Thursday, March 27, 2008

Evan Longoria starting season in AAA isn't so crazy

It's been almost three full days since E-Day or Monday when the Rays decided to send Evan Longoria to the minors to start the season. Since then Rays fans have spoken out on both sides. Those for and against the move have let their opinions be known, but is it really that big of an issue? Is this move so unprecedented? Not really. I know each player's promotion or lack there of is on a case by case basis, but really Evan's case isn't that far off the norm.

RJ Anderson of DRaysbay wrote an article yesterday about Jeff Niemann's minor league innings pitched compared to that of some current Rays, most namely James Shields and Andy Sonnanstine. Reading that made me think of how Evan Longoria's minor league time compares with other players. I looked at the crop of talented young 3B in the majors or about to be in the majors, a few established MLB stars who came up as 3B, and how the Rays have handled promotion of their own home grown talent. Here is the list:

I didn't do this to show a correlation between MiLB time and MLB success because as you can see Albert Pujols didn't need no stinkin AAA time. In fact, those three AAA games were the only MiLB games Pujols played over the A+ ball level, that's how good he is. I just wanted to see what other teams did with their stud 3B prospects and it seems that the Rays are pretty justified in sending Longoria down for a little more seasoning. Only Pujols, Gordon and Zimmerman shot to the MLB in less games and less AB's. While Longoria has more AAA time than Miguel Cabrera and Kevin Kouzmanoff and will pass Ryan Braun and David Wright, they still had more total games and AB's in the minors/college than Longoria.

I also wanted to track some of the Rays prized position player prospects rise through the minors. From the list only Rocco Baldelli had a quick stint in AAA with 23 games. Crawford, Delmon Young, Upton and Aubrey Huff all played at least 85 games in AAA. BJ played two + full seasons at AAA, but obviously for defensive reasons. Also every other Rays player on the list besides Baldelli had at least 200 ABs more than Longoria. Even if Longoria gets 100 more ABs he still will have the second fastest rise through the Rays system behind Rocco. So to say the Rays are being cheap and are holding Longoria down isn't really justified by this list. This doesn't mean that the Longoria move wasn't money motivated, but shows the Rays have a history of getting their players more time at the MiLB level before promoting them.


scoresheetwiz said...

You can make up all sorts of claims by chosing the right statistics. This chart does not show that sending down a prospect of Longoria's stature is normal. Even if it did, it does not mean that it was the right thing to do. Anyone who maintains that Longoria was sent down for "seasoning" is deluding themselves. It was done purely for economic reasons.

Go back over the chart's list of "comparable" prospects:

Pujols - as noted skipped AA and AAA.

Gordon - skipped AAA.

Zimmerman - skipped AAA.

Braun - only 34 AAA G - about same as Longoria already. And he can't field - which usually keeps a guy in the minors longer.

Miguel Cab - wasn't much of a prospect until he exploded his rookie season. That year he played 69 AA games until his call-up. He is a bad fielder, too.

Wright - like Cabrera, did not have the minor league success comparable to Longoria's until his rookie year. That year he played a mere 60 games in AA, then 31 more in AAA.

Longoria has already played 130 AA games and 31 AAA games - and had a spring training where he outplayed the other candidates for his position. His time has come. Don't forget Alex Rodriguez was the best player in baseball by age 20! Longoria is not A-Rod, but even if there were a few other "A" position prospects stuck in the minors longer, it doesn't mean that Longoria should be.

LaRoche - OK, he was squashed in the minors longer, but wasn't quite the prospect Longoria is. Top Baseball America Ranking: 19. Longoria this year is their no. 1 prospect. Last year he was no. 7.

Kouzmanoff - never even made the Top 100.

Crawford and Baldelli were rookies under a different regime. Neither were held down - quite the opposite. Crawford spent a full season of so-so AA. He showed significant improvement the next year in AAA, so was called up after 85 games.

After a year and a half off the radar screen, Baldelli rocketed through the higher three levels of the Rays' farm system in one year! He played only 17 games in AA and 23 in AAA. Then, he was their starting centerfielder right out of spring training.

Huff was a rookie a few years earlier and was brought along much more slowly. However, he was less of a prospect than LaRoche (highest Baseball America ranking #43) and not comparable to Longoria.

Upton was a comparable prospect in stature, and, yes, he was held in the minors longer than he probalby should have been. And, it set him back a couple of years. Hopefuly Longoria will handle it better.

Finally, another no. 1 prospect, Young had a pretty similar minor league career his first year and a half as Longoria's, then was kept in AAA for another 86 games. However, there were major differences. Young came out of high school - not university. And, Young struggled his first stint in AAA, Longoria did not. The season after Young finally mastered AAA, he was handed a starting job in the Major Leagues. Longoria has not been given that chance.

Tampa Bay has already suffered for their treatment of Upton - justifiable though it may (or may not) have been. Their treatment of Longoria might backfire this summer when they try to sign their top draft pick.