So how important is winning at the minor league level?
You will likely get a similar answer from most people on this question. They say winning is nice, but not if it gets in the way of developing Major League players.
Here is Andy MacPhail’s take on this topic:
“It’s preferable but not at the expense of developing players. In other words, you are not going to play a 27-year-old third base filler at A ball if he’s standing in the way of a 20-year-old that you think potentially one day could play in the big leagues. But you understand the 27-year-old is going to hit higher.
“It should never come at the expense of what your main objective is, which is delivering players to Baltimore.
“There are things you can do to help you win that shouldn’t come at the expense of prospects. For example, try to have a good closer at every level, so the kids win the games they are supposed to win, unless you are developing one there.
“If you don’t have a bonafide prospect at short, get someone there that can field the ball so you’re helping your pitching develop at the same time, those sorts of things.
“We don’t evaluate how our year went based on the won-loss percentage. We evaluate it on who progressed, who didn’t, who arrived at the big leagues, that sort of thing.”
Here are the comments of John Stockstill, the O’s director of player development:
“Player development is the only thing that is important. You need to have a winning attitude, but it’s winning ways, it’s not winning games.
“I’ve seen systems that are farm system of the year; they won in five leagues but never developed a player. You have to develop a player that is ready to execute and be part of a winning clubhouse with winning chemistry as they come up.
“Winning in the minors can help that. But there are countless times when a club played .350 ball and produces three or four very good big leaguers, who wound up being winners when they got there and helping other players win.
“It is a fact: winning at the minor league level is a part of it. But it never trumps the player’s development.
“I could give you three winning teams in the minors. That can be decided in the offseason by who is signed. But some of the rosters may be older than your Major League roster.
“That happens in the offseason and there are clubs that do that. If you want to sign players to win a pennant in the minors, you can do that. Ironically there are some clubs that try to do that, then don’t win.
“If your goal is to win championships in the minor leagues, you can approach it that way and have some level of success at it.”
But Stockstill will admit that an older, experienced player can be signed for one of your top minor league clubs to help the younger guys get better.
“Every team needs a combined group of players that help develop the players. You hope every guy plays in the big leagues, but if they don’t, they help someone else play in the big leagues.
“I can’t have five sinker ball pitchers get ground balls for people that can’t field the ball. How can I develop those pitchers? You better have the right combination at every level for the player you are trying to develop. It might be one player or you hope 25 players.”
Is Joel Guzman - a 25-year-old, right-handed hitter who has played at Triple-A and in the Majors, but with the O’s is at Double-A Bowie - an example of that? An older player signed to help the other young hitters around him in the Baysox lineup?
“I would say that is a result, but is not why he was signed,” Stockstill said. “He was signed because he has a chance to hit his way to the big leagues. He’s doing a very good job; the result is very positive in every aspect.
“But let me be clear, he was signed because he could have a chance to earn his way to the big leagues. But at the same time, what he is doing there is also helping other players get better.”
Gary Allenson was the O’s Triple-A manager at Norfolk from 2007 to 2009 and also this season until he was named the club’s interim third base coach when Dave Trembley was dismissed in early June.
Here are Allenson’s thoughts on winning in the minor leagues.
“If you had to choose between developing a player that’s going to play in the big leagues and winning, you’ll take the first one over the second one.
“I had a prospect with the Red Sox named Greg Blosser, who was a number one pick. A left-handed, power hitter who struggled versus left-handed pitching. To develop him, you leave him in to bat versus left-handed pitching.
“He may fail, but he’ll face them and sooner and later will figure it out. In the big leagues, he’ll get pinch hit for versus a lefty pitcher.”