Most Common Deficiencies That Land Promising MLB Prospects in 'AAAA' Purgatory
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For those who read my weekly minor league recaps this season, you may remember seeing the term “Quad-A” frequently attributed to hitters, usually those playing for a Triple-A affiliate.
Short for Quadruple-A, the term is used to describe a player whose made a career of feasting on minor league pitching yet never produced—and in some cases never reached—the majors.
A Quad-A hitter is typically an older player—often considered a non-prospect despite robust production—who has posted impressive power numbers year after year. However, there’s always been something that prevents them from similar success at the highest level.
Examples of such players can be found every season. This year, the Quad-A label is embodied by players like Mike Hessman, Lars Anderson, Paul McAnulty, Brad Nelson and Mauro Gomez.
Other notable players in recent memory who reached the major leagues (or are fighting to stay afloat) include Brandon Wood, Justin Smoak, Travis Ishikawa, Mat Gamel, Dallas McPherson and Jake Fox.
But beyond simply inconsistent production, why are so many hitters designated as Quad-A prospects? Well, there are several possible reasons.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with a bat-first prospect. However, that’s not necessarily the same thing is a bat-only one. As you may have noticed with the aforementioned players, a Quad-A prospect typically offers strictly offensive value. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that most players lumped into that category are first basemen—a position that values raw power above everything else. As a result, these players are repeatedly omitted from all long-term plans and passed on the organizational depth chart by younger talent.
A Lack of Patience
When it comes to prospects, some organizations have more patience than others. For successful and playoff-contending teams, there’s rarely an opportunity to offer a Quad-A prospect a trial run, let alone significant playing time.
If ultimately given such an opportunity, the prospect is therefore forced to rake or else risk becoming an immediate afterthought. For a player whose only redeeming attribute is his bat, not producing during a big-league trial is a quick way to earn the reputation as a Quad-A hitter.
Teams are usually more patient with their top draft picks, as some prospects don’t put things together until their mid- to late-20s when they should be entering their prime. But because they were once so highly regarded, they're given extra breathing room to properly develop (at least ideally).
A Game of Adjustments
A colossal difference exists between the caliber of pitching in Triple-A and the major leagues. So while a hitter may perennially destroy inexperienced pitching in the minors, adjusting in the major leagues is a challenge in itself.
In the minors, the better hitters punish mistakes on a daily basis. However, the mistakes are few and far between in the Show, and capitalizing on that one pitch is crucial.
In my opinion, the ability to adjust to big-league pitching is the determining factor in whether a hitter sticks in the major leagues or is declared a Quad-A player.
Flawed Swing Mechanics, Approach
A Quad-A prospect typically has a reputation as fastball hitter, and considering the amount of poorly located, hitting-speed fastballs thrown in the minor leagues, it’s not surprising that they traditionally post insane power numbers.
At the same time, they also struggle with decent offspeed pitches and have a substantial amount of swing-and-miss in their game...hence the high strikeout totals. Furthermore, such tendencies are only complicated by a long swing or lack of bat speed, neither of which bode particularly well in the major leagues.
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