How MLB GMs determine when elite prospects are ready for the show

For the season he’s hitting .415 with more walks than strikeouts. This month he’s hitting .464 with more home runs than strikeouts. Even though he’s the youngest player in the double-A Eastern League, 19-year-old Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s making the case that he’s ready for the next challenge.

In all likelihood his next promotion will send him to triple-A, where he can continue working on his defence while testing his advanced hitting approach against pitchers one step removed from the majors. If he succeeds there, a higher-stakes challenge will present itself later this summer: how should the Blue Jays balance their top prospect’s long-term development and psyche while also attempting to field the best roster possible at the MLB level? When, in other words, should the Blue Jays promote Guerrero Jr. to the big leagues?

Every year, a lucky general manager or two wrestles with the question of when to promote an elite prospect. In some cases – Kris Bryant and Ronald Acuna Jr., for example – service time becomes a significant consideration. In others – and Guerrero Jr. may fall into this category – it’s not a driving factor in the decision.

Over the off-season, I asked some GMs what factors they weigh when assessing the readiness of top prospects. Performance matters first and foremost, but so many GMs also point to another key skill: a player’s ability to handle failure. As the discussion intensifies around Guerrero Jr., these answers are relevant in Toronto…

Farhan Zaidi, Dodgers GM

“It’s still got to be primarily driven by performance. Once you get to the double-A and triple-A levels, are you performing at a high if not elite level? Certainly in (Cody) Bellinger’s case I think his OPS was well over 1.000 (1.055) when we called him up.

“Then you look for the thoughts of your player development staff. Our farm director and our triple-A manager both said ‘this guy’s the best player in the PCL right now—by a lot.’ Not every promotion is going to be made that easy for you, when your staff’s telling you your guy’s the best player in a triple-A league, but it’s really a combination of those things. Your objective measures of readiness and your subjective measures.

“And the subjective is not just ‘do these guys pass the eye test with your player development people,’ but also just their emotional and intellectual maturity. The game at the big-league level requires so much more preparation and there’s way more advanced work and video work and meetings. These are really young men and the question of whether they can handle that level of sophistication has to be part of the equation.”

Los Angeles Dodgers’ Cody Bellinger. (Alex Gallardo/AP)

Jeff Luhnow, Astros GM

“A big part of it is the minor-league staff that work with the player on a daily basis. Are they advocating for the mental toughness? Because the chances are that the player’s going to get to the big leagues and at some point in that first year is going to struggle in a way that he’s …read more



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