Ask BA: How Tough Is The Classification Jump?

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Q: I always hear evaluators talk about the difficulties of (moving from) high Class A—Double-A and Triple-A to MLB. Could you explain why those jumps are so difficult?

Teddy Eley

BA:Each level brings its own challenges, but in conversations with scouts the biggest, most difficult jumps are the leap from high Class A to Double-A and (obviously) the jump from Triple-A to the big leagues.

The jump to the big leagues is the most difficult for reasons that are self evident. It's simply the best caliber of baseball played anywhere. Pitchers find that they have to have better control and command than they ever needed in the minors. Hitters discover that the mistake pitches are fewer and farther between in the majors.

If the majors is the biggest jump, the second biggest is the leap from high Class A to Double-A.

For a hitter, Double-A is the level where pitchers are (normally) capable of throwing their secondary offerings reasonably consistently for strikes. And pitching prospects who are in Double-A often have plus fastballs with at least a modicum of command to pair with them. So hitters who have developed the ability to at least recognize a breaking ball and take it—which is the survival skill needed for Class A—find themselves now needing to figure out how to at least sporadically make contact with breaking balls and changeups in the zone.

Also the walks that hitters draw in Class A because pitchers simply can't execute in 2-2 or 3-2 counts start to go away.
For pitchers, there is a similar progression. A pitcher with a big fastball who is used to simply raring back and blowing away hitters when they fall behind in counts will find that they have to be able to control at least one other offering.

Scouts have told me that they think the leap to Double-A is toughest on lefthanders who are reliant on their changeups and pitchers who have a “trick" pitch. A lefty with a good changeup will often be able to cruise through Class A lineups because they are generally incapable of recognizing a quality changeup.

But in Double-A, that usually isn't enough. The pitcher will need to either spot his fastball well enough to get ahead in the count with it or he'll have to have a breaking ball he can also rely on to keep hitters from getting too comfortable with his changeup.

The same is true for a pitcher reliant on a palmball, screwball or some other unusual pitch.

The combination of stuff and command in Double-A is why many teams aren’t worried about promoting hitters straight from Double-A to the majors. Triple-A is filled with veteran pitchers with better command and secondary offerings but lesser fastballs than Double-A (or veterans with great fastballs but some flaw like poor control that keeps them from the majors).

Triple-A hitters give pitchers a different test. They sometimes don’t have the same bat speed as younger hitters in Double-A do, but they are much savvier with better pitch recognition skills that force a young pitcher to locate extremely well.