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Thoughts on short-season ball: The joy of accidents

David Bote is a guy who originally was an afterthought. Now he’s a big-league regular. Success can come in many forms.

Colorado Rockies v Chicago Cubs Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images

The Dominican Summer League has already commenced. Quite soon, the Rookie Leagues will begin, with Short-Season Ball on the same general time line. All three levels of play highlight the same baseball developmental balance beam. Getting the players who are supposed to be high-flyers ready for the long road to success, and the occasional accidental successes, as well.

Often enough, people on my Twitter timeline want to shrink the size of minor league ball. It may be well-intended, or they may be hawking an agenda that dismisses the lower levels as being unimportant. As any draft ends, plenty of players (or fans thereof) think that a run of players undrafted "deserve a look." After all, they were better than their level, or merely closed with a flourish. I'm prone to buying such contentions, if only at the Arizona or Gulf Coast League levels. However, teams only have roster space for so many, and many in either loop are developmental options.

David Bote was largely an afterthought in the lower minors. The Cubs needed bodies to fill roster spots. Then, they had players in extended spring training, awaiting opportunities to serve as an injury fill-in. Eventually the effort paid off, and the rest is history being written. Sometimes, it works the other way. The Cubs recently added a second Arizona League team. Before that, the Cubs didn't have a third roster to fill, and Zack Godley was treated as a reliever. While his 2019 isn't going especially well, had the Cubs been pushed into trying him as a starting pitcher, he might have better developed his tertiary offerings in his time with the Cubs.

Arizona Phil recently released a preliminary list of names for the Eugene roster. As I look at those names myself, I see some who were with the Emeralds last season (and/or South Bend recently), and players I have no awareness of. I can't even tell you how Reivaj Garcia pronounces his first name. The Eugene and Mesa squads are filled with blank index cards. As Mesa games aren't streamed, I get to settle for learning about Northwest League players.

What spurred this article was that seven of the players on Arizona Phil's list appear as early candidates for my six "trade possibilities" lists. (That will be another article.) Seven out of 35 or so leaves room for plenty of accidents. Some accidents will be players being not as good as the level, or as good as the level, but old enough for it not to matter.

The accidents that make Short-Season Ball fun is the other ones. A bit along the lines of a Bote-like call up from Triple-A who you expect to be a short-term fill-in. In this case, though, after his fourth or fifth game, you don't want him to go back. We sometimes have limits we place on players. That we don't think they'll be useful might have no basis in reality.

That's the joy of lower level baseball. When Illinois outfielder Zac Taylor suits up for the Mesa Cubs, I'll have an expectation for his success. Thirty percent of the time, I'll be rather close. Another 30 percent of the time, I'll underrate him, and another 30, I'll overrate him. If I'm good at predicting, the final 10 percent goes in the "rather close" range. The player, his commitment, and his ability to get better, are of much more importance than my guesswork. Here's to accidents, and being wrong.