Formula differs for promoting prospects

It’s one of the many mysteries of minor league baseball — up there with who comes up with all the quirky promotions.

Some managers don’t even like to talk about it, as if it’s a secret code or some type of classified information that, if unveiled, will result in a catastrophic disaster.

Ah yes, the classic “promotion” in baseball is as hard to figure out as a Yogi Berra quote (if you’re too young to get that, look up the Yankee great’s best lines).

Figuring out when to send a young player to the next level of the minor leagues isn’t as easy as one might think. The obvious thought process is: Oh, he’s playing well and has been for a couple weeks? Send him up.

If only it was that easy.

“It’s probably a combination of results and experience and opportunity,” said Mahoning Valley Scrappers manager Jim Pankovits in a recent interview. “There are a lot of factors, and a lot of people are (involved) in that decision.”

The manager only plays a part in what happens. Sure, he’s the main evaluator of the player in question, but that’s only the beginning. How old is the player? Is he mature enough for a promotion? What’s his psyche like? How much will his confidence suffer if he struggles?

Oh, and then there’s the opportunity factor. If there’s a player, maybe a high draft pick, at the next level who plays the same position, then there could be a logjam at that spot. It’s pointless to promote a player if he’s not going to play everyday. Maybe he can play another position, but maybe not. So, even if the time seems right, he could be stuck.

Don’t forget about results.

What seems like the most obvious determinant of whether a player should move up is a fickle subject. Statistics can often be skewed, and even if they’re not, the positive results might only cover a short time period and thus be inflated. While fans and players often love to look over stats, and understandably so, they’re not always the best way to evaluate a young player.

So, the question remains: When is the right time to promote a player? The answer is one even the players can’t figure out.

“They have a plan for everyone,” said Scrappers shortstop Tyler Freeman, a 19-year-old Cleveland Indians prospect who leads the New York-Penn League with a .402 batting average through 22 games at the short-season Single-A level. “I don’t know their plan for me. I don’t know their plan for our first baseman, second baseman — everyone’s different. Honestly, I don’t know…”

So, what’s the plan? Another mystery, one that only well-dressed, high-paid smart people with cool titles like Senior Director of Scouting Operations can solve.

Major League Baseball teams almost always have a set plan for each player it drafts or picks up as an undrafted free agent. They often stick to the plan, regardless of how well, or badly, a player is performing. Staying the course gives multiple scouts at different levels of the organization a chance to overview the player before a decision is made.

“It’s not one or two people –it’s a whole tribe,” said Pankovits, accentuating the word “tribe” to emphasize the pun.

While the long, drawn-out course of events may seem tedious to some, Pankovits appreciates the thorough approach taken by the Indians.

“Fortunately, because of where we’re situated so close to Cleveland, I’m expecting a lot of guys from the front office and throughout the organization to come in and have eyes on him,” said the first-year Scrappers manager in a recent interview about 2018 third-round draft pick Richie Palacios, an infielder with Mahoning Valley. “That’s one thing about this organization, they like everybody’s opinion, and they’ll weigh everyone’s and make the right (decision) as far as his future is concerned.”

The word concerned seems appropriate for the final portion of this process.

The concern of being promoted lies within the player. Someone taken in the 29th round probably feels a little more “concern” about his future than a first-rounder who will likely get numerous opportunities to prove his worth. A player’s level of concern can affect performance, confidence and maybe even his chances of being promoted.

Freeman said he puts those thoughts to the back of his mind, albeit he was a second-round pick in 2017, which probably puts his mind at ease. Still, his approach appears to be the smartest because, as I’ve noted, who really knows when the time is right?

“Honestly, we don’t even talk about it,” said Freeman of whether he discusses being promoted with Pankovits or anyone else within the organization. “… Like I said, we control what we can, and we’re going to bust our butts here in Mahoning (Valley), and if we do good, maybe we get the call. If not, that’s baseball.”

It’s only right that “the thinking-man’s game” has such a complex process.

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