A Reminder Of Somewhat Critical Importance

Jeff Sullivan · May 14, 2013 at 4:35 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Some time ago, a report came out of somewhere suggesting that, within the Mariners organization, there was disagreement concerning Jesus Montero’s playing time. The Mariners have since downplayed anything of the sort, and of course we should expect that there would be some disagreement, since an organization includes a lot of people and a lot of people have a lot of opinions. Disagreement only matters if it gets ugly, and right now there are no signs of an organizational schism. Outside of the schism between the second and third slots in the starting rotation.

But this hits at something I want to talk about more generally. Montero is a young player, and people always want young players in the majors to play as often as possible. Now, from Ryan Divish:

Even if Montero isn’t in the line-up, that doesn’t mean progress isn’t being made. At the big league level, a day out of the line-up for a “work day” can be quite beneficial. With Montero, those work days include plenty of work on drilling, refining and ingraining certain catching fundamentals.

“That’s why we give him good work days,” Wedge said. “Those are huge. And for him, a young player, he has to step away from it. It’s such a grind.”

We’ve given the Mariners crap when we’ve thought they were wrong, so it’s only fair to highlight when they’re doing something right. And though this isn’t rocket science, the Mariners are right to give Montero some breathers. Less specifically, Wedge is right on — days off aren’t days off. Every day is a work day, and it’s just that sometimes, that work day doesn’t involve a game against another team.

Whenever — whenever — a young player is out of the lineup, people bitch. In part they bitch because they selfishly just want to see the young guy play, since young guys are interesting and exciting, but they also bitch because they think sitting is bad for a player’s development. Fans want young players to develop. Fans figure development comes from playing in games against high-level opponents. What good does it do to have a young player sit on the bench, when he could be getting more regular reps in the minors?

Playing baseball isn’t just about playing baseball games. It’s also about everything that goes on in between, and there is so much work that gets done outside of the nine competitive innings. Of course, there’s no substitute for standing in against CC Sabathia or Mike Trout or whoever, but that doesn’t mean it’s wasted time. Playing a guy too much might wear him down. It might get him feeling overwhelmed, the way you might feel about work if you never got weekends. Sometimes a break is necessary to clear the mind and recharge. And sometimes time off is how you implement important changes and tweaks.

In the majors, players learn real fast about their strengths and weaknesses. So it becomes a priority for the weaknesses to be addressed, and it’s not like they’re only addressed during game action. They’re considered in practice, and should there be adjustments attempted in throwing or hitting mechanics, those can take time to sink in and start to feel comfortable. You’re basically re-writing muscle memory, and if you try to change a guy in the afternoon and then play him at night, you run the risk of having any progress erased. In higher-stress situations, players are likely to revert to what’s most familiar, and that might not include the latest tweaks. Those tweaks need to be repeated, so they can come naturally. That’s the course of improvement.

It should go without saying that there’s a balance, and there would be such thing as a young player in the majors who isn’t playing enough. If you promote a young hitter and just sit him on the bench, he won’t get enough opportunities to put his skills to the test. It’s important to participate in competitive action, and better to have a developing player play a bunch in the minors than not very much in the bigs. But just because a young guy is in the bigs doesn’t mean he has to play all the time. Just because a young guy gets a lot of days off doesn’t mean his team is crippling his development. There’s always work being done, and we don’t know nearly enough to be able to justify criticism of a team for sitting a prospect. If anything, young guys would be the most prone to feeling overwhelmed. And when one feels overwhelmed or generally stressed out, little of substance gets accomplished. Focus and development don’t automatically follow from playing as many major-league innings as possible.

Fans always want to see the younger players every day. You can’t blame them; the younger players are the players with spice(!). But sometimes it’s in a guy’s long-term best interests to “watch a game,” as they say. Sometimes to watch a few games, while putting a lot of work in on the side. We generally suck at considering long-term best interests, when they disagree with the immediate preference. Give baseball people a break. Everybody wants their young players to get better. Baseball people don’t always make the right decisions, but it’s not like fans are player-development experts themselves.


13 Responses to “A Reminder Of Somewhat Critical Importance”

  1. jordan on May 14th, 2013 4:44 pm

    Thank you. I can tell you that when I played I got a whole lot better on off days than I did on game days.

  2. Bodhizefa on May 14th, 2013 4:54 pm

    I guess the real issue is that they have him working on his catching skills instead of his hitting. The Mariners may be the last team in the world that believes Montero should still be a catcher, and it’s this kind of erroneous evaluation that upsets me the most. The team doesn’t have a clue what to do with Montero, and they’re letting Wedge dictate his development as a catcher instead of as a hitter. I think that’s pretty stupid and an indictment on the M’s org as a whole at this point.

    Montero, Smoak, and Ackley should all be in the minors right now, and no amount of Wedge praising Montero’s enthusiastic work ethic on his catching is going to change my mind on that. Wedge was quoted the other day as saying its always better to be too late than too early on development and when to say when, and I think that’s preposterous. Wedge is a horrific manager and talent evaluator.

  3. jordan on May 14th, 2013 4:58 pm

    ^I definitely agree. Montero shouldn’t be anywhere near a catchers glove. Just let him work on becoming Edgar Martinez.

  4. scraps on May 14th, 2013 6:01 pm

    But Wedge isn’t necessarily the one who makes the decisions about Montero’s catching. I assume the Mariners’ decisions about Montero’s uses are made higher up. If Montero is going to catch for the time being, Wedge should be getting work for him at catcher and hitting.

  5. Nebikard on May 14th, 2013 6:32 pm

    Montero, Smoak and Ackley should stay right were they’re at. Montero should be out there every day as a DH. Ackley and Smoak have been hitting well for the past month.

    Anybody who is looking at their current batting averages and are thinking “Oh, they’re both around .240 and you think that’s good hitting? We should trade them both!!” just aren’t paying attention to the fact that in the past month, they’re both hitting over .300 over the past few weeks.

    You hold on to your young players, unless a trade that you can’t refuse comes your way.

  6. Nebikard on May 14th, 2013 6:34 pm

    Also, they got Montero with the impression that in the LONG RUN, he would be our every day DH over time. Right now IS NOT the long run.

  7. Bodhizefa on May 14th, 2013 6:57 pm

    Nebikard, I disagree with pretty much everything you wrote, and some of it is just blatantly incorrect.

    Ackley assuredly hasn’t been hitting well for the last three weeks or so. What stats are you looking at? He’s been awful, man… just awful. And Montero can’t play DH every day because of the way the roster is constructed. They both need to be in the minors to figure things out and to get every day at bats. It’s kind of hard for him to learn how to be a full-time DH for the “LONG RUN” if he’s not even spending his time learning how to hit right now (notice he’s mostly working on his catching ability right now, which is absolutely ludicrous).

    Smoak I could take or leave. He should be in Triple-A, too, but there’s almost no one to take his place at the moment unless we move Morales to 1st full-time (not a bad idea, mind you). He’s walking plenty, but otherwise he’s a pretty shitty hitter.

  8. Bodhizefa on May 14th, 2013 7:02 pm

    Besides, no one is suggesting we get rid of these guys. What we are suggesting is that they are wasting away in the majors since they’re clearly not getting any better up here and need every day reps at a level they can handle and can learn (aka Triple-A). Ackley, Smoak, and Montero have been pretty awful for the year, and despite Smoak showing some signs of not being absolutely atrocious of late, that doesn’t sway me in the least that his time here is done. These guys are some of the worst hitters in all of baseball at the moment, so you suggesting we need to be patient is a silly point. We have been patient, but they’ve only gotten worse. Now that we have some decent alternatives on the farm (like Franklin), we need to start taking a look at those guys in the big leagues and move on from these dudes who just aren’t getting it. If Montero and/or Ackley can figure things out in Tacoma, that’s fine. I would love for that to happen! But we’re just wasting space and at bats for more deserving players at this point by keeping them in the big leagues right now.

  9. PackBob on May 14th, 2013 7:10 pm

    In fairness to the general fan (although I’m not sure that’s necessary) they can only judge what they know about. There is rarely any reporting on what goes on behind the scenes. If you don’t hear about it, it tends to not exist.

    We hear that some players get to the ballpark early, but rarely any specifics on what they do. We know there is a weight and conditioning room, although maybe not a weight room for the M’s any more, but little clue on what players actually do there. We know there is a hitting coach, and that he’s there mostly to be the first one fired, and that he works with the hitters, but very little on how he works with players or how much.

    It’s hard for fans to be knowledeable when they rarely hear about what goes on in the background, and could easily miss this one day in the year that it’s mentioned.

  10. stevemotivateir on May 14th, 2013 7:55 pm

    So what’s the likely plan for Montero with this organization? Try to fix him, showcase him later as a real starting catcher and trade him in the offseason? Have him DH and back-up Zunino next season (assuming Zunino’s ready)? Maybe there isn’t a plan yet, they’re simply waiting to see how both he and Zunino comes along?

    Everything you said makes sense. But how does Montero learn at this level from guys like Wedge, Datz, and Shoppach -who’s hardly the model catcher himself?

    I have no idea what the best approach for him is, so I’ll be skeptical no matter what they try until he actually starts holding his own or at least shows improvement. Do you think he’s showing improvement (no snark, I’m curious if anyone has noticed anything)?

  11. Westside guy on May 14th, 2013 9:02 pm

    Steve, the only thing Montero’s shown me recently is that he has no business being a catcher.

    I like the guy as a human being, and I hope he turns into the masher everyone predicted. But, if anything, he’s gotten worse as a catcher rather than better.

  12. stevemotivateir on May 15th, 2013 6:47 am

    Oh, I have zero confidence in him becoming a catcher, Westy. But it may be that the organization still does.

    There are two things I have noticed. First, he still drops a knee when preparing to throw, resulting in horrible throws. Second, he still flinches and struggles to hold on to the ball.

    Montero has never looked comfortable as a catcher. But I’m really curious how the M’s view him. I would guess they’re not high on keepin’ him around, but I would certainly question their current method for building/developing his value, whether to keep him or trade him.

  13. Dobbs on May 15th, 2013 10:33 am

    I like your writing Jeff, but I disagree in part that I think you do need to be playing around 75%+ of the time. A major part of the process is learning how to handle the strike zone and working the count, neither of which can be learned well from watching.

    If Montero’s playing time is sporadic, it’s more difficult for him to find consistency in his process at the plate. Just my opinion based on when I’ve played and I feel stats showing regular playing time increases production prove that out.

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