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Farm Production

Mike SteffanosThursday, March 23, 2006
By Mike Steffanos

One thing that I do to find things to talk about in this blog is subscribing to about a zillion RSS news feeds. I scan hundreds of headlines each day, and have become proficient in spotting the few things that I want to talk about in the midst of all that information overload. Some things I write about immediately, some I file away for when I have a little extra time.

One thing that I put aside a few days ago was this article on the Baseball Prospectus web site by Kevin Goldstein. [A quick plug here: Baseball Prospectus is a subscription-based web site, and I'm a cheap bastard. I hate paying to read web site content, but this one is well worth it for any serious baseball fan.] In discussing what is reasonable to expect from a farm system, Goldstein offered the following:

Many fans tend to believe that when they look at a top 10 list [of prospects], they are looking at 10 future big league players, or even future stars. Although it's no fault of the rankers, the reality couldn't be further from the truth.

... Taking a snapshot at a single point in time, the average system provided roughly two regular position players and two bench players, as well as two starters and two relievers. So all in all when you think about a team having four full-season minor league teams and then two more short-season teams come June, and all of that work to scout, sign and develop the equivalent of six teams' worth of baseball players, in the end, that effort provided around eight major league ballplayers, of which around half were of significant value. That is an incredibly high failure rate, but not one that needs to involve placing any sort of blame. It's the nature of the beast, and a tribute to just how hard this game is when it is played at the major league level.

This is why some feel that any trade of prospects for major-league players is always justified. To me, who really come to understand the importance of producing talent from within, this just underscores the importance of scouting and development. In a system that produces at such a low success rate, anything that can be done to increase the odds is so important. I believe what Omar Minaya and company are doing with the Mets farm system is a huge step in the right direction. While many pundits see a sadly depleted system, and rightfully so, some of the moves that the Mets have been making (and I have been steadily writing about in this space) have actually raised my optimism for the future. At the end of this article, I will link to some of the things I have written on this subject if you are interested.

Gotham Baseball's Mike McGann recently penned an optimistic look at the Mets and Yankees' farm systems. (Since none of us cares about the Yankees, we'll ignore that part.) While acknowledging the reality of few major-league ready prospects remaining, McGann focuses on positive changes that have permeated the entire system:

With the tangle of weeds and confusion burned off, there is now order. The chaos of workouts in years past, improved in 2005, is markedly improved in 2006. Workouts have an almost military pace to them; everything is done crisply, with almost a football mentality. There is a precision, a snap to things now.

... And players will be taught one way of playing the game, something evident this March as players ranging from AAA to rookie ball go through the same drills, learn the same ways to cover bunts, make relay throws and so on. And the minor league staff will enforce those standards during the season while extending the teaching process across the coming months.

It will be years before any of this can be fairly judged, just as it took five years for the Yankee system to bloom. Even now people miss the explosion of flowers looking for the weeds. But smart people will see indications as early as this summer, such as less talented teams winning because they do the little things and a couple of sleepers coming out the draft to surprise and interest people at Brooklyn and Kingsport. Those are the signs that will show if the new plan is bearing fruit.

McGann also talks about what the Mets are doing to improve their player selection come draft time. Check out his column.

By all accounts, one of the things the Mets failed to do over the years is to develop a coherent and easily teachable philosophy and method of playing the game to their farmhands. According to McGann and others, this is being addressed in a big way. Finally the Mets have a management team in place that gets it.

As for what we can expect from the players that remain in the Mets system, MinorLeagueBaseball.com has a nice feature on this, including a good look at the remaining talent. Check it out.

As much hype as the Mets get for high-profile trades and free agent signings, what they are doing with their farm system will have a much bigger impact on avoiding the long, dreary down periods that have typified this team's history. Baseball is changing, and revenue-sharing measures are eliminating the need for teams in smaller markets to continually deal away talent that they can't afford to keep. For teams that can't produce some of their own talent, the future holds a diminished pool of available players and a much higher cost for the little that's out there. The Mets seem to have recognized this important fact, and are doing what they need to do to remain competitive within the framework of baseball's new reality.

More Stories I've done here on Player Development:
Finally Getting It Right Down On the Farm
No Minor Concern
Remaking the Farm

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