Kevin Plawecki, Jayce Boyd, and age appropriateness

The Savannah Sand Gnats trio of Kevin Plawecki, Jayce Boyd, and Brandon Nimmo has been on the lips of Mets prospect watchers all season long and with good reason. These players are absolutely mashing right now, but analyses of their performances are generally accompanied by certain caveats. The primary caveat with Plawecki and Boyd is that they are a bit old for the South Atlantic League (SAL), therefore they should be performing at a high level.

Plawecki is 22-years-and-2-months-old while Boyd is 22-years-and-4 months-old. Is that too old for low A-ball? On the surface they do appear a bit old for the league. After all, a common rule of thumb is that prospects should be in the 19-to-21-years-old range in low A and that 22 is pushing it. Does this rule of thumb really match up with reality, though? The short answer is no, at least in the SAL.

The average age of all players (pitchers and position players) in the SAL in 2013 is 22 years and 4 months and the median age is 22 years and 3 months. It appears that Plawecki and Boyd are pretty much exactly the right age for the SAL. Of course, there are outliers. The best players are usually the youngest while organization filler are the oldest. In fact, the range of ages in the SAL in 2013 is from 17 years and 8 months to 29 years and 2 months.

Clearly there is a problem with general rules regarding age appropriateness in the minor leagues. Primarily, they fail to separate the college draftees from the high school draftees and international free agents. High school players drafted at 18-years-old and international free agents signed at 16-years-old will obviously start at the lowest levels of the minors while college draftees will start a bit higher, but they also gain several years of professional experience before college players are even drafted.

One thing they have in common is that, due to the date of the draft and the international free agent signing period, they all generally start their professional careers in the short-season A or rookie leagues. This is important when considering where non-first-round college draftees like Plawecki and Boyd, both of whom were drafted out of college in 2012, start their professional careers and how they advance. Both of these players started their careers playing for Brooklyn in the short-season New York-Penn League (NYPL) in 2012. Compare that to a high school draftee who may start in the Appalachian League (APL) or Gulf Coast League (GCL) or an international free agent who may start as low as the Dominican Summer League (DSL).

Both Plawecki and Boyd had solid if unspectacular seasons in Brooklyn last year, so the logical step would be to promote them to the SAL. Now consider those high school players drafted years before them who started their careers at the lower levels. In 2013, those players may have worked their way up to the SAL at a younger age but already have several seasons of professional baseball under their belts. Additionally, top prospects will generally outperform their leagues even at an absurdly young age. That’s why they’re top prospects.

Nimmo is a perfect example of these two issues. He was drafted in 2011 as a first-round high school draftee and thus a top prospect. He started his career in 2011 in the GCL and moved up to the APL later that year. In 2012 he started the season in Brooklyn, where his career arc intersected those of Plawecki and Boyd. However, while the former was already in the second year of his career the latter two were just getting started. Though Plawecki and Boyd may never become productive major league baseball players, the point is that age appropriateness is not as cut and dry as it appears.

So what does age appropriate really look like? The table below summarizes the average age, median age, and age ranges for the leagues in which the Mets have an affiliate except for the GCL and DSL. It also includes those same metrics for the Mets’ affiliates specifically. Note that the metrics are derived from players’ ages as of 5/12/2013.

Age Metrics Pacific Coast League (AAA) Eastern League (AA) Florida State League (A+) South Atlantic League (A-) New York-Penn League (SS-A) Appalachian League (Rookie)
League Mets League Mets League Mets League Mets League Mets League Mets
Average Age 27 yrs 4 ms 26 yrs 10 ms 25 yrs 4 ms 24 yrs 5 ms 23 yrs 10 ms 24 yrs 0 ms 22 yrs 4 ms 22 yrs 5 ms 21 yrs 9 ms 21 yrs 10 ms 21 yrs 0 ms 20 yrs 5 ms
Median Age 26 yrs 6 ms 26 yrs 6 ms 24 yrs 9 ms 24 yrs 0 ms 23 yrs 4 ms 23 yrs 4 ms 22 yrs 3 ms 22 yrs 2 ms 21 yrs 6 ms 21 yrs 4 ms 21 yrs 1 ms 20 yrs 7 ms
Age Range 19.6 – 38.11 21.9 – 32.11 20.7 – 41.5 21.9 – 29.8 19.5 – 41.5 19.9 – 36.8 17.8 – 29.2 19.9 – 24.8 17.5 – 35.8 18.4 – 33.1 17.3 – 28.4 17.8 – 25.3

This data comes with two caveats. First, the ages were derived from team rosters as listed on the Baseball Reference website. The team rosters include all players to play a game for the team during the year, so they include major leaguers on rehab assignments as well as players shifting from AAA to the major leagues and back. That’s why the highest age in the Florida State League is over 41-years-old, for example. This also affects the average age, so the best number to go by here is the median. Second, the NYPL and APL seasons have not yet started so the data comes from their 2012 rosters. The numbers for those leagues were calculated using players’ ages on 5/12/2012.

What should you make of this? The Mets-specific numbers generally fall in line with league averages and the Mets’ youngest player is always older than the leagues’ youngest player. Does this reflect the front office’s policy of not rushing prospects? Perhaps, but these are league averages so you’d probably get similar results if you analyzed most teams farm systems. The most important thing to take away here is that most people probably underestimate the typical age of prospects at any given level. Obviously top prospects will rise to the top faster and at a younger age, but that doesn’t mean performances should be devalued because a prospect is (actually) age appropriate for their level.

5 comments for “Kevin Plawecki, Jayce Boyd, and age appropriateness

  1. Name
    May 13, 2013 at 2:27 am

    So what I gather what you are trying to say is that there is a misconception about the average age of certain minor league classes. Has there been a shift in the increase in ages over for certain leagues the last couple decades or so?
    And if so, what could possibly be the reason for the increase in ages? More players going to college? Teams picking more college players rather than high-schoolers? Latin players coming over at an older age?

    That’s probably a lot of work to compile and analyze, but could be interesting to know.

    • Name
      May 13, 2013 at 4:19 pm

      I just did some little digging around myself, and using B-R’s league BatAge(which is a weighted by AB’s and games played) i noticed that there has been an upward increase in the ages of players in the SALLY league. From it’s induction in 1980 to about 2000, the average age was about high 20s to low 21s. However, since 2000, the average age has increased into the high 21s.

      So, it seems like Boyd and Plawecki are one of the older players, but not too old for the SALLY league.

    • May 13, 2013 at 7:02 pm

      That’s basically the gist. I’m unsure if there is an upward tick over time across all leagues. If it were true, as your analysis below suggests it is at least in the SALLY, it would indeed be a lot of work to find the reasons.

      That being said, the majority of players across all of the minor leagues will never make it to the majors. Take that majority out though, and we may get a different picture. Specifically, it may be that those minor league players who do eventually make it to the majors may be a subset that, collectively, could actually be younger overall in age than the ones that don’t make it.

      I’ll be working a bit on this for next Sunday. Thanks for the great comment and input!

  2. Mike B
    June 26, 2013 at 2:36 pm

    Anyone watching what Boyd and Plawecki are doing recently? Both now at St. Lucie, and Boyd is absolutely killing it. .371 for the whole season, and .460 at St. Lucie, with low strikeouts all year. Plawecki holding his own as well at .333 at St. Lucie. In almost 300 at bats, Boyd at .371 and Plawecki at .316, and having no trouble after 6 games at St. Lucie. Most likely finish at St. Lucie. Plawecki rated higher, but Boyd is going to open some eyes. Both moved up ahead of Nimmo, and Nimmo strikes out at more than 2X the rate those two do.

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