THE San Francisco Giants Blog

Minor League Plate Appearances – And I Don’t Mean Doubling Back To The Spread

Posted in Uncategorized by snarkk on March 12, 2014

I cogitated about BF’s thread the other day about how many draftees make it to the Bigs; then got an idea about my “at bats” blather.  We all know Will Clark played in only a small number of minor league games and then came up and hit that dinger off Nolan Ryan in Houston, and the rest is history.  Obviously, the Thrill was an outlier talent.  But, is there any magic to minor league stints; a basic, empirical rule about the number of minor league ABs a kid needs before he has a shot to stick in the Big Leagues?

To wrap my arms around this a little, I reviewed some data on plate appearances (PAs) to make things easy for comparative purposes. (PAs = ABs + BBs, sac bunts & flies, etc.)  First, surprise — I looked at some Giants.  Willie Mays had 470 PAs in the minors (only 164 at AAA Minneapolis) with an OPS of 1.017.  Add that to PAs with the Birmingham Black Barons of the Negro Leagues (not sure really how many, it’s likely at least a few hundred since he played with them over several seasons), and Willie had a pretty fast track to the Bigs, getting there at 20.  Stretch started out in D ball (rookie league) as a 17 year old, and surprisingly had a total of nearly 6 seasons and 2457 PAs in the minors, with 1073 at AAA Phoenix over 3 seasons there.  If you remember, he actually got sent back down to Phoenix after coming up the first time – looks like that was a good idea, because he never went down again after he came up the second time.  As a big guy, looks like it took a while to groove that swing, but once he did, he grooved it all the way to the HOF.

Jack Clark, IMO a very good player, not a star, had what I’d call a traditional, stepped rise through the minors.  Starting at 17, he spent time in the rookie league, then one full season each (over 500 PAs) at A, AA, and AAA ball, with a total of 1902 PAs in the minors.  Bobby Bonds, beginning at age 19, had just under 1900 PAs in the minors, with 714 PAs at AA and less than a full season at AAA Phoenix before he got called up at age 23.  Jimmy Davenport had 1641 minor league PAs, with 581 at AAA Minneapolis, coming up to the Big Club at age 23.  The Thrill played in all of 71 games in the minors before getting called up at age 22 – with 289 PAs in 65 games at A ball Fresno, and just 6 games at AAA Phoenix for a total of a meager 313 minor league PAs.  Let’s just say his outsized talent met fate in a horrible SF Giants team badly in need of that talent.  He had at least two full seasons at Mississippi State (one as the Golden Spikes winner), so I’d throw in at least another 600+ college PAs to that pro total (couldn’t find actual MSU stats). And, Matt Williams had 1178 minor league PAs before sticking with the Big Club at 23.  You’ll remember they brought him up and down several times to SF from AAA until Matt finally figured out how to hit AND lay off the curve ball.

Derek Jeter started in the minors at 18, had 2009 minor league PAs, with 558 or so at the AAA level, coming up to the Bigs at age 21.  Freddy Sanchez stuck in the Bigs at age 26 with the Bucs in 2005, after around 1700 minor league PAs and some prior cups of coffee with the Big Bucs.  Freddy spent 4 years in JC and NAIA ball, so he probably had around 1000 college PAs before he hit the minors – making Freddy kind of an outlier guy who made it late to the Bigs, but turned into a batting champ and had a nice, though fairly short career, with a Giants ring.  Freddie Freeman, he of the new, big fat contract with the Braves, came up to the Bigs at age 21 after 4 seasons in the minors and 1771 minor league PAs. 

Player

A / A+

AA

AAA

Total Minor League PAs

Age to  Bigs

Mays

 

 

164

470

20

Stretch

 

 

1073

2457

23

J. Clark

500+

500+

500+

1902

20

Bobby Bonds

 

714

245

< 1900

23

J. Davenport

 

 

581

1641

23

The Thrill

289

 

24

313

22

Matt Williams

299

0

879

1178

23

Jeter

 

 

558

2009

21

Franchez

 

550

575

1700

26

F. Freeman

 

469 (incl. A+) 

531

1771

21

Trout

 

644 (incl. A+)

93

1312

20

Belt

 

 

273

825

23

Panda

1700+

184

0

1899

22

Gary Brown

600+

600+

600+

1910

Not yet

Averages

 

 

432

1491

 

Our buddy Brandon Belt when first called up in 2011 had just under 600 total minor league PAs, with only 61 at the AAA level and a half season at AA.  IMO (and JT Snow’s) he was up way too early, but with Huff unpuffing, SF rolled the dice.  Sent back down to Fresno, Belt had 212 more PAs there, for an overall total of 825 minor league PAs before he came up to stay.  Now he’s got 1252 MLB PAs heading into this ST, so when he started to go nuts hitting the ball last mid-season, he was around 1800 total pro PAs.  He had about 475 ABs at Univ of Texas before he got drafted by SF.  Panda had 1899 PAs in the minors before sticking in SF, with just 184 at AA, nothing at AAA Fresno.  Mike Trout of the Angels, maybe the best all around player now, had just 1312 PAs in the minors after starting at 17, and up to the BigA just before hitting 20. 

All the above guys don’t seem to show too much in common in terms of PAs history, other than it looks like having a good stint at AAA is critical to batting success in the Bigs for most players.  Good ol’ boy Charlie Manuel said something I think is to the point, when he talked about a struggling player in the Bigs that was brought up without much time at AAA:  “That played a big part in him struggling the past couple of years,” Manuel said. “You miss Triple A, you miss seeing good breaking stuff from 28-, 29-year-old pitchers. Breaking stuff with control.”  http://articles.philly.com/2013-05-31/sports/39631521_1_cesar-hernandez-charlie-manuel-chase-utley

So, my take here is that NO, there is no hard and fast rule about how much time you need to spend in the minors to stick in the Bigs.  Depends on talent, and stardust.  But, unless you’ve got a natural Nuschler or you’re Willie Mays or Trout or another phenom, you probably should get AT LEAST 1500 overall PAs in the minors for a chance of success in the Bigs.  Of that, you better get at least 600 to 700 PAs at the AA and / or AAA level.  That gives you facetime with enough tough pitching to have a shot at not getting smoked by big league arms.  So, a full season each in AA and AAA each is going to serve you real well.  How college or JC PAs translate into minor league PAs, I don’t know.  Maybe one college PA is worth .50 of a pro PA.  Depends a lot on the quality of the league you’re in at college, and the quality of your college instruction, which can vary a ton.

BTW, Gary Brown (age 25) has 1910 total minor league PAs coming into this ST.  That’s after an All-American stint at Cal State Fullerton.  Likewise, Kieschnick (age 27) has 1995 minor league PAs, including over 700 PAs at each of AAA and AA, with a career minor league OPS at .816 (after a stint playing at Texas Tech).  At the similar minor league PA point in Bobby Bonds’ and Jack Clark’s careers, they were already up to stay with the Big Club, and they came straight outta high school.  Kieschick’s minor league career shows that there’s nothing like MLB pitching to humble you, even if you’ve done pretty well in the minors. And, if the Brown hitting light bulb doesn’t go off soon at Fresno, the PA prediction machine says unless he channels Freddy Sanchez, he’s got a snowball’s chance of making it in the Bigs…

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  1. Flavor said, on March 12, 2014 at 5:56 am

    Wow. Great thread. Comprehensive and thoughtful. And the spreadsheet really classed up the joint. I should do more spreadsheets.
    And it really does magnify the time running out on Gary Brown. Had he come straight outta high school, that would be one thing. But he didn’t. Still, nothing wrong with some AAA filler. Hurts that it’s a first round pick.

    • snarkk said, on March 12, 2014 at 11:26 am

      I did it using a Word table. I didn’t use Excel and try to import it, thought I might blow up WordPress, but I don’t know…

  2. pawliekokonuts said, on March 12, 2014 at 6:28 am

    Let me get back to you on this. That’s a lot to think about before breakfast. (Don’t do the clock math.) I’m still in the van with Nipper having coffee.

  3. Bozo said, on March 12, 2014 at 7:23 am

    Well if I add 1,347 PAs in A ball (low to high),
    581 PAs in AA,
    1,709 PAs in AAA and
    259 PAs ML = let’s see, carry the one, dot the I and cross the T, I get … Welcome to Korea Mr. Pill. I hope you put up some nice stats for the Kia Tigers.
    Like Brown, Pill was from Cal State Fullerton, I think we also picked Dante Powell and Jeff Robinson from that school. Also, good old Brent Mayne and Aaron Rowand were both CSUF alumni that came to play for the Giants.This proves to me, that going forward we should never, ever trade for Kurt Suzuki.

    • salty said, on March 12, 2014 at 8:47 am

      Good point! ;)

  4. blade3colorado said, on March 12, 2014 at 8:49 am

    Thoughtful and comprehensive post snarkk. Not too much to say (that you’ve already done an excellent job of covering).

  5. willedav said, on March 12, 2014 at 9:00 am

    I think the hardest thing is figuring out, after X amount of ABs in minors, which guys can handle mlb pitching and which guys are just AAAA players, like Pill Kiesch Noonan and too many others we have seen lately. Belt is hopefully coming into his own as he matures and continues to adjust.
    Crawford apparently took some advantage of Bonds time, which I hope pays off. Adrianza homered yesterday, and hopefully with more PT is getting the reps necessary to for SF to make a decision one way or other.

  6. zumiee said, on March 12, 2014 at 9:19 am

    Great stuff, Snarkk. It seems the trend, though, for MLB teams is to rush kids up to the bigs now. The patience the Giants took with McCovey back in the day seems like a gone era. A guy with McCovey’s tools nowadays would be rushed up to the bigs. Fans are less patient, overall, these days, and they want to see the young studs immediately try to help the big club. Fans want the next Bryce Harper. Yet…..maybe years from now, we’ll look back and say that Harper’s career could have been better with more time in the minors. But still- fans have to realize the Bryce Harpers and Ken Griffey, Jr.s of the world are few and far between. It’s very difficult to hit major league pitching, and players need time to develop.
    And now everyone wants a Puig. Yet, we saw last year that he really was not a major league outfielder on defense yet. But the Dodgers needed his bat pronto, and couldn’t wait. It’s understandible. Necessity dictates sometimes.

  7. salty said, on March 12, 2014 at 9:22 am

    Good post. Interesting research. No hard and fast rule. Team need dictates sometimes how long or short their minor league stay is or if they are sent back. If they have no alt or a crap team, more likely to let the kid learn on the job.

  8. salty said, on March 12, 2014 at 9:25 am

    J Upton 1034 PA out of HS,

    Scutaro 3753.

  9. Alleykat said, on March 12, 2014 at 11:09 am

    Most excellent research Snarkk!!
    Way to many minor league PA for my man Stretch,though he was blocked some by “The Little Bull Orlando Cepeda”in the beginning,didn’t know where they wanted to use him 1B or LF.

  10. snarkk said, on March 12, 2014 at 11:30 am

    It was late last night and I guess I missed this, but looking at Panda’s PAs, does anybody know why they had him take so much time in the low minors? He barely spent 1/3 season at AA, then skipped AAA entirely. I guess the light bulb went off, and he was ready to hit, but that seems strange. Oracle probably has a handle on that. And, does anybody remember what was going on at 3b in SF? It probably wasn’t good at the time back in 2008 or whenever…

    • Macdog said, on March 12, 2014 at 11:45 am

      2008 was the last year for Shea Stadium, and I remember going to see the Giants play there mid-summer. The Giants lost, but what I most remember was 3B Jose Castillo making a couple of errors, at least. So yes, it’s probably safe to say the hot corner wasn’t so hot until Panda’s arrival.

  11. Macdog said, on March 12, 2014 at 11:32 am

    Well done, Snarkk. You got me curious about Hunter Pence, and he’s right about at your average: 1,435 PA, but only 106 at AAA after 592 at AA in 2006. The Astros brought him up in late April of ’07 not long after he turned 24, and he hit the ground running: 17 HR, 69 RBI, .322 avg.,899 OPS. finishing 3rd in ROY behind Braun and Tulo.

  12. Irish Kevin said, on March 12, 2014 at 12:07 pm

    Good Write up Snarkk, I would like to point out the ages of those players when they were brought up. Except for Franchez, all of those players under the age of 25. I have taken some grief from some of you for saying it is a waste of time for a 27-29 year old to be considered for the bigs. If nothing else IMO, Snarkks graph justifies my rants. How many PA’s have those older players had?? Really all of a sudden at 29 I am going to learn how to hit in the bigs?? Again IMO those older players should be coming off the bench in the farm system, if Snarkks graphics are accepted. Just my thoughts.

    • chipower9 said, on March 12, 2014 at 12:12 pm

      Hey Kevin…how do you feel about older players…you know, those guys in the 27-29 year old range? ;-)

      • Irish Kevin said, on March 12, 2014 at 2:26 pm

        ha ha I was 25 once, once!!

    • snarkk said, on March 12, 2014 at 12:17 pm

      Good point, Kev. I agree the age thing is telling. If the light bulb hasn’t gone off at the plate by the time you’re 25 or so, chances are slim it will ever go off, regardless of how many more minor league PAs you get. Franchez seems to be a true anomaly. Sorry to say, but I think at their ages Brown and certainly Kieschnick are likely doomed to AAAA status, or else onto another career choice…

  13. Chipower9 said, on March 12, 2014 at 12:09 pm

    Excellent post, snarkk. Great research and presentation of the facts. I would say that there is no hard and fast rule. You could maybe build a case for a “general rule of thumb” in regards to the number of PAs required for a kid to develop, but when you get down to it, some players are just more talented with raw tools, and are going to develop quicker than others.

    Also, for DI schools that are baseball-rich institutions, the quality of play there is certainly comparable with A or maybe AA, so you have to give some thought/credence to that time for some players.

    I rolled in from Scottsdale last night at 11:30. My daughter and I saw three games…it was an awesome time. Based on what I saw, I would say that Abreu really has (of late anyway) hurt his chances at one of the utility spots. The flip-side of that conversation is that Adrianza looked really good (both at the plate and in the field). With him being out of options, it is going to be a tough call for Boch, Sabes, and crew.

    Another guy who impressed was Brandon Hicks. He hit a monster shot against the Bumbinos on Sunday at the Dogger’s yard. He was playing RF and did not embarras himself in the field, either. Yesterday at Goodyear, he started at 2nd, and looked good there, and also hit the ball hard. He is certainly making the case for a good hard look (I like the flexibility of OF/IF). The downer on Adrianza is that he has been a pure SS his whole career. Might he challenge Crawford?

    Perez continues to look good. I really like this kid. He looked equally good at the plate and in the field.

    And then there is the true anomoly…Minnicozzi. Saw him in a couple of games at 1B and he looked great. Damned good reaction to the ball, and picked a couple of really tough shots down the line. That and he has hit the ball well during spring. No chance in hell he cracks the 25, but I think he starts the season as the starting first baseman for Fresno, and if all goes well, he could well get a September call-up.

    Arias has looked solid in all games in which I saw him, so I think he has definitely locked-up a spot on the team.

    Keischnick had a great catch in Sunday’s game playing RF, but I see no way he cracks the roster, and I seriously doubt he has a chance long-term with the team.

    My digital SLR was on the fritz so all my pictures were with my iPhone. Many were posted to FB, so maybe Flavor can pull some of those, or I will go through them, and pull some to send to him.

    If you ever get a chance to go down to Scottsdale, I highly suggest you do it at least once. Sure, it is ST ball, but outside of seeing some of the young talent (esp. those on the bubble), it is just a really cool vibe and a whole hell of a lot of fun.

    Other stuff may come to mind later ,and if relevant, I will share. Getting in at 11:30 last night and three days of playing hard in the AZ sun has me running a bit on autopilot.

    Anyway, with all this said, I just have a good feeling about this year’s club. Nothing tangible to hang that on…just a gut feeling, and most times those gut instincts are right-on.

    2010 – WS title
    2011 – notta
    2012 – WS title
    2013 – notta
    2014 – …I am ready for another parade down Market Street!

    Anyway…great thread, snarkk.

    We should start talking about a date for another Flapalooza this year. I thought having everyone get seats in the Club level last year was a good time and worked pretty well. Maybe something similar this year.

    • snarkk said, on March 12, 2014 at 12:12 pm

      Great report, Chi. Sounds like a helluva good time…

    • pawliekokonuts said, on March 12, 2014 at 5:14 pm

      Thanks, Chi, for the eyewitness report.

    • blade3colorado said, on March 12, 2014 at 5:18 pm

      Love this stuff Chi. Agree with snarkk, good job!

  14. chipower9 said, on March 12, 2014 at 12:22 pm

    Mac got me curious about 3B in his 11:45, so I had to go look.

    2007 – was predominantly Feliz.

    2008:
    Castillo – 112 games
    Rohlinger – 21 games
    Panda – 41 games
    And get this Minicozzi – 3 games in ST.

    2009 was a split between Uribe and Panda.

  15. snarkk said, on March 12, 2014 at 2:14 pm

    FYI, Hudson got cuffed around a bit yesterday, a dinger with 5 hits and 3 walks in 3 1/3…

  16. zumiee said, on March 12, 2014 at 3:53 pm

    Thanks for the report, Chi! Very cool!

  17. pawliekokonuts said, on March 12, 2014 at 5:00 pm

    Snarkk, thanks for a great read. Was the underlying premise the recent book by Malcolm Gladwell (unread by me), where he says “geniuses” need something like 10,000 hours of practice?

    • snarkk said, on March 12, 2014 at 5:35 pm

      Nope. Germ of it was how Belt was being ripped in 2012, which I thought unfair because he was brought up so fast in 2011 due to Huff’s problems. Last year I got on the same track early on as Belt was being ripped again (before he got hot), and after JT Snow on radio said Belt had been rushed up early. So, I looked up how many minor league PAs Belt had before being brought up the first time, which was less than 1/2 the PAs Freeman had before the Braves brought him up and he stayed. That got me thinking about comparing other Giants’ minor league PAs for a thread topic someday. BF’s recent thread energized the idea. It’s not a novel thought by any means, but I’d never seen any real minor league PA comparisons by the local scribes. BTW, I think I’m a few thousand hours short… ;)

  18. salty said, on March 12, 2014 at 5:41 pm

    It begs the question how much weight does one give College? Freeman went to minors straight out of HS, Belt had 3 yrs at U of T.

    • snarkk said, on March 12, 2014 at 5:49 pm

      Yep. I think pitching in college gives you more of a leg up than hitting in college. Could be the metal bat has a role to play, too. I just made the guess in my thread that maybe one college PA has a value of one half of a minor league PA. So 400 college PAs is the equivalent experience of 200 minor league PAs in the low minors to A+ ball (like the Cal league). Maybe college is not even worth that much. Maybe it’s 400 to 100? Pro instruction in the minor leagues, plus the all immersion impact of working on your game all day every day, the higher competition level, must mean that the minor league experience has more concentrated teaching impact, IMO. Maybe there’s a research paper in there, or maybe it’s already been done?…

      • stixwiz said, on March 12, 2014 at 7:27 pm

        “minor league experience has more concentrated teaching impact”. Good line, Snarkk. Are you going wordsmith on us as well as research maven?

      • snarkk said, on March 12, 2014 at 8:07 pm

        No, BF just pays me based on word count… ;)

  19. dirtnrocksnomo said, on March 12, 2014 at 7:48 pm

    Nice thread Snarkk. I need to do more spreadsheets. Said no one ever. I mean, except Big Flavor.

  20. ewisco said, on March 12, 2014 at 9:15 pm

    i would like to point out that college coaches get paid too. doesn’t that make them “pro”? The issue i’m finding with college is that because you only play twice a week, the pitching staff that you face as a hitter isn’t near as deep as what you would find in the high minors. I think that there is something to the earlier comment that in AAA you face near to major league breaking stuff. the other negative to college is the metal bats which mean that the pitchers never really learn to pitch inside. the ability to saw off a bat is not to be underestimated. i’d like to have a conclusion that sums it all up in a neat bow but alas.

  21. James said, on March 12, 2014 at 11:07 pm

    Snarkk, what’s been pretty well established since the early days of my namesake is that minor league success before your mid-20s, especially at the higher levels, is a pretty good predictor of doing well in the major leagues. Players out of college also generally do better than those drafted after HS. Most of the players you list in your table have at least a fair sample size of minor league PAs, even if they don’t point to some fixed threshold for success.

    Belt was better than the alternatives from 2011 on. IMO, there wasn’t much reason to send him down. His OPS+ has been above average every year, even when he hit 225. And Belt, with steady playing time, could have gained experience against the ML level mediocrities who throw curveballs for strikes, while still outperforming the likes of Brett Pill.

  22. snarkk said, on March 13, 2014 at 12:02 am

    Timmeh today gave up 2 earnies in 4 1/3, with 4 hits and 3Ks, with 1 BB, sounds effective, but a little ugly, not much detail in the game accounts; a creditable outing…

  23. zumiee said, on March 13, 2014 at 1:35 am

    New thread, not that anyone asked for one. :)


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