This may not be easy to see for fans, but players, and baseball evaluators, will speak a lot about the “speed of the game.”
We are not referring to players running quicker as they advance in levels – or pitchers throwing faster – but how quickly and how efficiently plays are made.
The biggest gap in “speed of the game” is between Class-A Advanced and Double-A. This is why many refer to players having to jump over the “Double-A Hurdle.” to advance to the majors.
When a player reaches Double-A, it signifies part of that player’s game is at major-league level. Other parts, therefore, still need work. Outfielder Mason Williams’ defensive game was at major-league level in 2014, but his approach at the plate was not. As soon as Williams’ approach at the plate improved as needed, the Yankees had a young, exciting outfielder.
Greg Bird’s approach at the plate was always advanced, and his defense was always better-than-average. Therefore it was no surprise that he had such a superb run with the Yankees last season.
We have watched over 2,500 minor-league games – at all levels – over the past few decades, and so many players who dominated in Class-A leagues ran into trouble when promoted to Double-A. That “hurdle” previously mentioned is quite real.
“A lot of players don’t realize, even with the pure baseball ability they have, what a wake-up call Double-A can be,” said a scout from an American League team. “It;s really the first time they face older players, pitchers with a full arsenal they can control and read swings on hitters, and defensive players who can rib them of hits that fell in easily.
“The game, starting with Double-A, becomes much more demanding.”
Let’s use shortstop Tyler Wade as an example. As a 20-year-old, Wade put together a nice season at Class-A Advanced Tampa, hitting .280 (103-for-368) in 98 games in 2015. He earned a late-season promotion to Trenton, but hit just ,204 (23-for-113) with the Thunder.
In the field, Wade committed 24 errors at Tampa and seven more at Trenton. His defensive play improved during a 14-game stint in the Arizona Fall League with four errors between second base and shortstop with Surprise.
Wade, who will start the season as Trenton’s shortstop, and likely move to second base when Jorge Mateo arrives, likely at mid-season, knows what he needs to to do both offensively and defensiely in 2016.
“I’m glad I got a taste of what the Eastern League is all about,” said Wade. “There are so many more experienced players and the game takes on a different tone.”
Wade will be one of the youngest players in the Eastern League in 2016. He likely will continue growing and adjusting his game. It is what has to happen for him to remain a prospect,
Right-hander Brady Lail’s pitching impressed many in the Yankees system in 2014m when he was 11-5 in 25 appearances (24 starts) at Class-A stops Charleston and Tampa. He is not a fireballer – his fastball topping out at 92 and backed by a sharp-breaking cutting curve and a developing changeup – but he is an intelligent pitcher learning how to read swings.
After a strong opening start at Tampa on 2015, he was promoted to Trenton and later Triple-A Scranton/WIlkes-Barre and cemented his spot as a prospect with a 10-6 mark among the three teams.
“Once I got to Trenton, it became more of a chess match with the more experienced hitters,” said the 22-year-old Lail (he turns 23 in August). “Mistakes you got away with in Class A, you don’t get away with here.
“You have to adjust to that.”
Lail has. Others will succeed. Others will falter.
Such is the “speed of the game.”