Much of what goes on at the minor league level from a development stand point isn’t easy to quantify or explain exactly. For your average fan that follows the minor leagues, you are often reliant on the box scores from the night before to make up your mind about how a prospect is doing. But, as we’ve come to find out over the years, minor league stats are often misleading.
The minor league system is divided up in to eight tiers; Triple-A, Double-A, A-Advanced, Full Season A-Ball, Short Season Advanced, Short Season Rookie, The Gulf Coast League, and Dominican Summer League. The first four levels that I mentioned are full season clubs, meaning that they play from April until September. The last four levels that I mentioned play only from the middle of June to September and their rosters are filled mostly with the youngest players in the organization, the newly drafted, and the International Free Agents.
For the Cardinals, their Triple-A affiliate is Memphis, Double-A is Springfield, A-Advanced is Palm Beach, and Full Season A-Ball is Peoria. I’m assuming that nearly all of you know this, but I think it’s worth baby-stepping through in an effort to frame what I’m about to talk about.
The Promotion That Started This Article
Among a flurry of minor league roster moves yesterday, the Cardinals promoted their 6th round pick in the 2016 draft, Jeremy Martinez, from Palm Beach to Springfield. This happened because Alberto Rosario was placed on Memphis’ DL, thus promoting Springfield’s backup catcher Jesse Jenner to Memphis. It came as a shock to some that Jeremy Martinez was the player that received the promotion to Springfield to replace Jenner; he’s been terrible for Palm Beach. He’s barely been able to hit his way out of a paper bag, slashing 189/273/204/477 in 201 AB. For a short period of time this season, Martinez was removed from the Palm Beach lineup to get “extended spring training work”, which is basically just a clearing of a players head and specialized and personal training away from the pressures of everyday play.
Peoria, Springfield, And The Disaster League
Peoria plays in the Midwest league, which is considered to be somewhat of a neutral league in how it favors either pitchers or hitters. Springfield plays in the Texas League, which is mostly a hitters league, but not at the same level as the Pacific Coast League, which is where Memphis plays and is considered the league of all leagues for hitters.
Palm Beach plays in the Florida State League, and that’s where hitters go to die.
I’ve always thought of the Florida State League as “The Disaster League”. The stadiums are cavernous, the wind is swirling, and hitters are impossible to get a feel for. The Florida State League is easily the best league for pitchers in the minors.
As a matter of fact, the league is so harsh to hitters that the Cardinals have been known to skip the league with their top hitting prospects, like they have did with outfielder Harrison Bader and infielder Paul DeJong entering the 2016 season and catcher Andrew Knizner mid-way through this season. It’s a great league for pitchers to go to and work on their pitching arsenal and not have to worry about statistical results, but it’s a terrible league for the stats and psyche of hitters.
The Texas League And The Florida State League: The Statistical Difference
Instead of looking at the over arching stats for each league to prove my point, I’m going to go micro and Cardinals prospect relevant to explain the difference between statistical success at each league.
2B/3B Darren Seferina. Seferina was a 5th round pick in the 2014 draft. He’s been a very good player for the organization when healthy and he was considered one of the top infield prospects in the organization entering the 2016 season. But like with so many hitters, the Florida State League chewed him up and spit him out. In 417 AB last season he slashed 247/311/320/631 with 1 HR. That’s the kind of performance that robs a player of their prospect standing, even if he slashed 295/354/446/800 with 4 HR over 410 AB in 2015 with Peoria.
So what are you to do with Seferina entering 2017? Well, you put him back in The Florida State League, is what you do.
Repeating a level is never good in the minors and even that will skew the stats of a player, more often than not enhancing the statistical success because of familiarity with the league. So, it was no surprise that Seferina was better in 2017 with Palm Beach before being promoted to Springfield, as he was slashing 278/356/407/764 with 2 HR in 270 prior to the promotion.
Then Springfield happened. Then the Texas League happened. In 147 AB entering play on Saturday, Seferina has slashed 286/365435/801 with 5 HR in only 147 AB. That’s one hell of a difference. That’s an alarming difference.
Another 5th round pick but this time in 2015, Ryan Helsley is a monster of a pitching prospect that you don’t know enough about. In 135.1 IP entering the 2017 between the Appalachian League(where Rookie League Johnson City plays) and the Midwest league, Helsley was striking out more than a hitter an inning and he had only allowed 3 HR’s in his minor league career entering 2017.
Helsley started the year at Palm Beach and continued his dominant ways. In 17 appearances including 16 starts and 93.2 IP, Helsley K’ed 91, walked 30, had an ERA of 2.69, a WHIP of 1.089, and a batting average against of .213 while allowing only 3 HR.
I look for every reason to gush about Helsley because he’s my favorite pitching prospect in the organization, so this was just as much a set up for me to gush about his success. In 5 starts since his promotion to Springfield and the Texas League, he has an ERA of 1.93, 35 K’s in 28 IP, and a batting average against of .188. This kid is legitimate. He’s a TRUE prospect.
But there is a little something interesting in his stat line. This monster of a pitcher has allowed 3 HR in only 28 Double A innings. THat number is inflated because he’s new to a league. That happens a lot. More specifically, it’s inflated by the fast that he’s pitching in the Texas League, which has been know to be a launching pad at times.
Helsley is still pitching great because he’s a damn fine pitcher, but he’d be pitching even better if he was pitching in the Florida State League. Think about that. That’s how good Helsley is.
What To Walk Away With
I know that this is a long article and thanks for sticking with me. All of the 1,000 words above are just a fancy way for me to tell you that there is no way to tell exactly how well a Cardinals minor league player is doing by looking at stats alone. Yes, it’s a safe bet that a hitter is a legitimate prospect if he is beating the cover off of the ball at Palm Beach or if a pitcher is untouchable against the Texas League, but stats alone aren’t going to tell the entire story.
I look at Darren Seferina and I can’t help but ask myself “what kind of player is Seferina?” Well, the truth is that he’s probably somewhere between his Springfield success and his Palm Beach hiccups. There is no real way of telling because the Cardinals minor league ladder is so extreme from one step to the next because of league volatility. There are countless other prospects that have suffered in the FSL only to thrive in the Texas League, players such as Oscar Mercado and Magneuris Sierra.
The good news for Jeremy Martinez is that he now gets a chance to rise from the dead as a prospect like the Phoenix from the ashes, or something like that. The last three weeks of his season are going to be interesting to watch.
One thing that I know for sure is that we should all hate The Florida State League.
Thanks For Reading!