It was a fun week for Yankee baseball, a week in which six Yankees made it to the All-Star Game, and the MLB Draft highlighted the next class of potential stars — including a brilliant Vanderbilt outfielder and gigantic led by these same Yankees. Three of the players sent to the All-Star Game were blue chip type, MVP and Cy Young candidates every year, and the other three a year ago were nothing.
All of this got me thinking, what exactly is player development? Spencer Jones is now a beneficiary of the Yankee player development machine, once he signs he will go to the complex league either be exposed or continue to enjoy the development tools he had at Vandy and then he’ll hopefully go to Tampa, then Somerset, then in two years when the Yankees trade a veteran outfielder at the deadline, we’ll all wonder why they don’t just call the monster with a .884 OPS at Double- HAS.
It’s a very conventional understanding of player development – the role of this group is to take players who aren’t on the MLB roster, tweak, refine or add new tools, and produce a player. final ready for MLB. For a lot of teams around the game, it’s their entire player development system.
But there is another aspect of development, the one that was on display in this All-Star Game. Even the bluest of blue chips, Gerrit Cole, who became No. 1 overall in 2011 after being one of the greatest college pitchers of all time, was not the Gerrit Cole we know today. while playing for Pittsburgh. The talent was still there, and he wasn’t BAD as a hacker, but it took another team to see his profile a little differently to move him from Decent Starter to Perennial Cy Young Candidate.
Not to pick on the Pirates too much, but Clay Holmes was way worse than Cole when he was in black and gold. A year ago, Sunday, he pitched his last game for Pittsburgh, coming away with a 4.93 ERA. He came to the Yankees, we all kinda scratched our heads, the Yankees used a ‘lol just sinkers’ strategy, and in the year that followed, Holmes was nothing short of the best baseball relief pitcher.
Nestor Cortes, well, his journey has been retold many times this year, but even something as simple as his weird little slider cutter continuum is an example of what I’m talking about. Cortes was the definition of replacement level, he could be added and removed from major league rosters virtually at no cost.
Now, making Nestor the No. 2 pitcher in a heavy rotation like the Yankees isn’t as simple as “hey, throw that” but it’s indicative of the most important point – you don’t need 12 weeks. at the Tampa complex to change, massage or polish players, you can largely do it on the fly, while they’re on a major league roster.
This ability to walk and chew gum at the same time becomes a new dividing line between the teams. Again, everyone somehow understands Spencer Jones’ path to the majors, and every team has a version of that system, although not every team is equally good at it. It’s a dividing line, but a second is this holistic approach to development, that it’s an ongoing pursuit of a more perfect ball player. Some teams are able to identify necessary adjustments, fewer still are able to communicate and execute those adjustments.
This holistic approach to development gives the Yankees, Dodgers and Rays and Astros, and to a lesser extent the Jays, Orioles and Giants, two distinct advantages. First, in the purest ideas of Moneyball, it allows them to identify undervalued or overlooked tools, see players not as they are but as they could be, and so acquire them for less than what the market should bear. If you traded Clay Holmes today, he would be worth way more than Diego Castillo and Hoy-Jun Park.
The second benefit, and the one I want the Yankees to pursue more aggressively, is that this developmental force allows you to chase blue chips MORE, not LESS. You can add Gerrit Cole and Giancarlo Stanton – and fucking Juan de Soto – because while you’re not guaranteed to continue developing major league talent for pennies on the dollar, experience, institutional knowledge and the reputation you’ve built by turning dummies into All-Stars indicates you probably can.
So you can add blocks, raised ceilings, often Dear talent that takes you from a 92-win team to a 100-win team, and you pay for it in the end by having Nestor Cortes throw like a $25 million arm for a million dollars. The best teams aren’t actually completely “homegrown,” they’re that mix, like the Yankees, Dodgers, and Astros, of developed talent and extra star power. This becomes more and more possible by being able to create multi-win talents on the fly.
Player development is more than swing adjustment at Double-A. There’s the old joke that every winter Mike Trout picks one of his few weaknesses and makes it his strength, and that’s what I’m talking about. Development is a constant process, which opens up teams that do it right to both discover gold and make big splashes backed by that gold. The Yankees should go for Juan Soto, but pay him off by also finding the next Clay Holmes.