The ’09-’10 Offseason and Player Development
This offseason has seen a shift in our expectations in terms of roster composition. Back around November, we talked about the possibility of running out multiple rookies on the field, and how many would be too many for the team to remain competitive. Now those positions have been locked up to the point where the team is likely to field few rookies, if any, and not likely as starting players.
Where in left field, we thought we might see Saunders roaming, we now have the Bradley/Byrnes/Langerhans cerberus aiming to snap up most of the at-bats. At third, Tuiasosopoâ€™s window was shut by the acquisition of all-star Chone Figgins, though I doubt many would complain over that. Carp has been rendered extraneous at first by the acquisitions of Garko and Kotchman. The Bedard re-signing will eventually push Hyphen and Snell back, and likely pushes Fister and Hill to Tacoma as a by-product of the rumored six-man bullpen. Even at catcher, as much as the org has praised Adam Moore, it seems probable that Bard might come in and take the back-up job during spring training. Prospects of all kinds, from future contributing regulars to more fringe types, have been shut out. One might get the impression that the organization is deemphasizing player development in favor of bringing in known quantities.
Iâ€™m here to tell you that this conclusion is false. The Mâ€™s are just as strong on player development as they ever have been, and Iâ€™ll tell you why.
Earlier in the week, Kirby Arnold, great friend of local minor league watchers, wrote an article for the Kitsap Sun discussing a new training camp devised by the Mâ€™s for this spring training. Forty-one prospects (Fields, Poythress, Liddi, Franklin, and Triunfel among them), two dozen coaches, and a month of time in Peoria working on fundamentals. Similar camps are taking place in the Dominican and Venezuelan complexes.
This is something that makes sense on an intuitive level. After all, teams have fall instructs where they teach pitchers a new offering or hitters how to play a new position on the field, so why shouldnâ€™t they have something set up to ensure that the season starts out right? Nevertheless, this is something that just doesnâ€™t happen. Most teams set their mandatory report dates in March, well after all the big league players have arrived and drawn off all the attention of the coaches.
The basic point-by-point details of the camp should be impressive enough. The Mariners singled out their guys they like and increased the ratio of coaches involved in their instruction. Good for them. What makes it really interesting is what theyâ€™ve been working on in the camps. The camp is not a replacement for the fall instructs, but a complement to it, emphasizing conditioning and routines over picking up new skills. As Grifol says in the article, the players wonâ€™t be taking the field for some time, instead working on general physical well-being and strength over the first couple of weeks. Conditioning has not been a glaring problem in the system, at least not in the past five years or so, but itâ€™s an easy area to improve upon, and the Mariners have targeted just that.
Another interesting detail that comes out in the articles is that the Mâ€™s have brought in Dr. Marcus Elliott to work with their minor leaguers during this span. Perhaps you havenâ€™t heard of him. I hadnâ€™t really heard of him before reading this either. Elliott is a Harvard-educated physician, specializing in biomechanics, physiology, and injury prevention. His credits include a research institute he founded several years ago, the Peak Performance Project (P3), and training work for U.S. Olympic teams and at the national sports institutes of Australia and South Africa. He was also the physiologist for the New England Patriots during their Super Bowl runs. Elliott develops training regimens designed on an individual basis for each athlete he works with. The Mariners are bringing him in to work with their minor leaguers. Pause on that for a second.
The Mariners are combining Elliottâ€™s efforts with their own, taking what knowledge theyâ€™ve gained from coaches and player visits during the offseason to develop programs for their best and brightest. These programs will be geared towards making sure everyone involved is healthy and strong throughout the grind of the minor league season, through which thereâ€™s a likely payoff in performance. And when you look at it from what we already know about Zduriencik, it all makes a kind of sense. Zduriencik loves depth and makes every effort to reduce the number of variables he has to account for. Why shouldnâ€™t this carry over to the development of the minor league system, where the org can at least be certain that players have tools they need to succeed physically and are working under the eye of coaches rather than on their own time?
At the beginning of Arnold’s piece, there’s an important quote: “If weâ€™re going to be a really, really good organization, our best players should come through our system,” Zduriencik said. “The core of our team should be guys weâ€™re building, developing and training ourselves. This is a step in that direction.” In case anyone thought that Zduriencik’s perspective was going to change after he moved away from directing the farm system, well, this is your proof that it hasn’t. We have a general manager who knows the value of bringing young, talented (and cheap!) players up through the system, and his efforts to establish a “Mariners way” of playing baseball is going all the way down to the lowest parts of the depth chart.
Minor league fans, be excited. The good times look like they’ll keep on rolling.