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)|
|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.