(Photo via JB Bukauskas’ Twitter page, @JBukauskas22)
In June, the top college players get drafted by MLB teams and as soon as their season is over, they report to their assigned minor league affiliate. Not only are they met with high expectations by their club’s front office, but many of these draftees are working with analytics for the first time.
The player development department for each MLB club is responsible for deciding which players get promoted, demoted, and released during the season and offseason. With the exception of players drafted in the top 10 rounds, clubs tend to focus more on international and high school talent because of their younger age, upside, and raw talent. Since college players can’t be drafted before the end of their third year, they are relatively older at the lower levels in the minors, and more likely to be released if they do not perform well.
However, college prospects also benefit from being the more experienced players in the lower levels and those that take on a leadership role and are thought of as “winners,” are often kept around longer because of their makeup and experience.
Most college players also have more experience with analytics than high school and international players. If there is a video program or TrackMan radar installed at a college, the players will be able to adjust a lot easier than the players at colleges that do not. In fact, at the minor league level, most player development departments and baseball analytic departments rely heavily on data from minor league video interns and trackman operators. At this point, almost every team employs both at every single full-season affiliate.
Minor league video interns are quality control coaches for each affiliate. Their job responsibilities vary from team to team, but the most basic duty is to film games using specialized video software – most teams use either the STATS Video Solutions (SVS) or BATS. They also tend to put together advanced scouting reports for their coaching staff. (Many also create data analyses for the MLB team’s front office). Teams are now switching over from BATS to SVS because of its sleek look, ease of use, and ability to easily create data in files such as “.csv”.
TrackMan operators run the TrackMan radar system during each home game. After each game, the data is then sent to the front office. Sometimes, minor league video interns also serve as the team’s TrackMan operators. This way, they are able to operate all data and video for their affiliate.
All players are always encouraged to look over video, however, some teams require a member of the coaching staff to go over it with younger players, especially at the lower levels. This benefits the college players that have experience with analytics since they already know how to use video programs and understand TrackMan data.
Some teams are starting to add onto the analysts used at the minor league level. The Houston Astros, for example, have created Development Coach positions at each of their affiliates. This role blends on-field coaching with analytics. This past season, the Astros brought their Director of Decision Sciences, Sig Mejdal, down from the front office to be their Development Coach at Short Season-A Tri-City. Putting a uniform on Mejdal allowed the Astros’ executives to get a first-hand look at some of their top prospects including their first overall pick in 2017, JB Bukauskas.
These minor league analysts are also using data provided to them to help assist the minor league coaching staff with advance scouting. At the minor league level, shifting is becoming more and more prevalent each year with the increasing amount of readily available analytics. Teams are having players shift earlier in the minor league careers and even adopt shifting in extended spring training and instructional league games.
A lot of this data is provided in-house by the minor league video interns and TrackMan operators. However, in Double-A and Triple-A teams also get their data from external sources such as Baseball Info Solutions and Inside Edge. These analytics companies track every minor league game at the Double-A level and above, retaining an archive on the data that they collect. They also delve into advanced metrics regarding the minor leagues with a focus on defensive positioning.
When college players reach the professional ranks, every single at-bat and pitch thrown will be documented and analyzed. There will be data on exit speed, launch angle, extension, and spin rate, and this will happen as early as the complex level, which is where a high number of draftees start their careers. Even though some college players have been exposed to analytics, they will see a higher frequency and a better quality of data once they’re drafted.