Thursday, July 18, 2013

Thoughts on Age vs Level Part 5

The spectacular rise of Miguel Cabrera, which contributed to a championship for the Florida Marlins, occured around the same time studies were showing that star players tend to develop early and fast.  We started to see a flurry of very young prospects playing at relatively high levels as some teams started to "push" their prospects.  We saw it more with international players in part because it was possible for them since they were turning pro at 16 yo.  It's pretty much physically impossible for a draftee from a 4 year college to hit the majors at age 19 or 20 and it's extremely rare that a HS draftee to be in the pros soon enough to play at AA at age 17.  Again, you have to  account for context when setting your benchmark ages and levels.  

These "pushed" prospects created quite a buzz in the prospect watching community.  Remember when Fernando Martinez(FMart) was the toast of BA?  Remember when the prospect watchers at Minor League Ball were drooling over Carlos Triunfel and Jose Tabata?  Remember when we were all shaking in our shoes at the thought of facing future Dodger teams with Edwin Jackson and Greg Miller on the mound?  Let's take a look at what the excitement was all about and where these players are now.

Fernando Martinez(FMart):  FMart reached AA Binghampton in the big bad Eastern League at age 18 and performed well, .271/.336/.377.  Good average, especially for the EL, decent walk rate, little power.  Say what you will, but those are impressive numbers for an 18 year old in AA.  Even Mike Trout was not playing in AA at age 18!  FMart continued to progress nicely hitting .290/.337/.540 at age 20 in AAA Buffalo.  Since then, he has failed in numerous attempts to break through into MLB, first with the Mets, then Houston.  He is currently 24 years old with his third organization and hitting well for the Yankees AAA team after washing out of Houston.  The book is far from closed on FMart.  I would currently consider him a possible post-hype sleeper, but he's not exactly on the fast-track anymore and definitely not young for his level.

Carlos Triunfel:  Triunfel created a buzz when he hit .309/.342/.388 in the tough low A Midwest League at age 17 and got a midseason promotion to High A High Desert in the Mariners organization.  He hit .288/.333/.356 for High Desert, an admittedly extremely hitter-friendly environment.  He then hit .287/.336/.406 in a repeat at High Desert at a still young age of 18.  His development was interrupted by injury in 2009.  He has since put up modest numbers at higher levels but hit poorly in 2 brief MLB trials.  He is currently 23 yo.  He could still develop further, but he is no longer anybody's hot prospect.

Jose Tabata:  Tabata was signed at age 16 by the Yankees and sent straight to the Rookie Gulf Coast League where he hit .314/.382/.417.  He then hit .298/.377/.420 in Low A Charleston(SAL) at age 17 and .307/.371/.392 in High A Tampa(FSL) at age 18.  This time it was Yankee fans who were all in a lather.  He was traded mid-season of 2008 to the Pirates and hit .348/.402/.562 for AA Altoona in the EL at age 19.  Since then, he has bounced between AAA and Pittsburgh putting up pedestrian numbers at the MLB level.  He is currently 24 years old.  

Edwin Jackson:  The Dodgers went through a phase where they kind of went crazy with aggressive promotions.  In 2003, they sent a kid named Edwin Jackson directly from low A ball to AA at age 19.  He responded by striking out 157 batters in 148.1 IP.  He had some control issues with 53 BB's but he was at or near the top of every prospect list and was the toast of BA.  Although he has had some brilliant moments and modest success at the MLB level, he never overcame his control issues and currently has a 5.11 ERA for the Cubs at age 29.

Greg Miller:  Miller was the other half of the Dodgers' 1-2 punch in the early 2000's.  He was a 6'5" LHP with a blazing fastball who went 11-4, 2.49, 115.2 IP, 41 BB, 111 K's for High A Vero Beach in the FSL at age 18 in 2003.  He earned a late season promotion AA, where he went 1-1, 1.01, 26.2 IP, 7 BB, 40 K's!  That was his zenith as injuries derailed his career and his last year in affiliated baseball was 2009.

The experiences of these 5 players seemed to have a sobering effect on teams that were aggressively promoting players.  The Mets and Dodgers, in particular came under some criticism for harming their prospects with overly aggressive promotion.  We now don't see as many players at extremely low age for level as it seems to be limited to players with obviously exceptional talent like Mike Trout, who force the issue with not just good, but outstanding performance.

While it is extremely difficult, if not impossible to prove anything in baseball, I would assert that the evidence is quite strong that it's really performance trumping age and level here rather than the other way around.  Mike Trout's performance would be outstanding even if he was 2 or even 3 years older.  The corollary is that these 5 players show that their performances did not deserve any markup just because they were exceptionally young for their level.


  1. Someone challenge me to come up with the names of more "slow movers" after I rebutted an assertion that Romo represents an anomaly on a previous thread. After about a 5 minute search off the top of my head, here are 3 more names for you:

    Mark Trumbo
    Mike Napoli
    Josh Willingham

    You can look up their minor and major league records at The Baseball Cube linked over on the left. The nice thing about The Baseball Cube is they have a column for age so you can see how old a prospect was at each level.

    PS: I'm pretty sure that about half of the Oakland A's roster in any given year would fit into this category too!

    1. Well if we're going with the Angels primarily, its best to not forget about a very hyped prospect: Brandon Wood. I remember him being as can't miss as it gets.

    2. Slightly off topic, but remember when Wood and McPherson were the rage of the baseball prospect world in the mid-2000's. Who would have thought that the Giants duo of Schierholtz and Ishikawa would end up with as good if not better careers than those two. Talk about shiny prospects.

    3. I just realize that Kevin Fransen is also from that era, and he's having a better career than Wood and Mcpherson as well. To get the discussion back on topic, I think a lot of Wood's appeal was him being young for age/level, whereas the Giants prospects were age appropriate, and thus, don't get the same "love".

    4. Great point anon. Wood and McPherson were totally hyped. And its a good intro to the usual Giants fan "Our prospects stink" deal. Ishi just signed on with the White Sox.

  2. All this age/level stuff... How about this guy,

    A 6'3 190 RHP who is now 19 years old pitching in the DSL...

    Way early, just 16IP, 65 batters faced... But 13.21 K/9 and a 2.88 K/BB...
    And the name. How in the world is there a Dominican Dandy named Clarence Richardson???

    This is hilarious. Love that size for a pitcher though. Lets see how the next 16 IP goes!

    1. 19 is getting a bit long in the tooth for a DSL kid, but then again, how sure are we about some of the ages we've seen there over the years anyway? Age is pretty important at the DSL level, but as I've said many times, it is just one factor to consider. He's almost a perfect size for a pitcher, so if he continues to put up good numbers, I'll keep him on my radar.

  3. Looks like Rayan Hernandez signed according to the baseball america signing page. Go greybeards.