Fixing the Farm: the Nature vs. the Nurture of the Beast

It’s no secret that the offseason is long, boring, and at times completely devoid of content. As a consumer of content, this is incredibly disheartening and depressing. As a producer of content, it’s somehow worse. That is why I have turned to the great former Baseball Prospectus podcast, Up and In. The soothing tones of Jason Parks, who now works for the Cubs, and Kevin Goldstein, the director of pro scouting for the Astros, have satisfied my baseball cravings for the time being. More importantly, they have allowed me to think more deeply about baseball, especially in the scope of how we discuss the scouting and developing players.

In the context of the White Sox rebuild, thinking about scouting and development has become increasingly more interesting as the team has traded for a raft of high-level prospects. One point, among many great ones, that Parks made regularly is about talent versus development. Because his metaphor is far better than any I could come up with, I’m just going to stick with what he said.

Imagine two different pieces of meat. One is of high quality, a porterhouse or filet mignon perhaps, the other is of poor quality, like a flank or cube steak. The natural tendency is to believe that the higher quality meat is going to produce a better meal. When it actuality, it’s quite easy to improperly cook–or just play burn–a good piece of meat, or dress up a cheap piece of meat as something good. The example that Parks uses here is a chicken fried steak–of which I am a fan, but is not common among northerners–as a way to make a lesser cut of meat into something quite tasty and desirable.

Having the flashiest names that appear at the top of prospect lists is great. It usually means that the player will have a large amount of success in his career. But the prospect alone as he sits raw in the minor leagues isn’t enough to cut it. He needs development to become the player that prospect rankings expect him to be. In the same way, the value of lower level prospects can be maximized by great development. The floor of a top-25 guy and the ceiling of an unheralded sleeper frequently overlap.

There are naturally some limitations; freak talents like Bryce Harper can arrive in pro ball with practically every asset needed to succeed and require little to no developmental guidance. On the other side, a pitcher with a fastball that hardly reaches 90 mph and little command will likely never reach the big leagues regardless of the wonderful developmental direction he receives. But in general, development is by far the most important part of a rebuild.

Although the constant comparisons of the process the Sox are undertaking to the Cubs are tiring and usually off-base, the Cubs actually provide a great example of Parks’ point. One of the main things that allowed the Cubs to rebuild both quickly and effectively was the rate at which their prospects succeeded, especially after Theo Epstein was hired and made the organization his own. Some like to think that it was luck that the Cubs got MVP-caliber players in Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant, an offensive monster in Kyle Schwarber, and a brilliant young shortstop in Addison Russell, among others. In reality their ability to hit on prospects was due to their incredible developmental staff.

The White Sox made great strides in rebuilding the organization when they made back-to-back Chris Sale and Adam Eaton trades. The additions of Lucas Giolito and Yoan Moncada to the organization brought hope and excitement. What we cannot lose sight of, however, is that improvements in their development team will have to be made for this to mean as much they want it to mean. These players cannot get within reach of their ceilings without proper development.

That may be the biggest roadblock for the White Sox on their journey to becoming a competitive team. If they can improve in this area, there’s no reason to believe that a rebuild can’t work on the South Side. If they continue the same patterns they’ve shown with young players, it will be the same old story for the White Sox, and more players will be added to the list of recent disappointing prospects that includes Gordon Beckham, Jared Mitchell, Courtney Hawkins, and many others. One thing is for certain: development will be key to the White Sox future success.


Lead Image Credit: Mark J. Rebilas // USA Today Sports Images

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3 comments on “Fixing the Farm: the Nature vs. the Nurture of the Beast”


Are we talking about development in the minor leagues or major leagues? Rizzo, Bryant, Schwarber, and Russell combined for about 3 years total in the Cubs’ farm system. And even some of that was more for service time motivations than development. With the success that they each enjoyed early on, I’m not sure that there is a convincing major league development example here either.


i think the point is they were properly developed in whatever farm system they were in. what’s the last decent 1st round hitter that’s come out of the sox’ farm system? i actually had to look it up it’s been so long. thomas was an *impact* player (obviously) back in ’89. but very few hitters they’ve drafted have even made the majors! so it could have been an error in evaluating talent, not properly developing them or, most likely, some combination of the 2.


I agree with this. I like the fact Sox are finally rebuilding. But, I fear the prospects they’ve brought in will be for naught. Sox have never invested the resources in regards to their minor league coaching staffs. They continue to bring in former players and personnel that have virtually no experience in developing players. But unless Reinsdorf gives Hahn and Co the needed resources to bring in more competent coached for the minors, this will be a disaster.

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