I had to work Sunday night. I had given the game up for dead, at least three times. It was in the “moral victory” category, with Cole Hamels’ performance. When I hit refresh, I noticed that “Player” had hit home run. I think it’s now reasonable to assess David Bote as a legitimate major-league player. Among the lessons for the night for me was the importance of the different levels of the minor league pipeline.
On occasion, people have noted that MiLB has too many minor league levels and teams. Not all of these people were Tribune executives when Dallas Green was trying to develop system talent. Some people think baseball should be “more like football” (which has no affiliated pro feeder system) or “like the NBA” (which has one affiliated development level).
With baseball, a very wide swath of players qualify as “entry level.” Some have shredded through major college conference play. On the other hand, some were recently high school graduates, entirely unused to needing to adjust for quality in their opposition beyond a local high school league. Others are from another country, and need to be schooled in the basics of the game.
Sadly, but unsurprisingly, low-level players are paid very littler per month or per year. Adding to the annual pay for developing players would not only create a better game, but it will also serve for an entirely different article. Prospects should get paid more, for the betterment of the game.
However, any assumptions made about “how good a player was” before becoming a professional runs a wide randomness pattern. To account for this steep variation, many different “affiliated” levels are provided for the teams and players. Bote played Junior College ball in Chanute, Kansas. Upon being signed, he was a very raw player. He spent his first season in the Arizona League, which is a catchall for international players, second- and third-day picks, and early selections ready for a supposed meteoric rise through the system.
It took Bote a few years to adjust to professional pitching. In his third full pro season, he had advanced to the Midwest League. His OPS for the season was .712. While that’s very mediocre sounding, it was up quite a bit from where his numbers were at mid-season.
The next year, in Advanced-A Ball, he was buried. Ian Happ and Gleyber Torres were playing every day. Yasiel Balaguert was the first baseman. Jeffrey Baez, Rashad Crawford, and Charcer Burks were the primary outfielders. Bote was in a time-share with Andrew Ely and Jason Vosler. Other players floated in and out, and Bote was guaranteed nothing.
After trips to Double-A and Triple-A that were facilitated by injuries (hence, playing time), Bote returned to Myrtle Beach. Three things helped him around the middle of the season. Happ went up to Tennessee. Rashad Crawford and Gleyber Torres were traded to the Yankees. Now, Bote (along with Bryant Flete, who would be traded the next season) was a regular full-time player. Given regular at-bats, he started hitting.
And hasn’t stopped.
Depending on how you round up or down, parent clubs have seven or eight levels of affiliates. Depending on the skill/experience level of the specific player, any level may be the right level at a specific time for many of them. After all, the only level that was “better than” Kris Bryant was the Arizona League, though small sampling size may play in there, slightly.
While I don’t have the numbers in front of me right now, the Cubs might have around 300 players playing now below the major league level. Each day, they’re trying the “get better, one day at a time” thing. For some, it will include an eventual MLB call-up, or a trade to another organization. Many will be released along the line. However, the many-faceted web allows all the players in a pipeline the opportunity to perhaps get better.
When compared to the NFL, it’s quite different.
Imagine the college football player who is an undrafted signing out of college. He goes to two-a-days, and attempts to do about anything to get the coaches attention. Punt coverage team. Leaning a new position on the fly. Pushing along with 80 or so others for 53 roster spots. Perhaps he suffers a nagging injury just before the preseason games, and his opportunity to “play for the films” gets squelched.
Eventually, he gets back to health, but it’s too late. He misses the cut. There is no Triple-A affiliate. He’s out of his chance. Perhaps he can go into Arena Ball, or something else. However, baseball provides that chance for the player to develop for a few years to maybe figure out how to get MLB-good eventually.
A few things might have been swept a bit under the rug about David Bote. All should be considered, when assessing the size and scope of the affiliated baseball system.
Bote will be a cost-controlled player for the next six full seasons. When a team does unearth talent, from whatever round or port of call, they receive a huge benefit for their efforts. Bote figures to make less than a million per over the next three seasons, likely by quite a bit. This can be used as a bit of an offset to “less useful” pacts with other players. Teams in other cities in the National League Central might get awfully tired of Bote through 2024.
As Bote signed for a relatively small signing bonus, he wasn’t flush with cash through the minors. Getting that first big payday was likely a relief as much as a thrill. That he has had so much success so early, and with explanations for it on offense and defense, he may be around longer than the six-and-change seasons.
Unlike Kris Bryant and others, Bote might be a tailored fit for an extension. As he has shown to be committed to improving himself anyway, the Cubs may be benefited at some point in “locking Bote up” for a few extra years beyond 2024. The Cubs likely wouldn’t have to go apestuff in terms of up-front money to help the Neosha County College draftee to want to stay around. That, though, is for later.
For now, enjoy Sunday night. Enjoy that a hard-working, genuine, “Aw shucks” type of guy is getting some limelight. Twitter was at its apex last night, with former announcers and team mates gushing over his success. At the same time, many of the names in the Cubs vast pipeline have a chance to be the next new thing in the future. It takes hard work, refusal to give up, a bit of fortune, and being prepared when the opportunity strikes.
That only works if the experienced, inexperienced, and very inexperienced players have a chance to improve. Preferably away from the noise of the fans that demand constant excellence from March through October every season. Sometimes, failure is a prerequisite for success. Which is another part of the David Bote lesson.