A Minors Obsession

Why do teams stick with struggling prospects?

At some point during each season there are fans who follow the minor leagues who begin to wonder why “Player X” hasn’t been released and is still sticking around. When the numbers aren’t good and it seems that maybe the tools have declined or aren’t playing as well as maybe they should for prolonged periods of time (seasons, not a few weeks), it’s understandable that people ask the questions.

So what is it that makes an organization stick so much with guys who have struggled for long stints of their career? Well, there are a few reasons. Fairly or unfairly, money is at times a factor. When an organization has spent a lot of money to sign a player, several people have vouched for that player and to release that player reflects on their assessment. It’s easier for an organization to release a guy who is struggling that was signed for five figures than a guy who was signed for seven.

Usually what comes along with that money though is the thing we often hear about when talking about minor leaguers, the tools. Guys who have big tools wind up getting the big signing bonuses. There is obviously a difference between a tool and a skill, but its very difficult to take a guy and improve his tools, so when you have a player that has some that stand out, even if they are inconsistent, it’s tough to let them go.

So why am I writing about this today? Well, there are a few reasons, but at my site there have been several discussions about why Daniel Corcino is still pitching in the Pensacola Blue Wahoos rotation despite his clear struggles. Despite a 3.66 ERA, he has 33 walks and 41 strikeouts in 59.0 innings pitched. Over the last three seasons he has really struggled to throw strikes, walking 171 batters in 331.1 innings. That is a fraction over one walk every other inning. There are clearly some issues going on there that won’t translate to the big leagues, and they didn’t translate to Triple-A last year either, though his stuff was a bit different last year than it is this year.

Right now, Corcino finds himself on the 40-man roster. He was demoted from Triple-A to start the year, so clearly the organization is saying that they understand he is struggling and they are trying to do things to right the ship.

A second reason I am writing this is that I noticed a former high end prospect for another team that is absolutely dominating in the Major Leagues right now after having a very up and down minor league career. Before I mention who that player is, I want to give some background information on the player. He was drafted out of high school at 18-years-old and after his first season in the minor leagues in just a handful of innings, he was a Top 100 prospect. This player didn’t show back up on a Top 100 list for four more seasons moving forward. From his age 19 season through his age 21 season, he walked 106 batters in 191.0 innings pitched. Then out of nowhere as a 22-year-old he walked just 22 batters in 85.1 innings and showed up on top prospect lists again. Over the next three years he then walked 211 batters in 341.2 innings pitched and that took us through the 2013 season in the minor leagues. He would have a bit of a drop in velocity in there from his peak velocity reports and he even wound up having Tommy John surgery. But the team stuck with a big time arm despite his struggles and eventually they were rewarded.

Now 26-years-old, he has spent the entire season pitching in the big leagues out of the bullpen. He has a 1.59 ERA in 28.1 innings with nine walks and 49 strikeouts. Despite years of struggles in the minor leagues, the Yankees stuck with Dellin Betances because he had shown things throughout his career, even if it was just in flashes, that you simply can’t teach and now they have arguably the best reliever in baseball this season.

While there are likely far more guys who weren’t able to turn things around once they went through long struggles, Dellin Betances is a perfect example of why teams don’t give up on guys and give them seemingly chance-after-chance. It may not always work out, but when it does it can turn into an elite level player rather quickly if something clicks.

12 thoughts on “Why do teams stick with struggling prospects?

  1. Great report thanks Doug! Who do you think the Reds will call up and send down/release next? Do you Diaz making a call to the bigs this season?

    • It honestly is beyond me as to who is next in line. Price said the other day that Jumbo Diaz wasn’t ready to be called up yet. If he isn’t, I don’t know who is.

  2. Back when he was trying to honestly talk about baseball Tracy Jones used to say with some frequency that after the obvious future superstars, who got a real chance to make the majors and who didn’t often came down to who had a mentor or special supporter in the org at the right place at the right time. Going a step further he would also opine that the careers of the mentors and supporters as development personnel often came down to guys they had championed early on panning out and these were the guys they helped pull through.

    Do you you think this was ever or is still the case?

    • I think you can still see things like that going on in all organizations. It is simply human nature. When your reputation is on the line, you may give a little more to your guy than to someone else. As I noted in the article, it’s easier to release a guy who got a 5 figure signing bonus than a 7 figure one. It doesn’t make someone look bad, because that guy probably wasn’t expected to be a big leaguer, but that 7 figure guy was and if he just flat out doesn’t do anything, it looks bad on the guy who backed him early on.

  3. Doug, do you think there could also be some “Well, someone has to fill this roster spot” going on? With the way information flies around nowadays, pretty much all potential MLB-talent level baseball players in the country (and most other spots in the world) are known entities. And the best ones are already signed or playing somewhere. So, it’s not as if a team could cut someone like Corcino and just replace him with someone else who has a higher upside. Good players are scarce and giving up on ones with tools, as you say, is probably not a good strategy.

    Good read!

    • There is almost always roster spots that need filling. But look at it like this too…. Jumbo Diaz has a fairly big upside as a reliever. Arms like that don’t just come around every day. Yet he is 30 and has never thrown a pitch in the big leagues because he hasn’t been able to find a consistent offspeed pitch in his career. He’s been granted free agency several times in his career. There are talented guys out there every year as free agents who have warts on their resume that you can pick up.

  4. This is a really nice read and answers a question I’ve always wondered about. I’ve always had a hard time being patient with the idea of prospects.

    As an example, my local minor league team is a Royals affiliate. 2 years ago they drafted a guy and gave him a 7 figure signing bonus. He promptly came to town to our A-level team and was overmatched in every facet of the game. I kept screaming for them to bench him (I don’t know why I cared, it’s just an A team)… but at the end of last year he got hot and finally started producing after looking like Willy Taveras for a while.

  5. Would have rather signed Valverde and he is pretty bad… I just LOVE guys that can’t throw strikes and Marmol is exceptionally scary.

  6. “Guys who have big tools wind up getting the big signing bonuses.”

    Jeeze Doug, this is a family friendly site, hah… but more seriously, what’s going on with Ervin? I know he had wrist surgery in the offseason, but the guy’s hitting .214/.276/.307 in single A. Is he just not healthy? I haven’t seen any games or anything, but if he’s struggling that badly, why isn’t he on the DL?

    Also, what’s Ben Lively still doing in A+? I saw he finally got pushed over the 1.00 ERA mark, but he’s still thoroughly dominating it in 10 starts. When do you expect him to be promoted? I am just not sure what needs to continue to be worked on in A+ when they have an ERA around 1 and a 9BB/73K ratio in 61 innings.

  7. I remember when Corcino was regarded as a Johnny Cueto clone. The implication was he was going to follow a similar path to the big leagues. Well….. It’s a bit disappointing to say the least.

    Let’s hope Stephenson at least turns out to be the real deal. Otherwise, the Reds strength now (starting rotation) might end up being their weakness in another year or two.

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