John Baker on Growth Mindsets and Learning Continuously, Even in the Face of Success

Last week on Pirates Prospects, we focused on the new, individualized development plan for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

My understanding of the new development system is that the Pirates are trying to create a culture where the players have more agency over their career paths, while still being guided by the Pirates’ player development team on how to reach their goals. The effort is far more collaborative, pooling the entire resources of the organization for each player to determine which tools to use to further his development.

The key to it all? According to Pirates’ farm director John Baker, it’s maintaining a growth mindset.

“It’s such a cliché term,” Baker said. “I think nowadays, people say ‘Oh, a growth mindset.’ A growth mindset means a couple of things to me. It means not letting success get in the way of improvement. It means receiving feedback, unemotionally, and being able to get better. It also means, when given better information, changing your mind.”

Those all seem like the actions of an adult, and the Pirates are definitely treating their minor league players more like adults with career goals, rather than high school and college kids chasing a childish dream. The more adult approach realizes that mistakes will be made, and opportunities to learn can come from those mistakes.

“You don’t know until you play the game if [an approach is] going to work or not,” Baker said. “You can reason back from the contextual movement to build the perfect program. You can be Rocky Balboa, punching the hanging meat in the ice box all offseason. But, until you get out there and get into it with somebody else, you don’t really know.”

Baker noted that the best people take their feedback and improve. He referenced Max Scherzer as one of the absolute best people who don’t let their success prevent them from always trying to improve.

“I think that’s a stance we’re going to have to take with a lot of these guys who have had a lot of successful years,” Baker said. “It’s going to be a challenge for us to keep reminding them that you’ll never have this figured out. The only answer is you can always get better, and to keep doing that all the time.”

The Pirates realize the old adage that it’s better for a player to fail in the minors than in the majors. Baker stressed that they want players learning from failures in the lower levels, as long as they were growing with the failures.

“This is when we need to have our hearts broken, is in Greensboro,” Baker said. “When these guys get to PNC, our vision for them is riding over that Clemente Bridge on a float. That’s what we want to do.”

I’m sure the idea of riding floats over the Clemente Bridge is a mindset that could grow on a lot of Pirates fans.

“For us to get there, we have to make as many mistakes as possible now,” Baker continued. “If they’re comfortable learning from those mistakes, that’s the continuous learning environment that we’re trying to build. Then, discovering for themselves what they need to do to be successful. I think that’s a bit how you can control for some of the complacency that comes with success.”

This Week on Pirates Prospects

John Baker on Growth Mindsets and Learning Continuously, Even in the Face of Success

The Best Pirates Prospects By Age: Position Players Edition

Looking Ahead at the Pirates’ 2022 System: Greensboro Grasshoppers

Williams: Gifted and Talented

Carter Bins Knows What He’s Doing Behind the Plate

Oliver Mateo Featured Two of the Best Pitches in Low-A in 2021

Prospect Notes: Anthony Solometo, Jase Bowen, Brent Citta, Solomon Maguire

Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.

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