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Brewer Fanatic

How the Dodgers Develop So Many Good Players

Jake McKibbin



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According to a recent poll conducted by MLB, the Dodgers have one of the top three farm systems in all of baseball, and honestly that should be a shock given the picks they've been getting (and perhaps a relief that they haven't had the top of the draft picks to work with, or we would maybe see multiple phenoms in this organization).

Obviously the draft is a little bit of a crapshoot, and it's tough project for injuries, development, and I think the mental approach of the player combined with work ethic is as important as physical characteristics. Baseball does build a strong sense of character but to go from being the guy to just a guy is not easy, and takes some getting used to. Potential alone doesn't get paid big money, and its why I think teams with less scouting resources maybe don't draft as well, because they don't see the player dealing with adversity, what he does in the dugout, how he conducts himself as a leader. A great example is the life and soul Willy Adames brings to the Brewers, and how there's that real comfort in him in high leverage situations (as there should be, the guy hit .301/.370/.571 with RISP last year). It makes the player not just the guy if they pan out, but he becomes "our guy", and when the inevitable downs of the season hit, you need these guys to step up and drag the team forward. Dodger scouts are actively told to prioritize players who they think can mentally adapt and thrive to big league ball, and trust them to develop their skillset more effectively with that basis

One standout for the Dodgers is the amount they invest in player acquisition, scouting, coaches, coordinators, and analysts is huge, and they use their sizable streams of income to do so. They do have a high degree of turnover with staff being poached for higher positions, but they identify talent and ability in these areas to make sure they not only identify the best players available to them, but more importantly create an environment that's perfect for the growth of these players.

Coaching is at its purest form when players have development ahead of them, rather than just tweaks, and the Dodgers seem to be far and away the best at taking their talent pool and making the most of it. The Brewers are actually replicating their drafting model currently, of using the most projectable stat (plate discipline , walk rate, strikeout rate) and adding power to it from there. Seager, Bellinger, Gavin Lux and many more were all hit first players who developed power.

However, the coaching part is designed to be as major league-like as possible, with most coaches being encouraged to adopt a laidback attitude to transferring advice rather than overloading prospects with information. Walker Buehler commented “How laid back and egoless most of our coaches are, it really helps. I always talk about summer ball coaches or high school coaches or college coaches trying to put their stamp on you. I don’t think many guys do that here, and I think it leads to a really collaborative effort.” This, along with their model of really encouraging the Rookies to be open, outspoken and themselves (which not all clubs do), translates to prospects making the transition from upper minors to the major leagues much smoother than most. They also put a lot more onus on the player with this approach to seek ways that take them from good players to great players, difference makers at the major league level, and this approach, from my personal sporting experiences, enhances the self confidence in your ability to adapt and become better, and also creates a drive to further learn and develop. The act of challenging oneself is far more satisfying than a response to the challenges of others

The coaching ticket translates to an appeal at the major league level too. Noah Syndegaard actively took a lower deal than he could have to go to LA and develop as  a pitcher, and they have a high track record of pitchers outperforming their recent seasons (Andrew Heaney and Anderson last year are good examples). Part of this is the quality of the defense the Dodgers put out which helps most pitchers do better than their FIP and expected stats suggest, but also their developmental abilities with pitchers. The pure number of quality pitchers and hitters at the upper levels of their farm is crazy, 

Andrew Heaney - 31. ERA, 3.39 xERA, 3.75 FIP

Tyler Anderson - 2.57 ERA, 3.1 xERA, 4.1 xFIP

In their farm at the moment they have:

1. Diego Cartaya - International prospect with a big bonus so less under the radar

2. Bobby Miller - Nearly all his pitches ar at least + (70 fB, 60 CH, 60 Sl, 55 Curve) and taken 29th in the 1st round of the draft 

3. Miguel Vargas - Picked up for 300,000 internationally, so not a first round, or even second round equivalent pick, won a batting title in 2021, and took no steps back at AAA in 2022

7. Gavin Stone - A 1.48 ERA across the minors, including a 1.16 ERA in AAA, taken in the 5th round. What on earth

6. Ryan Pepiot - 3rd Round (Pick 102) had a 3.47 ERA in 36 innings last year, and although occasionally struggled with walks, he had a 200 BAA

It's not just the single talents they're producing, in fact it's the quantity as well as the quality, seeming to maximize the vast majority of the talent in their system, in a way others can only dream of.

Regarding the Brewers system, Stearns was famous for not being overly amused with a large scouting department but I think they're invaluable to the organization, and that can be seen from the Brewer networks in the international draft where they have signed very well in recent history - unlike the Dodgers, actually.

I also think that improving upon the dietary advice and food provided to prospects as well as lodgings, could go some way to fostering better development, as well as prevention of injuries. Sleep and nutrition are so vital for our body to retain information and develop at all parts of our life, and in the minors this isn't seen as a priority for most teams. 

Finally, fostering that similarity in approach and coaching from majors to the minors can really help to ease the transition, and maybe reduce the talent that is considered AAAA. A player who is confident and feels at home upon reach the bigs will likely outperform those who don't. These players aren't robots, and in one of the biggest moments of their careers, that comfort factor makes all the difference. The slightest bit of tension can throw off someones swing or throwing arm, and in a game of small margins, it can be the difference.

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