Developing prospects without a minor league season, a real challenge for MLB organizations

Andres Chavez

MLB and the players association are still negotiating for the return of major league baseball in 2020. Whether they can hammer out a deal remains to be seen, but for now, big leaguers are in wait and see mode.

The landscape is considerably less optimistic for minor leaguers, though. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the season, just like MLB, was canceled indefinitely, but while an MLB season remains possible, if not likely, MiLB will likely not play any games this year.

That means young players in need of live action reps won’t have the possibility of getting them this year. Hundreds of minor leaguers lost their jobs as teams want to cut costs because of the COVID-19 outbreak. Those who kept their jobs will lose important development time and reps with no season to play.

The New York Yankees and Mets are doing everything they can to help their prospects hone their skills and improve their games.

“One of the players reached out and said, ‘Can I hit off a tee?’ We said, ‘Yeah, dude!’ ” Kevin Reese, the Yankees’ senior director of player development, said recently in a telephone interview to Ken Davidoff of the New York Post. “ ‘Ted Williams used to pick up pebbles and hit them with a broomstick. That may be all we have access to, but if it helps you work on your hand-eye coordination, awesome.’ ”

Prospects represent the future capital of an MLB club. “This is the research and development side of the organization,” said Jim Duquette, the former Mets general manager and Orioles vice president of baseball operations, currently a broadcaster on MLB Network Radio. “It’s one of the most important aspects of the organization, and every year is precious.

“As we know there’s a very short timeline in an athlete’s career when you can take advantage of their peak season. You take one out, you miss one season of live game action, it impacts guys.”

What are MLB teams doing to help their young guns improve?

The Mets, according to Jared Banner (the club’s executive director of player development) are looking to provide their players “with safe ways” to improve “until we can get back on the field again.”

The Mets use Zoom conference calls with the development staff and prospects, which include one-on-one discussions to keep track of their activity. Reese said that the Yankees “produce videos” for their players, which according to Davidoff can be of the “pump-up” variety as well as instructive.

“We’re doing whatever we can to make players more aware of what they need to work on,” Reese said. “Hitting, strength and conditioning, mental — each of those departments have broken into groups. We have our Double-A hitting coach [Ken Joyce] working with our Double-A-ish hitters.”

If you think MLB players have been affected by the outbreak, think about minor leaguers, too. At least big leaguers could return to play next month. Prospects will likely spend many more months losing not only money, but also valuable playing and development time.