Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Thoughts On Age vs Level Part 3

So let's take a look at a couple of highly successful college draftees, Tim Lincecum and Buster Posey.

Tim Lincecum was taken by the Giants as the #10 overall pick in the watershed 2006 draft at age 22.  In college, he dominated the Pac 10, one of the top 3 or so college conferences.  After signing, he made 2 brief appearances for Salem-Keizer then was promoted to High A San Jose, an aggressive assignment for a draft summer, but not unheard of for a high level college draftee.  He absolutely dominated the Cal League with an ERA of 1.95 with 46 K's against 12 BB's in just 27.2 IP.

The Giants were so impressed that they had Timmy skip AA entirely and start 2007, his age 23 season at AAA Fresno where he again dominated winning 4 of 5 starts with a 0.29 ERA and 46 K's against 11 BB's in 31 IP.  He arrived in SF to stay in May 2007 at age 23.  The rest is history.

Buster Posey was the 5'th overall pick in 2008 at age 21.  He was initially assigned to Rookie Arizona League, a ridiculously low assignment and predictably hit .385/.484/.692 in his 26 AB's there.  He was then promoted to Salem-Keizer where he appeared in just 3 games.

His first full season assignment at age 22 was San Jose which he again dominated.  he was then skipped over AA and promoted to AAA Fresno where he again dominated at the plate.  He was called up for a cameo appearance in the majors in Sept of 2009, but the Giants believed he needed work on his catching defense and sent him back to Fresno to start the 2010 season.

He finally arrived in the majors to stay in May, 2010 at age 23 and again, the rest is history.

Now listen up, team!  If you go strictly by age vs level, you would have to say that Matt Cain, who arrived in the majors to stay at age 20 was a much better prospect than Tim Lincecum who arrived at age 23!  Likewise, you would have to say that Mike Trout, who arrived in the majors at age 19 was a far better prospect than Buster Posey  who arrived at age 23.

You have to understand context.  The earliest age at which these players were physically capable of arriving in the majors was pre-ordained by decisions they made 3 years earlier.  Their success in the majors was wholly dependent on their talent and skill, not their ages!

Age vs Level purists would dismiss college draftees out of hand because they are already "too old" for their level.  In fact, to take it a step further, if you really want to get the jump on the age vs level curve, you would concentrate your resources on the international market where you can get players on a professional ballfield at the age of 16!  That is probably why some organizations have a strong preference for drafting HS players and other organizations commit diaproportionate resources to the international market even though the evidence that the success rate for those kids is better than for college draftees is, to put it charitably, shaky.

One of my mottos is "never say never and never say always!"  A corollary would be "context is everything!"


  1. Gary Brown and Joe Panik have certainly been dismissed as old college guys by a lot of prospect hounds.

    The movement for big time prospects (Will the Thrill, Posey) is different than most. You see it with somebody like Byron Buxton. But its to be expected, a top 10 pick in the draft.

    Where it gets really interesting for me is players like Sandoval or Belt, who just start moving.

  2. Kolten Wong whom the Cardinals drafted in 2010 out the University of Hawaii is only one step away from making the show. He is having a solid year in AAA batting .290. I thought he had solid futures game showing off his skills with solid defense, hitting a single to CF, and a steal of 2nd base. That's Kolten Wong baseball. I had the pleasure of watching him play for 3 years in college, and I'm no scout, but it seemed to me along with other observers here that Kolten Wong was headed for a successful pro career because he was a talented all around player offensively and defensively. In 2009 as a Freshman his stats were .341 11 hrs 52 rbis. He improved in 2010 to .357 7 hrs 40 rbis and 2011 .378 7 hrs 53 rbis. In my view his BA improved each year because he learned to hit to all fields but was still a threat to hit a dinger to RF. When I watched the futures game his batting stance and swing haven't changed much since his college days. I remember when Coach Trap was asked what separated Kolten Wong from all the other hitters on the team, and he said Wong has tremendous bat speed. Sorry for using a Cardinal farmhand as the example but Kolten is a favorite of mine and a good example of a player whose success in pro ball and eventual callup to the Cardinals is due the talent and skill he displayed from an early age.



    1. I love Wong! He was actually drafted in 2011. Cards took him at #22 well ahead of where the Giants took Panik at #29. The other interesting thing about Wong is he has always been a 2B, which is supposed to be the kiss of death for a prospect. I wonder if the Giants would have taken him if he was still there at #29 or if Panik was their guy all the way?

    2. I think Wong (and Michael Wacha the year later - this one is confirmed by Baggs) were high on the Giants draftboard. We have Panik and Stratton instead. Wong is a great prospect, he looked good in the futures game for sure!

  3. It's interesting you bring this up. I have thought a lot about this lately, and to me it seems the Giants are very conservative when it comes to promoting/assigning prospects. If a prep draft pick generally plays summer ball in the AZL after signing, then starts the next season in Lo-A, the Giants are indeed babying guys a bit, as most of the guys who played AZL last summer were assigned to S-K this summer. If guys like McCall and Hollick (who I know is not a prep pick) are playing short-season this year, I'm guessing Arroyo, Jones, Riley, Arenado, etc. will play in S-K next summer as well. To me, this is trudging just a little slow, and I can't really figure out why Hollick was only given 15 games in Augusta before being pulled from the team this year. Stratton and Agosta in Augusta still make me scratch my head a little too.

    The Giants finally are starting to build some position-player depth among the 18/19/20 year-old bunch, and I'm excited to see who's placed where next spring. I'll throw out names of a few guys who are in short-season ball right now, and see if I can get some opinion on where they'll be on Opening Day next year...

    1) Shilo McCall - Augusta?
    2) Brian Ragira - SJ???
    3) Tyler Horan - Augusta?
    4) Christian Arroyo - S-K?
    5) Jonah Arenado - S-K?
    6) Gustavo Cabrera - AZL?

    1. I think many of us was scratching our heads about Stratton and Agosta, but their performance there shows that the Giants made the right call on that.

      Conservatism on the Giants part, I think comes from the lack of good draft picks (and therefore talent) that they have had since they have been contenders throughout most of Sabean's reign as GM. Lincecum, Bumgarner, Posey all rose quickly up the system because of their talent.

      Talent is harder to find later in the draft. Once you get past the top 5 overall, talent is just that much harder to identify, exponentially so. Yet the Giants have jumped players drafted later, from time to time, Belt being the main example, but Dirty rose quickly, so did Runzler, and that guy we traded to Cleveland, pitcher, for Garko, he rose quickly too, if I remember right. Also Correia, and perhaps those last three examples are good cautionary tales that rising quickly is not a be all and end all. And while not drafted, the Giants jumped Sandoval up quickly too, from AA in fact. Oh, and if I remember right, they jumped Foppert up the system fast too.

      You mention putting the 18 YO's position players into SS Salem-Keizer, but I would note that Bumgarner was placed in Augusta in his first season, and he was 18 that season. The Giants will make an assessment of where they think the prospect is vs. the level, then adjust from there as needed. Going older, I didn't think that Oropesa did well enough at SJ to warrant a promotion, yet the Giants pushed him to AA anyway, and he had to go back to SJ recently.

      I've been frustated too in the past. I wondered why they didn't promote Ishikawa at the same time as Schierholtz, for example. I've learned that the Giants know their prospects a lot better than fans do. Not that they are perfect, they make mistakes too, but they seem to tend to get it right more often than fans do, from my perspective. Doesn't mean we can't question their actions - most of us here were openly scratching their heads about Stratton's placement - but they do seem to get it right more times than not.

      And a good proof point on that is their pretty sterling record under Sabean regarding trading away prospects, no one really good has ever been traded away, though if Liriano had ever found a way to be healthy, he would have been the one who got away. (Nathan was not a prospect to me at the trade, plus you got to give up something to get a good starting catcher that you can control for two years or more).

    2. Covechatter,

      I think that's about right. I think we could see Arroyo and Ryder Jones in Augusta next year if they continue to do well in the AZL. I'm sure a lot depends on progress in Fall Instructional League and spring training, but I would expect a first round draft pick out of HS to start their first full season if everything goes as planned.

      As for Stratton, Augusta is simply not where you expect a first round pick drafted out of a major D1 college program to be in their first full season. I don't know if he was placed there because they were being cautious after his concussion? I do know that the Giants have a pattern of dropping their prospects who are coming off injury by a level to two until they are convinced they are fully recovered. I've read rumors of reduced velocity in spring training. Maybe that's why? Yeah, ogc. So the Giants got it right in his placement. That is not a good thing! Just the fact that Stratton is in Augusta and putting up mediocre numbers means to me that something went wrong somewhere along the way. Whether it be injury, regression in his stuff or a mistake in the draft, that is not where you want your first round draft pick out of a major college program to be!