins are now having career minor leaguers come in and play at Rochester -- simply to field a competitive team. Hopefully, with several early picks in the 2012 draft, the Twins can shoot up the farm team rankings, and we will, in 3-5 years, see another wave of solid MLB prospects ready to play at Target Field.

Comments

  1. Seth Stohs's Avatar
    I know many people care about the win-loss records in the minor leagues, but for me, it doesn't matter at all. The minor leagues are 100% about player development and what is best for the individuals, to make them the best big leaguer. I do think that being part of a team and learning what types of things can help a team win are part of that development.
  2. Thrylos's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by Seth Stohs
    I know many people care about the win-loss records in the minor leagues, but for me, it doesn't matter at all. The minor leagues are 100% about player development and what is best for the individuals, to make them the best big leaguer. I do think that being part of a team and learning what types of things can help a team win are part of that development.
    Seth, I agree that minor leagues are 100% about player development and that it why I do care about Wins and Losses: Part of player development, in addition to learning how to toss and hit the curveball, is to establish a winning culture and to learn to hate losing. If the Twins' minor leaguers do not learn to hate losing in the minors, they will be ok with losing when they are in the majors. And if you want to win, you better have players (and managers and coaches and front office people) who are not ok with losing. Unfortunately the Twins lack this and it is a cultural thing and it starts in all levels, from the Dominical Academy to EST and instructionals, to the minors and the major league club.
  3. Seth Stohs's Avatar
    someone would have to do some research and show me that winning in the minor leagues leads to winning in the big leagues.

    Don't get me wrong, the purpose of every game is for the Twins to win. During the game, the pitchers and hitters should be doing everything they can to try to win.

    That said, if a manager is instructed to play the team's top prospect, even if he isn't currently as good as another player today... I want them playing the struggling prospect.
  4. Twins Fan From Afar's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by Seth Stohs
    someone would have to do some research and show me that winning in the minor leagues leads to winning in the big leagues.

    Don't get me wrong, the purpose of every game is for the Twins to win. During the game, the pitchers and hitters should be doing everything they can to try to win.

    That said, if a manager is instructed to play the team's top prospect, even if he isn't currently as good as another player today... I want them playing the struggling prospect.
    As to your first point, Seth, that's a good question. And I doubt that empirical data exists. For every team like Tampa Bay that seems to make the most out of their prospects, there's a team like Kansas City, who, despite high organizational rankings, never lets it translate into anything at the major league level.
  5. MWLFan's Avatar
    Seth,

    I think from a big picture big league consumes all the oxygen perspective it being about 100% development is a fact. However if you are attending Beloit, Fort Meyers, New Britain and I think in particular Rochester games regularly it is harder to accept that. I know for instance that I am fortunate to get to see Sano and Rosario play this year, but I also know it is a fleeting thing and I have to enjoy it now. When they are gone something needs to remain, the circus just can't pull up it's tent and leave town. When I go to games I want to see a victory. If I was a casual fan and see one or two or four of these I am more likely to come back and spend my money. It really does drum into you as a minor league fan that you are, well minor league. Most people in the stateline area of Wisconsin are either Brewer or Cubs fans, some Sox fans but they are usually excluded at the gates, so they have no interest in Twins prospects past Beloit. I worry about Rochester, great baseball city and a proud tradition that I think the Twins are soiling to some degree. But it is a business and the bottom line is the ticket sales at Target Field. Also, besides my 9 year old whose goal is to wear a Snappers uniform, no player at these levels wants to stay here. They want to get to Minnesota and play in the Major Leagues, don't we all. It is about develpment, but it does not make having an awful team in these cities any easier.
  6. mike wants wins's Avatar
    Better than this, if you refuse to trade for or sign expensive players....who has come up in the last THREE years, the you feel is a legit MLB player? Three years....Valencia? Plouffe? Revere? Hendriks? Not one legit player, contributing to winning now, in three years. No new OF. 1 new IF. No starting pitchers (do we think Hendriks is ready?). That's not livable, not if you rely on your farm system pretty much exclusively.
  7. ashburyjohn's Avatar
    In addition to what MWLFan said, I'd like to know from someone like Terry Ryan how a farm team's management can make life difficult for the major league team if they choose to. I believe that Rochester is dissatisfied with their agreement with the Twins, and if 2012 was supposed to mend fences it doesn't look like the product on the field is going to accomplish that. Yet, if Rochester ends its relationship and hooks on with another major league team, we know that the Twins will just get a shotgun wedding with whichever AAA team just got jilted. (Or, some years it gets interesting, and a round of Musical Chairs takes place.) Suppose both the Twins and this new team are grouchy about the whole arrangement - what would be the concrete harm to the parent club? Depending on the answer, this would be the part that is not 100% about player development.

    In addition, there is a polite fiction maintained that the minor league experience for the fan is one of competitive games being played; anyone who has attended a minor league game can recount in-game situations where this clearly was not the case. (Pitchers getting innings on a fixed schedule, non-tactical late-inning choices of batters, etc.) If at some point the Emperor is finally seen to have no clothes, I suppose a risk to the major league club is having to subsidize to an even greater extent the costs of their minor league clubs, were attendance drop to near zero.
    Updated 05-01-2012 at 12:10 PM by ashburyjohn
  8. MWLFan's Avatar
    Ashburyjohn makes a good point on the competitive game part you watch enough minor league ball and you understand there is a shell game taking place to some degree, in the low minors I have seen this. Also, the team you see in April will NOT be the team you see in June or August in Beloit. I was lucky enough to see Arcia when he dropped in and he was the best hitter on the team by far last year, by June he was gone to Fort Meyers. But it is part of the game isn't it.
  9. Ultima Ratio's Avatar
    I think you are correct about the culture and expectation of winning, that we have a good chance to win every game we play, even when it's late and we're down. You can't teach this, but it pays dividends.
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