I’m finally revisiting this series after some time watching the Blue Jays’ minor leaguers in action in spring training. In the first article, I discussed what I believe are the three pillars of talent development: Tools, Skill Acquisition Aptitude (SAA) and Finesse. In the second, I wrote about the necessity to individualize coaching to best suit the needs of each player. This third (and probably final) installment will examine the differences between scouting and development when it comes to finding potential major league players.
Earlier in this series I discussed Kevin Pillar and how I don’t think that he’s necessarily a “development’ success story (although it’s still hard to tell). He is, however, an outstanding success for the scouting department of the Blue Jays.
When scouting amateur players, you’re not only looking pure tools: you’re looking for players who are going to be able to show the other two parts to the development trinity as well as the tools. This is why late-round draft picks can end up in the majors: the early rounds are focused more on tools while the later rounds are focused on finding the odd “diamond in the rough” as well as players who might have slipped through the cracks due to perceived flaws in their game who might just have enough quality in the other two areas (SAA and finesse) to make up for it. This is where most people agree that Kevin Pillar likely fits in: he’s not the speediest guy but has decent speed, he doesn’t have a lot of power but can still hit lots of doubles and triples along with the occasional home run, he doesn’t have the best arm but it’s decent, etc. Pillar had enough strikes against him (which also may have included playing in a weaker conference in college) that he slipped all the way to the 32nd round but has proven that he’s been able to overachieve his draft position.
Selections in the early rounds of the draft are almost entirely focused on players with elite tools. You just don’t select players who don’t have the tools to make the majors. Of course, you want to find players who are gamers, who have great work ethics and who understand the game but you don’t want to waste a high draft pick on someone who may have those other elements going for him but without tools that will play in the major leagues.
That said, it’s still important to trust your scouts to find players who are going to be able to develop those tools into superior baseball skills as well as be able to apply those skills in a way that will allow them to succeed against the best players in the world at the highest level of game.
This is where the idea of development is inseparably linked to scouting. Scouts aren’t just finding the best players. They’re finding the players that they think will become the best players. Once again, it’s a matter of trying to anticipate how a player is going to polish the tools and be able to mentally withstand the difficult life of a professional baseball player; almost every player who reaches the top of the game has to learn how to deal with failure and this, most often, will determine whether he succeeds or not. This is generally very difficult for a scout to determine because most of the players that a scout is watching or hoping to draft are in the position to be drafted because they are among the best and are not failing. Amateur scouts get to know the players and the families to get a sense of a player’s coachability, attitude and whether or not he’ll be able to handle failure.
The interconnectedness of scouting and player development is yet another reason why it’s so difficult to place blame of a team’s inability to develop its own major leaguers on its “development” system. It’s almost a chicken and egg scenario: are you drafting players who are talented but less coachable than others? Are you drafting players who are able to get the most out their abilities but aren’t able to play at as high a level as the more talented guys. This second type of player is the “org guy” or “organizational player” who is invaluable to help populate the large minor league systems that major league teams operate. These guys are important, but ultimately, the success of a team is judged on wins and losses at the major league level. Clearly, this is something that the Blue Jays have yet to achieve in the Anthopoulos era.
Because the Blue Jays, under Anthopoulos, have focused on drafting toolsy high-school age players, five years isn’t really enough to see the dividends from this strategy. Players like Aaron Sanchez, D.J. Davis, Mitch Nay and Chase DeJong are just too far away from the majors to be judged on their resumes so far. The Jays have drafted several players in the early rounds who haven’t lived up to expectations (yet) but there are certainly possibilities coming through the system that could still give the team some very solid drafts. If you’re looking for a very thorough assessment of the Jays’ drafting under Alex Anthopoulos, check out Gerry’s assessment at BattersBox.ca.
The way I see it, development is intricately linked to scouting and drafting and there’s no way to really isolate one from the other. The players that you draft determine how well they will develop. If you give them the right coaching at the right time in their development, hopefully they can reach their potential but, as discussed in part two of this series, the player himself has an influence on whether he will actually get there. It’s a complex set of variables that all have to line up just right for a player to make the major leagues. If it lines up just right for a player with fringe tools, he will likely be a mid-bullpen arm or a backup position player but if you can get a player with elite tools to reach his potential, it’s like hitting the jackpot. The question is how many players like that are there in any system, let alone the Blue Jays’?
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