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Slow Track Usually A Sign Of Trouble For Prospects

Mariners Tell Prospects: Earn It The Mariners decision to send Alex Jackson to extended spring training to start his second full pro season is an individual one. They looked at their player and decided that a reboot was in order. But if past history is any indication, Jackson’s path from extended spring training to a future big league career would be bucking plenty of history. To get a sense of the normal career track, Baseball America looked at the 87 first-round high school infielders/outfielders taken in the 2001-2014 drafts. The normal career development has a high school first-rounder being sent to high Class A in his second full pro season. That’s where 45 (51 percent) of those 87 players were sent in year two. Another 28 (33 percent) were sent to low Class A while 12 (14 percent) were advanced enough to start their second full season in Double-A. Jackson becomes the first to be held back in extended spring training; Rays outfielder Josh Sale was on the suspended list after testing positive for a drug of abuse. As you would expect, the quicker a player moved, the more likely he was to have a significant big league career. And at the same time, being placed on the slow track has proven to be a very clear warning sign of a career that might disappoint. The 12 players who started their second full season in Double-A included Prince Fielder, Addison Russell, Manny Machado, Andrew McCutchen, Colby Rasmus, Billy Butler, Brett Lawrie and James Loney. Only Eric Duncan and Sergio Santos of the 12 Double-A players failed to have significant big league careers as hitters. Just as unsurprisingly, the players who were behind schedule and only ready for low Class A in their second full seasons were often already exhibiting signs that their careers were in trouble. Of the 20 players sent to low Class A in their second full season who have had enough time to have either reached the big leagues or to be released (2010 draftees and before), only four (Delino DeShields, Randal Grichuk, Aaron Hicks and Denard Span) have gone on to have be big league regulars. The list of players sent to low Class A includes many more players who never had big league careers: Chevy Clarke, Donavan Tate, Ryan Harvey, Greg Golson, C.J. Henry, Josh Burrus, Anthony Hewitt, Josh Vitters and Wendell Fairley are among the notable names. Span’s successful career gives an example of the slow track working out, but Grichuk is the only other slow-track player from the 20 to have posted even one 3+ WAR season. There are few more recent prospects, most notably Lewis Brinson, who could improve the results of slow-track players, but the odds are not in that groups favor. That’s a faster track than the one Jackson is on. There are no precedents for Jackson’s extended spring assignment, but if Jackson gets from here to the big leagues, it will be the story of a dramatic turnaround to a career once headed in the wrong direction.
Manny Machado Photo By Brian Rothmuller Icon Sportswire Via Getty Images

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A look at the Opening Day assignments for the second full pro season for 87 high school outfielder/infielders taken in the first 30 picks from 2001-2014. The higher your assignment, the more likely you are to have big league success.
LevelNo. of PlayersPct.Average bWAR3+ WAR Seasons
Extended spring11.15%0.00
Restricted list11.15%0.00
*Average WAR/3+ WAR seasons are for players picked from 2001-2010 since later picks haven't had time in many cases to reach the big leagues yet.

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