Saturday, February 2, 2013

Astros Minor League Depth - Control What You Can Control

Over the past several weeks, I've been looking at the Astros minor league depth. I'm not quite finished as I still have catchers and lefty pitchers coming out next week, but one thing is clear. The Astros minor league depth has come a long way since I started this blog in 2011.

Consider that the Astros went from having one player on the MLB Top 50 Prospect list going in to the 2011 season to having four players on the list going in to the 2013 season (and one additional player just missing the list at #102).

Consider that Astros GM Jeff Luhnow is considering piggy-backing starting pitchers at AA and AAA because the team has so many pitchers that are just shy of being major league ready (and there are more pitchers stacking up behind those).

Consider that Jimmy Paredes was moved to the outfield because Jose Altuve looks to hold down second base with the Astros for a while. Paredes in right field will be challenged by Michael Burgess who will be challenged by Domingo Santana who will be challenged by Preston Tucker who will be challenged by Ariel Ovando. And there are others in the mix as well.

A similar situation exists at center field with George Springer, Robbie Grossman, Andrew Aplin and Brett Phillips. And shortstop? Jonathan Villar, Ben Orloff, Jiovanni Mier, Nolan Fontana, Carlos Correa and others will be trying to prove themselves.

Some of these players will succeed. Some will fail. Some will struggle. Some will be blocked. Some will be traded. Some will not be promoted when they think they should be. And many of these players will become frustrated at some point in their development. Many already have. How they handle that frustration can be as important as their stats as they move through the system.

I've been thinking about that a lot lately. I talked to Justin Maxwell at Fan Fest last weekend about how he handled his frustration in moving slowly through the minor league system. He told me what many other players have told me before, "Control what you can control at the plate and in the field. Just focus on baseball. The rest will take care of itself."

J. D. Martinez at 2013 Fan Fest
Photo by Jayne Hansen

J.D. Martinez' trajectory to the major leagues was a little different. While Maxwell's movement through the minors was slow and steady, Martinez rocketed through the system like a comet. His frustrations came after his major league debut as he struggled in his sophomore season. How much of that was due to his hand injury and how much of that was due to pitchers making adjustments to face him is hard to judge.

But Martinez begrudgingly acknowledged that moving so quickly through the system may not have been the best thing for him in his development as a player, "I would just tell everyone that you want to struggle down there. You learn about yourself when you struggle. I felt last year I learned so much just about myself and about baseball and about people and about how everything works in this game. I wish that when I was coming up through the minors I would have had that little struggle then so I would have figured out what I know now." He understood that, by putting so much pressure on himself, he "got caught in that quicksand and just couldn't get out of it."

Thankfully, Martinez feels much more prepared for the coming season. He knows what to expect and better understands how to handle things that may not always go his way. I would not count him out.

This coming season will be very interesting as we see how Director of Player Development Quentin McCracken handles the emerging depth in the Astros farm system. What will be even more interesting to me is how the players handle increased competition for spots, potential struggles, and perceived snubs. Those who control what they can control and just focus on baseball will, I expect, find that the rest will indeed take care of itself.

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