Every player who steps onto a Minor League Baseball field has the same goal: to make it to the majors. For some, it comes expeditiously. For others, it involves years of bleeding, sweating, and fighting to achieve that goal.
Still, for others, it is a goal that is never reached due to injuries, lack of ability, or other personal and environmental factors.
Those who are fortunate enough to enjoy every intricacy of the game on the lower echelon of the professional level are faced with a rather interesting quandary.
Since the goal of all players is to get to the majors, should they also strive towards team goals for whatever organization and level in which they are playing?
Let's do an application of that theory. Joe Catcher, a 6-foot-2, 220 pound beast was drafted in the first round. He has all the physical tools, both offensively and defensively. He can hit for power and average, use the entire field and has excellent plate discipline.
Behind the dish, he calls a great game, handles his pitchers like a veteran and has an arm that would make Ivan Rodriguez jealous. Just to see how he initially performs, he is placed in Class AA.
Through the first month, he's just as advertised, hitting .325 with seven home runs and 22 RBI. No one has successfully stolen on him. However, his team is one of the worst in the league, posting an 8-20 record in the bottom of the division.
Should Joe care that his team has a suffering record, even though he is tearing his league to shreds?
In my opinion, he should care about the fate of his team. I know that personal stats must hold somewhat of a preference in order to advance in an organization. However, it seems to me that Joe would be doing himself a disservice by not pushing to make his team better.
I say this because it would become evident after a while that Joe may be lacking in leadership, character, and selflessness, even though he is performing like a combo of Johnny Bench and Buck Ewing.
I am not saying that on-the-field production isn't vital. You have to put up good numbers. But what might catch the manger's eye even more is how you work and play with the rest of your teammates.
It sounds a bit like a Little League philosophy, but I think it is amazing how true it still holds. Joe is pretty good right now, but if he learns to become a better teammate and learn that each one of his mates is trying to reach the same goal that he is, I think it would be much more beneficial in the long run.
It could make him a more intense, focused and detailed individual. Rather than be quickly promoted to the majors simply because of what he does on the field, Joe might now be prepared for the hardships he will suffer at the big league level.
If he has not learned the essentials of valuing his team and each man's importance to the goals they are trying to achieve, he is setting himself up for a mighty fall in "The Show," one from which he may never recover.
That's precisely why I am not in favor of rushing hot prospects up the organizational ladder, unless they know how to handle adversity and care about the fate of the team, not just his own stats. Minor League Baseball is the perfect vehicle for prospects like Joe to fine-tune each area of the game.
Let's say for instance that Joe gets mired in an 0-for-21 slump in his second month (which goes to show you just how fleeting the concept of hitting is) and his arm has suddenly seems to be made of Play Doh.
He will get angry, frustrated and begin questioning whether or not he belongs at the professional level. Since he is still in the minors, he has the opportunity to work with some of the best coaches in the world to improve on what he is doing wrong.
At the same time, he is learning more about his teammates, their tendencies, and strengths and weaknesses. He is not only becoming a better baseball player; he is also becoming a classy clubhouse guy with a vastly enhanced baseball acumen, which will undoubtedly make professional scouts foam at the mouth.
Had he been rushed to the majors, he would receive heavy scrutiny, be constantly criticized by the media, and probably not have any clue as to how to properly ameliorate the situation.
Sure, his manager and coaches would be there for support, but a demotion back to the minors would not be out of the question. Hopefully, he works extra hard in order to make it back, but he might not ever recover mentally, and never be the player he was once was.
A guy can have all the talent in the world, but if he cannot relate to his teammates, rally for a common cause and handle adversity, what good is he?
You must let good players develop in order for them to become great players. You cannot force greatness on young players. It has to be cultivated. In order to learn how to win, players have to lose, and lose often.
So, next time we see a guy like Joe with every on-field tool possible, stop to ask, "Is he a team player?" I will gladly take a pretty good player with an indomitable work ethic and team attitude over a very good player with no intangibles.
Let young prospects enjoy the game, establish friendships, and learn how to be professional baseball players. Let them be great. Don't cattle prod them and lose what could have been.
"...Joe went 3-for-5 with two home runs and five RBI, but the Tigers lost 9-6. When asked about his performance, he said, "We lost. It doesn't matter if I hit eight home runs, we still lost the game."
In a perfect world.