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Minor League Monday: Consequences of a Lost Year

Regarding baseball, we may be on the cusp of seeing one of the biggest fallouts from the pandemic: the cancelled MiLB season. In 2020, there were no minor league games. Teams could invite a few prospects to be a part of their satellite camp. All the others, nothing. There is going to be some fallout at the big league level, when teams have to call up prospects but they aren't ready.


In 2020, MLB teams were allowed 60 man pools of players. The season began with 30 man MLB rosters, then that shrank to 26 by the end of the season. The rest of the players went to an off site "summer camp," where those players would essentially just practice and scrimmage. In the Cubs case, they used the nearby South Bend as their offsite facility.


This caused a bit of a franchise wide roster crunch. The established big leaguers made the MLB roster. Then there were plenty of AAAA depth types who could contribute at the big league level in a pinch (basically if players started testing positive). This left a few slots for actual prospects, and only the top ones made the cut. In the Cubs case, this included players like Brennen Davis, Brailyn Marquez and Miguel Amaya. It was tough luck for other prospects and were left basically on their own for 2020.


Today, I've prepared a segment I'm calling "that's good, that's bad." Much like a frozen yogurt on The Simpsons, there is both good and bad from last year. More bad then good, but I'll examine all angles:



That's Good!

Top prospects were at camp.

The Cubs had some of their top guys at camp. These guys got opportunities to play with players more advanced with them in a smaller setting. This could open the door for mentoring and more individualized focus on their development. It is a good thing that the top guys were able to get in reps with their teammates, even if there wasn't any true game action.


That's Bad!

Few prospects were actually at camp.

If you weren't a top 10 prospect, you weren't invited. This cut off opportunities for fringe guys. If this happened in years past, it could have cut off development for guys like

  • Willson Contreras: He was notable for being a lowly ranked prospect until he exploded in 2015 then made the big leagues the next year.

  • Kyle Hendricks: He was considered an outside top 20 prospect as late as 2013.

  • Jeimer Candelario: He was a 15th ranked prospect in 2013, alter made the big leagues.

  • Albert Almora: He was the 6th ranked prospect going into 2015. He might not have made the cut.

  • Victor Caratini: He was the 15th best prospect in the organization in 2015.

Yes, there are lots of blue chip prospects like Kris Bryant and Javy Baez who would likely make the big leagues in spite of uneven times in the minors. But the Cubs have done well developing other midrange prospects into solid big leaguers. These type of prospects had their development halted in 2020.


I might be going a bit out on a limb here, but I suspect we are going to see a talent gap in baseball. Maybe it happens this year, probably next year. There's going to come a point where contenders will be grasping at straws when August rolls around. Injuries may decimate their team, and the players they are pulling from won't be as ready as they need to be. Teams currently rebuilding might have to wait an extra year for their prospects to catch up. There is going to be a drought of talent.


That's Good!

Coaches at camp can get a little more one on one time with players.

As we saw with Adbert Alzolay last year, some time in camp can lead to a dangerous new weapon. In his case, a nasty slider. There wasn't much publicly revealed as to how many coaches were in camp or what the day-to-day was like, so I might be speculating just a bit, but I'd imagine that coaches got a lot more uninterrupted time with players and were able to use that to iron out mechanics and approaches.


That's Bad!

Camp doesn't equate to game action.

While baseball is a game of repetition, practice alone does not equate to development. Practice can lead to an excellent game plan, but so much of the game is trail and error. A hitter might be zeroed in on fastballs in practice, but if they can't learn how a pitcher might sequence those fastballs, they'll be made to look silly.


Pitchers might be throwing 100mph in a bullpen session, but what happens when they are beat from a long road trip and don't have their best stuff? There are game situations that you just can't duplicate in the summer camp environment.

 

Overall, I see the cancelled MiLB season as a terrible thing for the entire game of baseball. I can understand the owner's side of not wanting to pay additional salaries for a headache that likely would not have been able to been pulled off. It was tough enough getting through the MLB season. The logistics of an MiLB season in 2020 would have been a difficult challenge.


That said, I think they are going to regret not having any kind of experience for players beyond their Top 5-10 MLB ready guys. Even for the players at camp, the lack of game action is sure to slow their development. An MLB roster might consist of 25 men, but you need 40+ MLB ready players in any given season to help compensate for injuries, slumps, doubleheaders, and long stretches of games without doubleheaders. In the past, teams would have a well they could go to: AAA. That well isn't going to be nearly as filled in years past.







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