Player development is anything but an exact science. Individual players, just like individuals in general, all have subtle and not so subtle differences in their histories and personalities that effect what and how they go through life.
In baseball, it begins with simply how much you played the game as an amateur, at what level and against what sort of competition. By the very quirks of a given region, a good right handed hitter coming out of high school might be able to count the number of left handed pitchers they had faced on one hand. A college junior might have moved seamlessly from rec league to club league to high school to college and never hit less than .350 in his life, only to step in against some seventeen year old punk in the Low A ball that throws harder than anyone he has ever faced.
As a general manager, you likely have an idea as to when your high draft picks might make the majors, but one can never be sure when what seems like a realistic timeline gets blown to bits by a never before encountered one for forty streak that suddenly makes an ultra-confident young player feel very fallible.
In a roundabout way, that brings us to the Royals’ Mike Moustakas. Greg Holland was the first Dayton Moore draftee to make the big leagues, but Moustakas is the first name prospect that is going to get there. The question is simply, when?
Given that player development is inexact in nature, I did some pretty inexact research into this area. Very simply, I reviewed the player development history of the majority of the 2010 third basemen. Those that were college draftees like Ryan Zimmerman and Evan Longoria were sorted out, as were players who were shortstops coming up (A-Rod, Jhonny Peralta, etc.) and guys that were simply kind of oddities (I’m looking at you Jose Bautista). That left us with a group of either high school draftees or Latin American free agents signed as teenagers.
Let’s take a look at that list and the time they spent in the minors:
- Adrian Beltre. My feeble recollection is that Beltre might have been signed at the age of fifteen, but his American professional career began at age seventeen. Beltre played 154 games in A ball over two seasons before moving to AA to start 1998. He appeared in 64 games at that level before debuting with the Dodgers in June and has been a major leaguer ever since.
- Scott Rolen. Yes, long ago, Scott Rolen was young. He appeared in 25 rookie league games after signing out of high school, 204 at A ball and 81 more at AA. After 45 games in AA, Rolen got the call and, like Beltre, has been in the majors since that time.
- David Wright. The Mets had an interesting plan with Wright. They started slow with David, giving him 36 rookie league games and 168 more in A ball. In 2004, however, Wright began the season in AA (60 games), played 30 more in AAA and was in the majors by July. That would be a very close developmental equivalent to Mike Moustakas having made his major league debut last summer.
- Pablo Sandoval. The Round Mound of Pound (c’mon, deep down you all like to say that, don’t you?), played 46 rookie league games and then 287 in A ball. Sandoval then moved to AA for 44 games and then to the majors in August of 2008.
- Aramis Ramirez. He went straight to A ball, where Aramis stayed for 204 games. Skipping AA entirely, Ramirez then played 222 games in AAA before sticking the majors for good.
- Chipper Jones. Ah, this is the name you were wondering about wasn’t it? Jones say action in 44 rookie league games, 136 A ball contests and 67 more in AA. He got a cup of major league coffee in September of 1993, but played in 139 AAA games the following year before becoming a fixture in the Atlanta lineup.
Now, compare those game totals to that of Mike Moustakas. After 11 rookie league games late in 2007, Mike played in 255 A ball games over the next two season. Last year, he dominated AA for 66 games and then moved onto AAA Omaha for 52 more contests. That is a total of 384 minor league games, two less than Chipper Jones played in.
Of the six players reviewed above, Adrian Beltre was the quickest to the majors (218 games), while Aramis Ramirez took the longest (426 games). Ramirez and Chipper Jones were the only two to spend more than a couple of months in AAA. All these players, like Moustakas, spent close to two seasons in A ball and from there, with the exception of Ramirez, vaulted pretty quickly into the majors.
As I indicated above, six players does not a thorough study make, but it does show a bit of a precedent in that six different organizations at different points in time decided that somewhere this side of 400 games was enough seasoning for a highly thought of third base prospect.
With Moustakas, of course, the Royals have some contractual time lines to consider as well. Delaying his major league debut until June would like save them a year of arbitration with Moustakas and buy another season before Mike would be eligible for free agency. That kind of talk is annoying to be sure, but a valid consideration for a team that is not going anywhere in 2011.
All the above considered, it might well be that the overriding consideration with Moustakas might well be at what point the Royals believe they can bring him up and not have Mike become a ‘Super-Two’ with regard to salary arbitration after the 2013 season.