A lot of fantasy owners and highly paid MLB front office staffs are way too quick to jump to conclusions on players and whether or not they can make it as a successful big leaguer. It happens every single year, some new hot shot prospect comes up and eventually struggles, then maybe he struggles again the following season or two while trying to adjust to the rigors and challenges of major league baseball. Then suddenly all of those talents that everyone was so excited about seem to disappear and that player is labeled as a bust. God forbid we give that player time to find his role and adjust to life as a professional athlete. Maybe, just maybe life in the big leagues is a little harder than life on the farm team. For every Mike Trout, Ryan Braun and Albert Pujols who come up and dominate during their rookie seasons there are plenty of guys like Edwin Encarnacion, Chris Davis and Adam Jones who take just a little bit longer to develop. In some cases that development can take multiple years at the MLB level for a player to properly adjust his talents and turn those talents into game-ready abilities. In fact, it should be considered that the early successes of guys like Mike Trout and Albert Pujols are the exception to the rule and that most players actually do need more time to develop. That should actually be more of a natural expectation for players, it should take time to develop and it does take time to carry over skills from the minor leagues to the big leagues. It is not fair to compare or expect every talented prospect to come up and perform at a Hall of Fame level right from the start. Few do, and that’s why these players that do so are considered once in a lifetime stars. But does that mean we should just give up on every super talented young player if they struggle early? Does the talent just disappear because they are now in the major leagues and facing new challenges? The answer is no.
MLB teams are way too quick to judge and way too quick to bench a struggling prospect and plug in a veteran journeyman who is no better during his best days than the prospect is during his worst days. Now don’t misunderstand what im trying to get across here, certain MLB teams do rush prospects to the big leagues and that is clearly why they struggle when they should still be facing minor league pitching. These prospects are ruined and their growth is sometimes forever stunted because their MLB teams promoted them too soon and took them off of their developmental path. But for the prospects that do show the talents and for the prospects that do deserve to get promoted they simply just need time to develop as a major leaguer. Does that mean all top prospects are going to succeed and live up to their potential? No, but they do need a chance to succeed. The most important thing for any young hitter it at bats, it is critical to their development and a lot of teams do not give these young hitters nearly enough time to fully develop as a major league baseball player. If they are talented enough to be called up to the big leagues then they are talented enough for coaches to be patient and give them at least 1,200 at bats before over reacting to small sample sizes. That is the benchmark for coaches and dynasty league owners alike to use before jumping to conclusions on any player. Sadly enough most players do not get anywhere near this amount of at bats before they are labeled a bust and riding the bench where all of their talents and skills diminish more and more each day. The problem, however, does not involve the player but the coaching staff, ownership and the fans. These three are the players own worst enemy, in a results driven and the "win now" type of society that we live in today it is not acceptable to struggle at anything, ever. If you do you are immediately labeled as being "not good enough". But for coaches, owners and fans to simply judge players based on small sample sizes I say that doing so is lazy and quite simply "not good enough". All we need is to practice a little patience.
Come on everybody, sing it with me...
Guns N' Roses - Patience (via GunsNRosesVEVO)
Evaluating players involves patience, and if you look hard enough you can find some diamonds in the rough to save your fantasy season before it even gets started.
So how should we evaluate hitters? Hitter evaluations should be done in three phases; the first is phase is the player’s first 500-600 at bats. During this early stage of development the average player will be trying too hard and continuing to use the same techniques/strategies that made them successful throughout their entire minor league career. They will probably show glimpses of their elite talents and that is important to see but they also may struggle more than most would like. The majority of these players will eventually have to adjust their game to the MLB level and this is when we typically start to find out who is truly special and who is not. This brings us to the second phase and that is the player’s next 500-600 at bats. This is when evaluators and fantasy owners can start to find out if a player is mentally able to handle the game at the big league level or not. Players need to constantly make adjustments in baseball, even the great ones have to. Adjustments in baseball are not something a player can do year to year or game to game but the adjustments have to be made pitch by pitch. It is a constant chess match with the opposing pitcher and the batter must learn how to win this battle of the minds as well as let his natural abilities take over. During phase 2 it is important that hitters show more glimpses of what truly makes them unique and that they take the next step towards being a complete MLB player. The final phase is after two full seasons worth of at bats and then and only then can scouts and coaches be able to truly define a player as a bust. After 1200-1500 at bats the skills and abilities of each player will have had more than enough time to translate to the big league level and if they do not it is then time to move on from that player from a fantasy perspective. But for any player with less than two full seasons worth of at bats it is just way too soon to jump to conclusions and risk losing a potentially very valuable player in the future.
*Below is a list of three players in or approaching each phase right now*
Phase one (Top prospects who need time to develop. There is not enough information to label anyone in this category a bust but glimpses of their elite level skills should be seen from time to time)
Billy Hamilton- Has shown the ability to be a game changer on both offense and defense with his speed. Hamilton routinely beats out routine ground balls for base hits, turns singles into doubles and wrecks havoc in the steals department when he gets on base.
Jonathon Schoop- Was probably rushed to the show due to injuries and desperation for the Orioles but is holding his own and has shown glimpses of above average bat to ball skills and the ability to drive the ball with authority (8 extra base hits in 65 at bats).
Mike Zunino- Mike Zunino's above average power has always been his calling card and as long as he continues to show it in game situations his prospect arrow is certainly pointing up. Could be one of baseballs elite catchers if given time to develop.
Phase two: (Former top prospects just coming into their own. There is enough information for hitters to start adapting their game to the MLB level and produce at more consistent levels)
Dee Gordon- A career .300 hitter in the minors Mr.Gordon has shown plenty of ability to get base hits in his first 600 at bats of professional ball and we all know what he can do once he gets on base. At times he is a patient hitter and other times he isn't but if he can combine the ability to draw walks with his bat to ball skills he could easily lead the league in steals as soon as this year. *Newsflash* he IS leading the league in steals right now
Brandon Belt-Oh the enigma of Brandon Belt. Why the Giants never gave this guy the full time first base job is a great example of coaches and scouts over reacting to small sample sizes. Thankfully they have given him more consistent playing time each of the past two years and it is paying big dividends this season as he is on pace to set career highs in runs, home runs and rbis.
Devin Mesoraco- Another players who struggled to find consistent playing time over the course of the previous two season but did show glimpses of what made him a former top 25 overall prospect. This season with the full time catching job he is rewarding patient owners and coaches with an out of this world type of start to the season. Look for Mesoraco to stake claim to being one of the best catchers in baseball as soon as next year.
Phase three: (Former top prospects owners who continue to hold out hope for. After two full seasons worth of at bats you should probably know what kind of player you have at this point)
Starlin Castro- He is what he is at this point, everyone wants to keep pointing to his age and expecting him to all of a sudden vault into some type of super hero kind of player but thats just not the type of skills he has. He has elite contact ability but appears lackadaisical during the majority of his at bats. He offers average power and average speed but they both play down to his lack of desire. Every now and then he will show you a glimpse of why scouts salivated over him but that was over four years ago. He is what he is and its time to stop believing in Castro until he stops teasing with us fantasy owners.
Justin Smoak- A player who continues to disappoint his coaches and fantasy owners alike but keeps getting chances because of how good he was "supposed to be". Smoak looks confused at the plate from time to time and cant hit his weight verse lefties. Even when he does go on a hot streak he still does not show the potential to be an above average hitter when compared to what we should expect out of a first basemen. Safeco field certainly does not help his cause but that is something we have to take into account. If you own Smoak in fantasy leagues you are probably holding on to false dreams.
Mike Moustakas- Oh the classic post hype sleeper heading into the 2014 season and whaddaya know he tore it up in spring training causing more hype for this years biggest sleeper. Does that mean he can be considered for this years biggest bust? Because the facts are that Mike Moustakas just isn't a very good hitter. In fact, im not sure he even has a clue how to be a good hitter. After 1400 at bats its safe to say that his career .239 average and below average power output for a third baseman should put him on the bench where he belongs. I know he went on a power surge his last two games as I finished this article but im still dropping him from all leagues. He just cant make enough contact to be useful. Fantasy owners need to stop clamoring about what he could of be and start focusing on finding a new third basemen because if he is yours and your hoping for a breakout season then you are in big trouble.
*Follow me on twitter @KylanJE where I will answer all of your questions and you can suggest topics for the next faketeams fanpost