Ask Gary: Why do Rays wait so long on prospects?

by Gary Shelton on May 19, 2018 · 4 comments

in general

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Saturday, 4 a.m.

In the upcoming series with the Angels, the Rays will get a first-hand look at Japanese two-way sensation Shohei Ohtani, age 23.  Meanwhile, the Rays' own two-way prospect Brendan McKay, age 22 with 3 years of college baseball experience, has only recently been promoted to Advanced Class A ball. As is the Rays tradition, they bring their prospects along very slowly. The Braves have two outstanding rookies who are 20 and 22 doing very well in the majors. Most organizations seem willing to bring up their top prospects sooner than the Rays do, especially non-pitchers. Are the Rays prospects just not that good or is there another motive for the team to keep these guys in the minors so long?

Larry Beller

Larry, the Rays are historically methodical at advancing their prospects. Sometimes, that's not the worst thing in the world. Remember when B.J. Upton, Delmon Young and Elijah Dukes were griping about still being in the minors and suggesting that major-leaguers showered in champagne? Turns out, the Rays didn't wait to long on any of them. If they had waited longer, maybe all three would have been better.

The worst thing you can do to a prospect is promote him before he's ready. Over their history, there aren't enough instances of a prospect

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being brought up too late. Andy Friedman used to say all the time that he didn't want to bring a prospect up until he was ready to stay.

Still, it does seem as if the Rays take plenty of time. I wonder what Willie Adames would do in the bigs, for instance. Maybe Jake Bauers.

Part of this, I suspect, is the team is reluctant to start the arbitration clock on these guys before they're ready. (You knew there was a money aspect, didn't you)? That way, he doesn't hit the big money before the team can decide whether he's worth keeping.

It would be easier to explain, naturally, if the Rays had done better with their development program. I'm willing to wait til their ripe if, indeed, they become ripe. But there have been too many players who have gotten lost along the way to the majors.

I suspect we'll look back on the farm system over the last few years and decide the players weren't good enough. But this group is supposed to be different because of all the trades, right? We'll see. Still, it seems easy to say that the Rays have to do a better job drafting or developing.

I'm sure the Rays would say that Ohtani (and others) were ready faster than most minor leaguers. Maybe. Still, I think the Rays believe in taking their time with their prospects. It just seems that, every now and then, a player would move through the minors more rapidly.

Do you think it is fair that Robinson Cano can begin serving out his 80-game suspension while on the disabled list?

Scott Myers
Of course not. He cheated. He got caught. It's like saying that Bonnie and Clyde don't have to worry about jail time until their head colds go away.

This is punishment, remember. It's supposed to be swift and just. It isn't meant for "well, when you get around to it, we'll fluff you're pillows and you can serve easy time.

I thought it was interesting that Mark Teixeira said that he "wasn't surprised" that Cano was busted. What does that tell you? That teammates suspected Cano all along?

Look, baseball was culpable back in the McGwire-Sosa-Bonds-Clemens days. Light punishments suggested to players that there really wasn't that big a deal. Now, baseball is risking the same thing with Cano.

You probably read Cano's fiction that he took the PEDs accidentally, which is amazing to me. Players keep tripping and drugs keep falling into their mouths.

USA Today quoted Victor Conte, the founder of BALCO, said it “may be unfair to jump to conclusions, but there is a history in place that should not be ignored. This Robinson Cano positive test should not surprise anybody in baseball. Players from the Dominican Republic have always been part of a pipeline for PEDs to baseball, a place in history that should not be ignored.”

Given all of that, why in the world should baseball be light in Cano's punishment? Don't suspend a guy for games he couldn't have played in anyway.

Recently on Channel 8, Vince Naimoli said that he does not feel that he gets enough respect.  What is your take and how were your dealings with him?
Jim Willson

Jim, I'm going to surprise you here. I'm going to agree with Vince. I don't think he does get enough credit.

Oh, let's be honest. If you are judging Vince for his entire stay, well, he didn't win enough. He could be a bully.

But Naimoli brought baseball here. Other men tried and failed, but Vince landed the team. For that, I think he merits some respect He opened the box that had a baseball inside.

I dealt with Vince a lot. One day, he called me while I was driving. I had written that he rubbed some people the wrong way. He challenged me on that, and I almost drove off the road. Give me one example, he said. Dillard's, I said. He said he was trying to get along with Dillard's, but they wouldn't return his calls. What does that tell you, I said.

I watched a game sitting next to Vince (he never bought as much as a soda). I watched his last game in his skybox with him and saw him turn out the lights. I wrote when his partners were threatening to pull out their support of him.

There was good in Vince, who had a good heart. There was bad in Vince, who could be petty (remember when he stacked the Times' newspaper boxes  in the loading dock one day, forgetting that he had a contract with them? The paper had an article that was jokingly casting a movie, and the chore of playing Naimoli was assigned to James Gandolfini (who played Tony Soprano.

But getting a franchise is no small feat. Vince pulled it off. For that, I think he deserves some respect. You can still do that and chide him for not winning more.

I know they are related, but they are not the same thing generally speaking - Cable TV and the Internet. In your opinion, which of these technologies has changed sports reporting and sports' fans experience the most? Has the majority of changes been positive or negative for fans? For reporters?

Cecil DeBald

Personally, Cecil, I think the internet changed sports reporting the most. It created a system where reporting isn't essential -- a lot of these "reports" are from writers who've never been in the Bucs' clubhouse. They're shallow stories designed to get hits -- the latest mock draft, a propped-up story on the quarterback, etc. Rarely these days do you see an in-depth article that really tells you something you didn't know.

I believe this: The stories are still there. But fewer and fewer outlets are interested in telling good stories. It's also harder to get access time with the athletes. I used to be able to get Warren Sapp or Derrick Brooks or Ronde Barber for an hour at a time, exploring how they feel about this, about that. Now, most athletes speak once a week, and only for a few minutes in front of a massive crowd. You don't get to know the athletes as well.

Sports radio has had an effect, too. The radio hosts are rarely around the team, but there swapping opinions with radio callers, who often know more than they do.

There there are sports talk shows, which is often a screaming match between two uninformed hosts (Skip Bayless? Jason Whitlock? Stephen A. Smith?) Those guys never recognize the nuances of a. story that has two sides to it. Someone's a genius and someone's an idiot.

There is a segment of the population that likes having their thought-processes removed. No one wants to think for themselves. They just want to yell louder than the next guy.

In other words, sports reporting is less informed and less insightful than it's ever been. That's not just toehold grumpy guy in me talking. A bunch of us were talking about Sports Illustrated recently. When I was growing up, it seemed to have five or six articles in every issue that was masterfully executed. Now,  you're lucky to get one in five or six issues.

Then there is the Belichicking of sports in America. He doesn't say a lot, and because he wins, other coaches don't say much, either. I knew a coach who challenged a writer once for mentioning who was practicing as his first-team nickleback. Don't. you think the opposing coach figured a team would play its best player at nickel? And if he looked out and saw an athlete he saw as a liability, that he would adjust in about three seconds?

Regarding new Bucs' defensive line coach Brentson Buckner. Is there  any chance he is going to really ignite the Bucs defensive line like Rod Marinelli did so many years ago?

Nick Hollis

Nick, let me say this first. If any coach can be compared with Marinelli, the Bucs are in pretty good shape. Marinelli was great, of the best position coaches that the Bucs have ever had (and they've had Joe Gibbs, Wayne Fontes and Herm Edwards). Don't worry about his record as a head coach. As an assistant, he was able to work well with Warren Sapp, Chidi Ahanatou and Simeon Rice.

That said, I think Buckner is a burst of energy. I spent some time with him this week, during the coaches' interviews, and I remarked to another reporter that after hearing him, I was ready to put on shoulder pads and hit the field. (Not that it would help the Bucs a lot).

I like the way Buckner talks. I like his attack mentality. He refers to to his line as "the foundation" that will make this defense better. He'll certainly have more tools (the most since Marinelli) to get it done

And that's part of it, too. There has never been a coach who improved the talent of one of his players. His will, yes. His determination. His attention to his task. That's where a coach can make a difference.

I'd like to think that Buckner is one of those, a guy who can stress the right habits, who can emphasize fundamentals and energy. With Jason Pierre-Paul and Vinny Curry and Vita Vea, this has a chance to be a special group for the Bucs. Who knows? In a year, we may look back and say that Bucker's signing was as big as any.

What do you think about the Supreme Court's decision on legalized sports betting: big deal or no?

Jim Willson

Oh, potentially, it's a big headache, especially for those who run sports leagues and want to ensure that the games retain their integrity.

I'm not naive. I know that people gamble, whether it's a five-buck office bet or if they spend hundreds on a weekend. For years, the pro leagues have sworn they hated gambling in all of its forms, a claim that seemed hollow once teams started racing to Las Vegas.

But there is something to be said for having gambling in the open. Even Adam Silver, the NBA commissioner has backed gambling in order to better control it.

If gambling increases, however, colleges are going to have to be more vigilant (players don't get paid, remember). A cornerback who doesn't make the big bucks might be more susceptible to a bribe. Maybe a coach, too. If money will increase, well, misuses of it will increase.

Of course, if you're the commissioner of a sports league, you're interested in making more money for your owners. Right? So just wait. Before long, the NFL will have its own casinos with its own sports betting. Don't you think the league wants its share of your office pool? I've always said if you have a $10 bill in your wallet, an NFL owner can read the serial number upon meeting you.

Remember when sports gambling was a big sin? Remember when Pete Rose was kept out of the Hall of Fame? When the Black Sox were horrible? When Paul Hornung and Alex Karras were suspended?

Was that all an illusion? Or were the leagues right in keeping a distance from gambling?

 

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Larry May 19, 2018 at 11:23 am

Probably true before the advent of bullpen days. Although there is a case to be made that the bullpen day strategy does create opportunity for young pitchers.

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Gary Shelton May 19, 2018 at 12:52 pm

Over their history, the Rays have always been good at developing pitchers. Part of that is because pitchers earn so much the team lets go of them in their primes.But pitchers move up much more reasonably than position players. Not that Rays have done much with position players lately, have they?

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Larry May 19, 2018 at 8:06 am

I never completely understood the thing about the major league clock starting too early but the way you explained it makes sense. But again that theory is subject to dispute. The Rays seem to think the prospect will learn enough in the minors so when he comes up he will immediately be in top form. Rarely does that happen. There almost always is a learning curve even in the majors.

I think the Brendan McKay case is especially egregious to the player. He is signed after a stellar performance in college but the Rays stick him in the lowest level of the minors, just as they would a kid drafted out of high school, and make him go through each minor league level in painstakingly slow steps. Too much. This guy should be treated more like Longoria and Price who didn’t spend a lot of time in the minors. Like most things the Rays do the financial aspect of it dominates their decisions.

My advise to any player drafted by the Rays would be, don’t do it. Run away from this organization as fast as you can.

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Gary Shelton May 19, 2018 at 10:32 am

Ill be honest. I’ve never seen McKay play. It would be silly for me to say where he is in his development. Perhaps the Rays should move him along quicker. Goodness knows, they need help.

I’d like this organization if I were a pitcher. Not so much if I were a position player. But that’s just me,

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