The minor leagues are a racket. “Racket” you say… please expound. Well, as an avid baseball fan I would truly be lost without the minor leagues. I live for the game and take great pleasure in watching these kids evolve as they chase their big-league dreams. However, being drafted by a major league team means virtually nothing about a player’s professional potential. Being signed into the minor leagues is in essence, the equivalent of getting a lottery ticket with the chance of a payout worth millions. Each major league franchise (there are 30) has approximately 7 minor league teams from the DSL (Dominican Summer League), to (two rookie ball teams), then Low-A, Hi-A, AA, and AAA. At a rough estimate of 25 players per team there are roughly 5250 aspiring professional baseball players serving time in the minor leagues at any given time. These estimates are somewhat low-balled as some teams have more than one DSL team, and roster sizes in the minors may vary slightly from the 25-man that we are all accustomed to at the major-league level.
To put things in perspective there are approximately 5250 of the best baseball players on the planet jockeying for position to take 1 of the 750 jobs available on active major league rosters. Every season through attrition caused by injuries, lack of skill, loss of interest, etc. there will be another 1200 kids with major league dreams brought into the minors and swapped out for those that couldn’t hack it. The Society for American Baseball Research did a study in 2017 about the odds of making it to the major leagues based on a player’s draft position. As you can imagine, the odds are exponentially better for a 1st round talent (67%) than a 21st-40th round pick (7%). Overall, published statistics suggest that roughly 10% of the players ever to wear a minor league uniform will ever see time on a major league baseball roster. So, when you go to watch your local minor league team play a game, keep in mind that approximately two kids in each dugout will have what it takes to play in the majors. Once again, the odds of success are higher at AAA and diminish as you move further down the ladder.
With these facts in mind, 90% of the players drafted are being used as nothing more than roster fodder. This term basically means that without this 90%, the 10% of likely major leaguers wouldn’t be able to get the necessary practice to hone their skills in preparation for the professional ranks. These kids are roster filler so organizations can field teams and we can watch baseball games. When I write a prospect profile it means that I feel I am talking about one of the ten-percenters, the top drawer of a group of elite players. These kids are not all Mike Trout, Ronald Acuna, or Vladimir Guerrero Jr, but it’s not a knock to write something that says a kid has fourth outfielder, backup catcher, utility player, or middle reliever potential. Contrarily, it’s quite a compliment and one that 100% of the kids that never make it would be thrilled to receive.
Minor league baseball is a dream for these kids, but it is a very rough life. The players earn very little money (approximately $1100 a month, before taxes, for the months they are playing). With that $1100 they pay a stipend to the team clubhouse attendants for maintenance and care of their uniforms and for a meal at the ballpark (approximately $10 a day). When the “clubbie” overcooks their $100 sliding pants by leaving them in the dryer too long, it comes out of the player’s pocket to purchase a replacement pair. Players also pay for their own equipment, but do so at a reduced price. Some of the premier prospects might get free bats and gloves, but I am personally aware of a second-round pick that was using borrowed wood while he was waiting for his bats (which he paid for) to arrive. Considering that these kids are professional athletes, the conditions leave a lot to be desired. I am aware of a good-looking outfield prospect with big-league potential who was wearing 36” waist pants with what can best be described as a “thunder thigh” leg cut, because the team didn’t have pants in his size (he wears a 30″). Now imagine trying to prove yourself athletically while wearing pants that are 6″ too big around the waist. This would be like running a 40 yard dash at the NFL combine while wearing swim fins. Players are also responsible for paying for their room, board and utilities (just like the rest of us). Often times they buddy up with teammates sleeping 6 men to a two or three-bedroom apartment, where they get their sleep on air-mattresses. On the road players earn an extra $25 a day for meal money. I don’t know about you, but for me, stretching $25 a day into three healthy meals would probably be damn near impossible.
I know that I am ranting here, but I’d like the folks that read my articles to understand the trials and tribulations of minor league life. It might seem like a glamorous job, and I know all of the boys playing are proud of themselves for being in this profession, but it really is accurate referring to minor league baseball as a “grind”. When you read one of my prospect reports I want you to understand a few things: 1). If I am writing about a player I believe he is a legitimate prospect with a solid shot at the major leagues. 2). I try to be objective in my assessments, but as a writer I don’t have any desire to “poo-poo” on a 22-year-old’s dreams. 3). If you want to reach out about a player or make comments please keep them positive in nature, contrary to what you may believe a lot of these kids are keenly aware of what is being written about them, and if they aren’t, their parents are. Just put yourselves in their shoes before bashing a player on my Twitter feed or comments section. I’ve had a minor league mom send me messages of concern about a blogger saying her son was going to be changing positions and a father send me a link to an article in which he thought his son was being unjustly criticized. When I write I try to emphasize the positives while documenting the areas that are in need of improvement. I also try to refrain from placing a ceiling on a player’s ability. Ultimately, at this level, it’s up to the player to use his athleticism, mental toughness, work ethic and skills to determine his own ceiling. The minor leagues are truly the great equalizer as the kid’s are only judged by what they can contribute to their teams, on the baseball diamond… As a writer I want to share my insight. As a fan, I’m just here to enjoy the show.