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The New Era of Off the Field Player Development

In the early part of the 21st century, teams with the most analytic information like the Oakland Athletics had such a unique and distinct advantage over their opponents that Brad Pitt ended up playing A’s mastermind Billy Beane in the movie adaptation of Moneyball.

But two decades later, every team has robust analytics departments filled with Ivy League quants poring over data points to extract every single advantage they can for their teams on the field. Adjustments like defensive shifts and getting on base are so commonplace in clubhouses it’s easy to forget when both were rarely implemented.  

The true advantages now as we begin the 2020 MLB playoffs lies in which teams can utilize this technology to develop their players off the field. From hitters’ launch angles to a pitcher’s spin rate, honing skills off the field before executing on the field is important now more than ever. Now every team tracks bullpens and throwing sessions with Edgetronic cameras that can capture incredibly detailed video or Rapsodo devices that can measure pitch spin and velocity.

Customized new tech-centric training complexes and facilities like Driveline Baseball in the Seattle suburb of Kent, Washington have popped up around the country, helping pro and amateur players alike take more modern approaches. The Cincinnati Reds even hired Driveline founder Kyle Boddy last October as their pitching coordinator and director of pitching initiatives, taking the off the field development from a warehouse to an actual team facility.

For much of the normal 2020 season, facilities were off limits to teams because of the coronavirus pandemic. The season was condensed from 162 games to 60 and the Minor League Baseball season was canceled in its entirety. In its place, all 30 teams have alternate sites close to their big league ballparks where teams have been able to develop top prospects as a season-long extended Spring Training of sorts.

This kind of off field development has led to top prospects being called up to the Majors at a relatively similar rate in this 60-game season. This season, 27 from the top 100 rookie prospects were called up despite there being 100 fewer games in 2020. The Miami Marlins used rookie prospect Sixto Sanchez as its Game 2 starting pitcher in their clinching win over the Chicago Cubs in the Wild Card Series. In a win-or-go-home Game 2 for the Minnesota Twins, top prospect Alex Kirilloff made his MLB debut.

Without a traditional MLB season to help younger players develop, teams have relied more heavily on advanced technologies and analytics. Because in the current baseball era we live in, success on the field is now honed in garages, warehouses, and team complexes off the field.