How Ryan Garko is transforming Detroit Tigers prospects with player development department

Lots of interesting things in this article and thought it worthy of it’s own thread, especially the thoughts on the gap between AAA and MLB, posted below.

# How Ryan Garko is transforming Detroit Tigers prospects with player development department

Topics being discussed:

  1. ‘Send us anybody, let’s just get them better’

What developmental philosophies do you carry with you that you’ve implemented throughout your time with the Tigers?

  1. Dominating the strike zone is everything
    What is the process and profile of being a minor leaguer with the Tigers, both as a hitter and a pitcher, and how you look to develop players?

  2. Finding Justice (frn use Justice Bigbie as an example)
    How do you take a good process from a player who has good underlying data and help cultivate better outcomes? Do you have any examples of that from your time with the Tigers?

  3. Proof is in the analytics
    How do you know when changes in progress in a player are real?

  4. Promotion decisions
    You want to induce some failure in a player once they’re mastering a level, so does that factor into your decision-making about when to promote them?

  5. Big brains behind the plate
    You were a catcher at Stanford University, winning the Johnny Bench Award in 2003 as the top college catcher, and when you went into professional baseball, you were a catcher for a while, right?

  6. ‘Passion for player development’
    You’ve played in the big leagues, you’ve coached in the big leagues, you’ve managed in college and the minor leagues. Did you always want to work in player development, as opposed to staying in the dugout as a coach or a manager?

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Lots of good stuff in the above.

Making the jump to the big leagues

The gap between Triple-A and Major League Baseball has never been wider. Can you explain how much different the skill level is between the two levels?

"I was in a meeting a few years ago. We were talking about that gap, and a really experienced scout who’s a really good scout and has been doing it for a really long time, he said, ‘The gap has always been big, and now it is a million miles apart.’ I think it’s two things. I’ve honestly spent some time on this. I think shrinking down to four affiliates and losing the short-season affiliates, it’s forced teams, us included, even if we don’t want to, like we are moving players faster than we had in the past. We lost the New York Penn League and that ability to throttle players a little bit and give them more at-bats and more innings to get to the higher levels. I think players are racing to Double-A really fast, faster than they ever have. You sort of stop at Double-A as a young player, and then you kind of have to prove that you can do it, but then eventually, a lot of those younger players are getting to Triple-A still with a ton of development left.

I hate to say back when I played, but back when I played, I got to a Triple-A team with 20 veterans that probably had service time and five young kids. It was like Grady Sizemore, Brandon Phillips and Jhonny Peralta, but then the guys on our team were Ernie Young and Dusty Wathan, guys that had major-league service time that were four-A type of players. That was the majority of the team and the pitching staff. Now, it’s probably flipped where you have five or six four-A depth-type players and 19 kids that it’s their first time in Triple-A. I don’t have a comment, but that’s just where the game has gone. I think that’s every team. That sort of mid-class upper-level player, those guys either stick in the big leagues or we’re going with young players. I think that’s a really big part of it.

I think the other part of it is that the pitching is so, so good. We’re all so good at developing pitching. One thing that Colt (Keith) said, he’s like, ‘There’s no easy at-bats anymore.’ There is not one at-bat you’re going to get off a pitcher. Even the quote-unquote bad relievers, especially in the big leagues, are probably throwing 95 with mega ride or mega sink. We can create a lot of really interesting shapes, and guys do throw really hard. You can go to the Atlantic League (an independent baseball league) and find some guys that probably are throwing really, really hard and bring them in. The pitching is just beating up the hitters now, and there’s no way to simulate it in Triple-A. We’ve tried a million things. We talk about this a lot. How can we simulate? But how do you simulate Garrett Crochet’s release and fastball and that stuff and that slider. It’s hard to do. You’re not going to see a fastball below 95, with incredible offspeed, and then the bullpen is just as nasty. It’s hard. The only way to do it is to go do it. I think Colt will hit, too. I think the underlying stuff has been great. The underlying metrics are good. I like his swing. But whether it’s (Jackson) Holliday or Colt or any of these young players, until you see it, the pitching jump is bigger than it’s ever been."

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Great article

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Opportunities in the big leagues can be fleeting. Jackson Holliday of the Orioles came into this year considered the best prospect in all of baseball. Despite being just 20 years old, the Orioles called him up to the majors this year. But after just 10 games, during which he struck out in half of his plate appearances, he was sent back down to the minors.

Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic recently took an interesting look at the struggles of several young players, including Holliday, but also Colt Keith, Kyle Manzardo, Henry Davis, Jackson Chourio and Wyatt Langford. Several people in the game seem to agree that the gap in quality between Triple-A and the majors is widening.

There are various theories for why that might be happening. J.D. Martinez suggests that the new rules about smaller rosters in the minor leagues are squeezing out some veteran pitchers, reducing the overall quality of arms on the farm. Guardians manager Stephen Vogt views it similarly. Orioles general manager Mike Elias suggests that the scouting in the majors is so advanced that players will have their weaknesses attacked to a much larger degree than in the minors. Rays manager Kevin Cash told the Baseball Isn’t Boring podcast (video on X) that minor league pitchers might be more worried about developing their skills as opposed to results, whereas MLB pitchers will be the inverse.

The reality may be a combination of those factors and more. But whatever the cause or causes, there seems to be a growing consensus among people in the game that the jump to the big leagues is bigger than ever before.

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In several of these cases, they are just rushing these kids up too fast. Paying the kid a 10 million dollar signing bonus doesn’t mean that he will develop faster.

I’m curious to see what Junior Caminero from Tampa does when he gets the call. They have taken their time with him. He came up for a cup of coffee at the end of last season to get a taste of the Bigs, then he started this year in the minors.

Sometimes in life, less is more.