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You see it happen often - to both pitchers and hitters.

Kid plays at a great baseball program at a P5. And, he dominates for 3 straight years and gets drafted in the 1st round of the MLB draft.

But, once he goes pro, his progress stalls. Sometimes they never succeed in the minors at all. Or, maybe the just get a cup of coffee at best in the majors and never really make it at the MLB level.

Why and how does this happen so often?

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It's the funnel effect.  Every year 5,000,000 play little league. 500,000 play high school. 50,000 play college. 5,000 play MiLB. 500 play MLB, cup of coffee. 50 play MLB for a long time.

Not exact numbers but you get the idea. You have to be the top 10% to survive every level. Good or very good is not always good enough.

@Francis7 posted:

You see it happen often - to both pitchers and hitters.

Can you name  specific players?

More than likely injury really screws things up and length of time in milb.

Son was an early 2nd round pick but he was tired of injury and rehab. After 8 seasons he moved on. A lot has changed since he was drafted, due to the new CBA and lots of changes you will see earlier movement among first rounders.

After playing in the Northwoods League my son stated unless drafted in the first twenty rounds (forty then) he wanted no part of being Single A roster filler as a long shot living and playing in East Buttfart. He had talked to too many older brothers of friends and friends of mine who signed with the attitude, just give me a shot.

I played Legion ball with a friend who became an All American and a first round pick. He hit .460 in a month of A ball. He moved up to AA in August.

My father told me if the kid ever hits a wall he’ll wilt. I was shocked. As a young person you don’t understand how much more than talent it takes to make it. He got injured the day he was supposed to be called up to the majors. I became friends with one of his AAA teammates later in life. He told me my friend/teammate never recovered mentally from the tough break. A second tough break broke him.

A friend’s son was hitting .290 with 20 homers in AAA. A .240 hitter with single digits in homers was called up ahead of him. His dad said there were 1.5M dollar$ behind the decision. His son has been drafted in the Thirties. The player called up was a first rounder.

The next year the kid was sent down on Opening Day Eve. The manager promised he would be the first injury call up. The team got off to a horrible start. The manager was fired after three weeks. The kid was released after the season. He bounced around AAA for several years. He never saw a day in the majors.

@TPM posted:

Can you name  specific players?

More than likely injury really screws things up and length of time in milb.

Son was an early 2nd round pick but he was tired of injury and rehab. After 8 seasons he moved on. A lot has changed since he was drafted, due to the new CBA and lots of changes you will see earlier movement among first rounders.

Colton Cowser is the most recent.  Orioles top prospect who has hit .115 in the bigs with a negative .8 WAR.  He didn't look like the same player in his AB's and was sent back down the minors.  It will be interesting to see how he deals with adversity as it looked 100% mental.  He is still a young and extremely talented baseball player so hopefully he just needs a bit more seasoning.       

@Master P posted:

I was talking to a kid who just got done playing 4 years in the minors.  He now has a normal job.  He said, "No one tells you how badly the minor leagues suck.  Plus, there is so much out of your control.  The guys that draft you all get fired, next thing you're cut."

I know quite a few who are playing right now and a couple who have recently retired.  It seems like the guys who have entered the system in the last two years have a much better opinion of the minor leagues than the ones before that.  It sounds like things have greatly improved the last few years. 

It is interesting to look at the Baseball Reference tool that list the draft rounds then you can see where players who were paid a lot of money in the first two rounds consistently do not pan out.  The WAR value for the first round it often tied around a couple of super stars then a few solid players.  Keep in mind IMO making the majors is a significant accomplishment in climbing a steep pyramid system.  Having a career of a few years is somewhat of a very underappreciated accomplishment.

Number one thing for hitters being challenged in the jump is the consistent velocity or craftiness of a pitchers.  All will have one skill or the other.   There are few easy at bats compared to a lot of college bullpens or summer leagues.  The second issue is the wood bat.  No explanation needed there. 

Pitchers issues are often injuries.  It is a treacherous road for pitchers to play for six months.  The other issue is command.  Throwing 96 mph does not blow away pro hitters.  If you can't locate or don't have quality offerings then the better hitters will crush your game. 

Any player drafted or signed will have a chance.  Look at Davis Schneider for the Blue Jays 37 AB, .432 BA, 5 HR.  Drafted 28th round out of high school.  His first three years in the minors he hit .230.  Very surprising he survived but he then put together two really solid years and is having a start of a MLB career to dream about.  Will it last? No, but he made it and could put together a solid career.  Time will tell.

I recently looked at an opponent of my son's college days.  Kid was a solid catcher with good size and always productive.  Not drafted as a Junior and a 40th rounder in his Senior year.  He recently moved up to AAA.  As a solid defensive catcher he has a chance and a number two catcher can make a lot of money and play a long time.  He was a good player that scouts for the most part did not see a tool that was plus plus. 

IMO if you have the chance to play pro ball and it does not impact your long term life you should give it a couple of years.  Obviously, if your dream is to be a doctor then you have to weigh the risk, but you can walk away at anytime.   Very few have the door opened and once in you may make adjustments that others don't.

Warning, long response. Sorry for typos but I have been thinking about this a lot and I have talked to a lot of people over this season.

Thoughts for hitters: Top pitching from starters to closers. Not just velocity but location and secondary and tertiary pitches that are devastating. So there are no gimmee innings on inferior pitching in the middle of a game before the closer comes in. Only capitalizing on rare mistakes, adjusting to make something happen or catching a really good pitcher on an off day. Definitely no sitting on fastballs. They will just strike you out with something else. It is something my son is working to adjust to because he tends to look for something he can drive and the pitchers in AA can pitch undriveable strikes (if that makes sense).

Metal vs wood bat. Some players like wood but for most, it means less pop.

Many have to learn a new position.

Insane defense. Even moving from high A to AA my son noticed very little gets through the infield, very little drops in the outfield.

Thoughts for pitchers: Read the first paragraph and replace "starters to closers" with "top to the bottom" of the line up. Most of them can hit high velocity. You have to be able to do a whole heck of a lot more.

Way more speed on the base paths. It's somewhat balanced by the better defense but not completely.

There is a ton of depth on the pitching staff so you really have to distinguish yourself.

Thoughts for both: The length of the season. 132 in the minors vs. 71 for a team that competes in the CWS Final. Far fewer games for the normal college team. Pro ball you play 6 games, one day off, play six games. That's not counting spring training games, fall league, Dominican/Australian league games if you play in them.

You have to stay healthy through that long season.

Baseball is a freaking hard sport. Players who have never failed before will fail in the minors in some way or another. And now they have to fail away from their traditional support structures.

Trades and promotions. You could finish a game one night and have to play somewhere else the next night. My son has only been at it for two years and that has already happened to him 6 times. Three promotions, one trade and two injuries. Trades (leave all your connections, teammares/friends behind to an unknown) and demotions/IL are the hardest but even promotions are crazy. Get called into an office at 10pm. You're told congratulations, pack up, go somewhere else and play the next day at a higher level with new people who may or may not resent your presence.

College players have less time to "prove" themselves. There is a big difference in the eyes of execs (fair or not) between a 21 yr old struggling after 2  years of minor league baseball and a 23/4 year old struggling after  2 years of minor league baseball.

Someone talked about the funnel above but forgot to mention that you have to double the people going into the funnel when you add in international players. I would say half of my son's team is international and most of them were able to focus more energy on baseball at a much younger age.

Opportunity. Some teams promote from within and some teams trade for the MLB players. Some teams fast-track prospects and some teams slow walk. You might be playing great and you get screwed because there is no room for you on the MLB or even AAA roster. Versatility helps and for the most part they will figure out how to get a bat in the line up.

Not everyone is given the same chance to succeed. It's a part that's hardest for me, as a Momma, to see. I think all the young men my son has played with are great. He has already had one roommate and one really good buddy DFAed. Another good friend was moved down to instructionals. And every single year twice a year (international and national draft) a huge influx of new talent comes in. You are an expendable asset no matter who you are or how good you are.

Last thoughts: I couldn't find an updated breakdown but as of 2019, 58 of the 335 inductees in the MLB HOF played in college. Only 2 from the SEC. People like to say the SEC is like AA. It's not. It is like taking the top 20% of the SEC but the average player is 3 years older with commensurate experience, strength and mental toughness.

Final thought is conditions in the minors are significantly better than they were just 2 years ago. Current MiLB players are indebted to those players who risked their careers to make such a huge difference for future players.

@PTWood's post covers pretty much everything, I would only add the following:

  • Each level in the minors gets exponentially better, much of what worked before will need to be refined and improved to work at the next level. Certainly there are kids with such great tools this doesn't seem to apply, but for the mortal world class athletes in baseball it does.
  • The right mental approach, everything about pro baseball is dealing with failure and not letting it impact the next moment, day, week, month and year. It's not just about how competitive you are, it's about how stubborn and relentless you are - and it's about staying positive through a process that can create a ton of negativity

I think for the most part the system works, if you have the combination of mental and physical skills to play at the highest level (and you stay healthy - mentally and physically) you'll get an opportunity.

Marcelo Mayer is a top Red Sox prospect. He was the fourth pick in the draft. At 19 he breezed through A and A+. The chat board talk was he would breeze through AA and AAA this year and be in Boston by September. Of course, this was conjecture by posters who probably didn’t play last Little League.

I suggested Mayer start where he finished last year in A+ before moving up. I warned once in AA the successful players are legit prospects. A ball is full of teammates for prospects who won’t go any further. I was mocked.

Mayer lit up A+ and got promoted to AA. I saw an interview where he talked about AA is very challenging. Pitchers have much better command and control. He’s hitting .189 in AA.

I was mocked for predicting he starts the season in AA, finishes in AAA and if he improves quickly enough maybe a September call up. I posted no way he’s projected as a starter before 2025. I’m looking real smart now.

There are a lot of Sox fans who believe Mayer is going to put the Sox on his back in 2024 or 2025 and contend, I suggest he just be allowed to have a competent rookie season.

With all the exorbitant expectations placed on Tristan Casas I suggested .250/.800 with 20++ homers would be a successful rookie year.

Prospects get overhyped. A lot of fans don’t understand prospects don’t just go to the next level and immediately repeat their previous successes.

@PTWood posted:

@RJM he's on the IL (retroactive to Aug 3). I suspect there is more to it...

Mayer has been out with a left shoulder inflammation. Fortunately it’s not a throwing arm injury. But he never got untracked in AA.

I haven’t soured on him as a prospect. Injuries happen. Plus, as your son is aware being 20 in AA with high expectation is very challenging. Most of the players are a few years older, more mature and more experienced.

I haven’t had a chance to see James play. When he was moved up there wasn’t another trip to Portland. Just looking at his numbers the power is there which is what they want. I’m guessing they want him to become more selective at the plate before moving to the next level.

Good luck to both of them (Mayer and James). I expect to see them in the majors at least by sometime in 2025.

How did the player dominate in college? Many players strike out a lot more in pro ball than in college because the level is tougher. Sure college pitching got better, especially for the top programs but if you face weaker programs during the week there also will be some starters who are probably more like rookie ball level at best (which is why top college hitters out of the first round start in A or even high A and not in rookie or complex ball - you already assume they can dominate those pitchers while A ball is probably closer to the level of the weekend starters of the good programs).

To me a 20+ percent k rate in college is a red flag even if they hit .300 with power because those guys usually will have a strikeout problem in pro ball.

For example Brent rooker hit .344/428/660 in college ball but it was with a 20% K rate which then went mid to high 20s in the minors and finally low 30s in the majors. Still is in the majors but more and up and down guy.

On the other side power also can be a huge differentiator. In college some guys with a decent hit tool and a 103 max ev can hit for some power due to doubles, small parks and maybe metal Bats (although less of an issue with bbcor) but in pro ball that means you are a 2-5 Homer a year guy and that doesn't play unless you hit .320 every year. a guy who hits .270 with 5 Homers won't get far in pro ball.

Of course scouting the stat line is not enough but in many cases for example a single digit walk rate is a red flag.

If you have power even bad plate discipline guys will walk 10+% due to pitcher fear so if you walk 8% in college as a serious power hitter you are probably chasing a ton and you will walk 5% in pro ball.

Tommy white for example is a red flag candidate for me if he doesn't improve a lot, 7-8% walk rates despite huge power probably means tons of chasing.

So you want a guy who at max strikes out 16-17% (which probably means 24-25% in mlb so ideally I would want to see a 9-14% k rate or lower when you want a 280+ hitter in pro ball), walk at least 11-12% and have a 109+ max ev.

So maybe go at the baseball cube and check the underlying stats like k and walk rate.

Those guys can still fail but it is less likely than if they have one of those red flags and just a good slash line and high ops due to babip or whatever.

I also think college and even some hs players have less room to grow than they used to because they very early have swing coaches, technology and good weight lifting programs.

Maybe 15 years ago you could say if you have a college guy with a 104 in game max ev and a fine hit tool he would grow into some more (of course then those stats weren't available but you get the idea) but if they already went through an elite lifting program, got k vested and blasted and whatever there might not be much more left in the tank, so you need a very high starting level to begin with.

Basically mlb is like you face paul skenes every day and when Paul skenes is done another Paul skenes comes out of the pen. I don't think many 900 ops hitters in college would have had a 900 ops if they only have faced Paul skenes all year.

Last edited by Dominik85

It's very hard to get to the MLB, and it's even harder to stay there.

If pitchers develop a tell, it makes its through the league via player connections. When the pitcher finds out, they'll use it to telegraph that pitch, but will throw something else. - then that will get around the league.

A lot of young players will come in swinging a hot bat, but once their holes are understood they'll need to adjust or they'll fade into obscurity. It's really hard to hit something you've never been good at hitting after swinging it your way for so many years. There's a plan for every hitter and there's a plan for every pitcher, it's a game of constant adjustment.

Every MiLB player wants to get there, every MLB player wants to stay there, but every day it seems someone is getting DFA'd. I see the NYY DFA'd Bader yesterday, man he was a tough out in the playoffs last year - 30 AB, .333 with 5 HR - and he's looking for a place to play...

I think the goal for the non superstars is consistency at a high level with availability (be available to deliver what's expected, or someone else will get your opportunity). It's a very odd job, because you're a commodity that can be sold or discarded without your input. It's seems like an amazing experience, but it's really hard to have enough time or emotional energy to give to the important people in your lives (in season). Off season, it's all about being maniacally focused on being ready to keep or earn your spot in spring.

It's a tough gig...

I played (a long time ago) at Texas A&M when the program had just turned into one of the big boys. And by that I mean nationally ranked most years and competing for (what is now called) a P5 conference championship every year. Five guys that played with me during my 3 years at A&M (1 yr of JuCo first) had MLB careers. Our best pitcher was Mark Thurmond, who pitched 9 years in the big leagues. Mark came up in the Padres org and I happened to be in LA on business in 1984 when the Padres were in town to play the Dodgers. Mark got me tickets right behind their dugout and I talked to him after the game. I asked him what it was like pitching in the big leagues, and I specifically asked him if he paid dearly for any mistake pitches. His answer was not what I expected and I have never forgotten it. He said,” I might make a mistake and leave a FB middle-middle and it might be fouled off. Or even missed completely. But then I might make the best pitch I have ever thrown in my life and watch it sail over the scoreboard. What I have learned is that big leaguers are capable of hitting anything. They don’t always do it, but they are capable.”

Like Jucodad, Adbono and some others have stated, pro ball is HARD!  That is so easy to read but way more difficult to understand. No one, outside the player, can comprehend the mental grind. Even as a parent I don’t fully understand. You bust your tail, put up great stats and then see peers get promoted. It does wear on you. And the player bottles it up and tries to deal with it. Then you add an injury in and you VERY QUICKLY realize you are just a number. The higher draft picks get the most rope but they are not immune. My hat is off to every young man that chooses this profession. From what I’ve seen over the past 7 years (college and pro ball) I can safely tell anyone it’s not a life I would want. I would have never believed this when my kid was in high school and I guarantee you not a single member on this board that has a kid at that age will believe what I’m saying. It’s one of those “you gotta experience it to believe / understand it” scenarios.

Unless a player is offered serious money going pro out of high school is a tenuous journey.   The quality of life is much better than just three years ago: salary increases, housing provided and the improved scheduling which eliminates long road trip issues.  Unless the player has absolutely no desire to go to college I would discourage it. 

If a player goes to college and performs he will catch up in pro ball.  Lots of physical and mental jumps occur in the first three years of college. 

If the player doesn't develop in college then he probably would not have developed in pro ball.  A good college program practices a lot and then has games to put lessons into action.  In pro ball the player plays games and is mostly on a self development track. 

Keep in mind the number of players allowed to be under contract is dropping-moving from 180-165.   So, every year you see a lot of teams cutting players before or after the draft to allow for signing new players.  The leash for a lot of players is very short and will get shorter.  The teams move on from players very quickly.

@JucoDad even if it's total garbage (and it's not!) it's worth reading just for the phrase "and suddenly you're without your home run thong." Best advice in there is leave what you've done in the past at the door. No one cares. I think that applies every time you move up a level. No one on your college team cares if you were a Gatorade All American in HS if you don't produce. No one on your HS team cares that you made it to the finals at Cooperstown. In the pros, hype about you probably irritates your teammates unless you are a good teammate (ideally who is producing). The charger pack for your phone is also clutch. We have definitely had a kid with a dead phone when we needed to get in touch. But the best advice is not to play GM and not to compare your journey to other people's journey. It is key to not becoming bitter or conceited. It's good for the parents as well. I gave up jealousy and judgement for Lent and I was shocked by how often I had to remind myself.

Last edited by PTWood
@RHPinSF posted:

I was talking to an ex MLB player who gave me this insight: "It's much harder to stay in the majors  . . than to get into the majors.

12300 non pitchers are Listed at fangraphs with at least 1 plate appearance and just about 4000 of them with more than 1k plate appearances (basically 2 full seasons).

For pitchers it is 11k with at least 1 IP and again like 4k with 200 IP (2 starter seasons or 5-6 full reliever seasons).

Most who make it don't even get a real bench player job for several years but are more like filling in here and there and then being done.

@Francis7 posted:

But, once he goes pro, his progress stalls. Sometimes they never succeed in the minors at all. Or, maybe the just get a cup of coffee at best in the majors and never really make it at the MLB level.

Why and how does this happen so often?

It's really very simple, pitching. Just watch what happens to the players BA as they go up through the minor league levels. Take a player like Joe Adell. Can hit single A well, but when promoted to The Bigs not so much. From what I've seen most players reach their ceiling at double A.

There are what, 600 players in the MLB. What percentage of those are position players? Let's say 400. In a world populated by what, 7 billion people, 400 position players make it to the MLB level. So the answer to your question, "why does this happen", because it's really effing hard.

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