First Pitch: Why Do Teams Loaded With Prospects Lose So Much?

I don’t spend a lot of time focusing on the won/loss records of minor league teams. I’ll look at the standings on occasion, especially late in the year, but that’s mostly to see who might have the opportunity to get a few extra games at the end of the season with some playoff experience. The main focus in the minors is always going to be player development. Winning baseball games is just a bonus.

One thing I’ll never understand about minor league baseball is what exactly leads to a winner. I look at teams in terms of prospects and talent, and when I say talent, I mean tools and future upside. But that talent isn’t always about the future, and can lead to some good results in the present. Yet it seems that some of the most talented teams end up losing every year, while teams with very few legit prospects pull together to win.

I was reminded of this anomaly tonight while watching the West Virginia Power. It was my first trip to Charleston since the 2012 season. That year featured a very talented team. They had the breakout seasons of Gregory Polanco and Alen Hanson. Willy Garcia, Elias Diaz, and Jose Osuna were also on the team, along with Josh Bell, who only played a month before going down with a knee injury. The pitching side featured Nick Kingham, Zack Dodson, and Orlando Castro, who have all reached the upper levels of the minors since then.

That team had a ton of talent. The results are still up in the air, but you’re potentially looking at four starters (Polanco, Hanson, Diaz, Bell), plus a middle of the rotation starting pitcher (Kingham), and a few other guys who can play roles in the majors. And that’s on one Low-A team.

Despite all of that talent, that team went 61-79.

Much of that same team went to Bradenton the following year. Polanco, Hanson, Garcia, Osuna, and Diaz all got promoted together. Kingham also went up with that group. Adrian Sampson joined the mix that year, along with Joely Rodriguez, Dodson, and Stetson Allie. That gives another guy who could reach the majors this year (Sampson), a guy who was traded to get Antonio Bastardo (Rodriguez), and another guy who could reach the majors in a role position (Allie), not to mention the 2012 West Virginia guys.

That team went 57-77.

Then there’s this amazing stat. With their win tonight, West Virginia moved to 11-3 at home, having won their tenth home game last night. Last year they didn’t win their tenth home game of the season until July 11th. And if you look at the two teams, you’d easily take the talent on the 2014 team over the 2015 squad. That’s not to knock the current group. It’s just hard to beat out a roster that included Reese McGuire, Wyatt Mathisen, Harold Ramirez, Austin Meadows (Disclaimer: he didn’t arrive until July 12th), JaCoby Jones, plus some strong pitching from Cody Dickson, Buddy Borden, and Shane Carle (with the latter two being traded this off-season for Sean Rodriguez and Rob Scahill, respectively).

The current group has some potential on the roster, but only one guy who ranks in our top 20 (Cole Tucker, #8), and three guys who rank in the 21-30 range (Jordan Luplow, Tito Polo, Taylor Gushue). Last year’s West Virginia team had three guys universally rated in the top 10 in the system, plus 4-5 guys who were in the top 30.

Last year’s team went 54-81, although they did finish with a stronger performance, going 15-12 in August and September. This year’s team is off to a 16-10 start. Meanwhile, last year’s team is mostly in Bradenton, featuring the best prospect loaded lineup in the Pirates’ system, and that Bradenton team is currently 13-15.

I don’t know if I’ll ever understand how this kind of stuff happens. I guess I’ll just stick to the less complicated approach of focusing on the prospects, and ignoring how the best prospects don’t always lead to the best results in the standings.

**Prospect Watch: Clayton Richard Makes Debut, Diaz Heats Up at the Plate. My report from West Virginia tonight is included. There will be plenty of coverage from Charleston over the weekend (and into next week).

**Patience Crucial to Offensive Turnaround. Nate Barnes wrote this before the game, and the Pirates did exactly what they needed to do, showing that patient-aggressive approach that worked so well for them last year.

**Baseball America’s Top 100 Draft Prospects List Differs Greatly From Recent List. John Dreker compares a few of the recent draft rankings after the BA list came out.

**Deibinson Romero Off to a Powerful Start With Indianapolis. Ryan Palencer looks at the strong start for Romero, and how he could factor into the MLB mix this year.

**Morning Report: Who Is Left in the System From Every Draft Before 2011? John Dreker finishes his recent look at where each draft currently stands.

  • I believe that another element that affects the W/L record of MiLB teams is the fact that many non prospects are in the daily lineup in a position where they are detrimental to the offense or cause problems regularly on defense. Without mentioning any names that, is what has happened to some extent with the Curve, and I have seen it before… last season to an even greater extent. It is just all part of the Minor League experience, really. I even think some times it is done for the very reason that it causes adversity with better prospects.

  • To answer the question posed in the headline, I would say Pitching philosophy plays a significant role. The Pirates have their SP’s pitch to improve their secondary pitches, because they know they’ll need a complete repetoire of pitches to be successful in higher levels. Furthermore, it was written here they don’t game plan for opponents until AA.

    I’m not sure if this is standard operating procedures for all organizations, but it surely seems as if it would make a huge difference in teams W/L record.

    • Scott: Pitching philosophy is a key, especially in the lower levels where the Pirates emphasize location and command with the fastball. When opposing batters know 80% of the time what is coming, they tend to have an edge. That is what is so special with Glasnow because he is just getting to the point at AA where they allow more of a pitch mix.

      • They haven’t been throwing 80% fastballs for several years. That was an old philosophy that they had the first few seasons. Since then, they incorporated other pitches. The focus on fastball command is still there, but it’s not as simple as just throwing fastballs all the time. The focus is on learning to keep the fastball down in the zone, and once that is accomplished, learning to move it in and out in the zone.

    • The pitching philosophy is consistent though. That doesn’t explain why one team can post such a horrible record and another team with the same philosophy can have success.

      • That tim is the beauty of baseball, the more you learn the less you know. Ain’t that great, the anticipation of something unanticipated happening everyday!? What a great game!

  • Brian Finamore
    May 8, 2015 1:37 am

    Do you think that coaches and GMs tend to be more strict in their process-oriented philosophies for elite prospects than for other role players at a given level? I could see this happening, even if subconsciously, out of the increased pressure to develop high draft picks and top prospects. In turn, I could see how if you’re constantly telling top prospects to work on something specific despite the game situation, that it would lead to less overall team success if you have four or five elite prospects on a starting roster, as opposed to just one or two.

    • They’re pretty much the same with everyone. They don’t just focus on guys that everyone else would consider top prospects, and take a different approach with everyone else. That kind of approach would seriously lower their odds from ever getting a surprise breakout player.