|Brian Mazone, the oldest active minor leaguer with no MLB experience, turned 34 last season.|
Professional baseball is extremely complicated. Unlike other major sports, even the highest MLB Draft choices are not expected to make an impact on their organization for at least a few seasons. While some football, hockey, and basketball draftees are being named all-stars in their first year as a pro, baseball players often spend years in the minors developing their skills and waiting for their opportunity. And while some wait years, others wait a lifetime.
The majority of professional baseball players will never play a major league inning. There are no guarantees when you sign that contract- you are simply being offered an opportunity to earn a chance at your dream. And, quite frankly, the odds are not good.
When you take a look at any organization, there are more than 150 minor leaguers all vying for a handful of open Major League roster spots- not in the organization, but in the entire league.
Baseball is a sport that regularly sees guys take their playing days into their late 30's, even their 40's. While such older players may be a rarity in other sports, longevity has certainly proven more attainable on the diamond. These long careers result in a minuscule turnover rate, producing a very small number of opportunities every season.
Another major factor is your organization- how deep are they at your position? I've seen first basemen in Low-A who are legitimate Double-A caliber prospects, but because of their particular organization's depth, they get buried and are forced to wait longer for an opportunity- or simply don't get one at all.
Because of this issue, versatility becomes a prospect's best friend. For each position you can play, you double your chances of making it to the next level. You've only been a catcher your whole life? You better be one of the best 60 catchers in the world- or swing one hell of a bat.
Staying healthy is also a major factor that cannot be overstated. To put it as insensitively as possible, injured players are useless to an organization. The quickest way to get overlooked by your team and replaced by your teammates is to find yourself making a home in the training room. When you're healthy, you're always in the discussion.
Timing is the ultimate factor in getting your big break, however. Injuries are an inevitable part of the game, and with every injury comes an opportunity. Not all opportunities come about in the same fashion, but when they do come, it's up to you to make the most of it- or that may just be it. Sometimes you only get one chance- and if you don't shine, they'll find somebody else who will.
Wally Pipp was an AL home run champion and career .281 hitting first baseman for the New York Yankees. On June 2, 1925, Pipp and several Yankee veterans were benched by manager Miller Huggins in an attempt to shake up the lineup. That day, a young player name Lou Gehrig played first base for New York- and he would go on to play the next 2,129 games for the Yankees, setting an MLB record and becoming a baseball icon in the process. Pipp, on the other hand, would fade into anonymity- discussed today only as the guy who lost his job to Gehrig.
That's a player who took an opportunity and ran with it. If Pipp had continued to play solid baseball, who knows if the world would have ever heard of Lou Gehrig- but, he got his chance. The minors are filled with superstars in the making- some of whom, for some reason or the other, may never get their chance.
But assuming everything goes right, what's the timeline for a minor leaguer to make it to the Show? Is that even possible to determine since everyone's different?
Four years. In a game with countless factors and variables, four years is the exact scientifically calculated time frame allotted to every MiLB player.
Sure every case is different, but you are expected to make your Major League debut in your fourth year. You don't have to be an all-star at that point, or a starter, or even a mainstay in the Big League clubhouse- you just need to have made an appearance. Once that happens, you have a chance at a solid career.
For every second that goes by after that four-year deadline, however, your odds of making the Bigs decrease. With every year comes a fresh crop of young talent- and someone who's younger than you doesn't have to be better, they just have to be the same. If two players are of the same talent level, the edge always goes to the younger player.
Youth means upside, potential, and valuable time. After your four-year deadline passes, there's a draft class of young whipper snappers fast approaching in your rear view mirror who are on schedule to make their own four-year deadline.
Four years. Is it exact? No. Every year, players make their MLB debut before their fourth year, and players make it to the Majors after their fourth year- but it's the general rule. You don't explode upon the ticking of the final second of year four if you haven't made the Bigs yet, nor do you become a hopeless cause- it just becomes tougher.
Four years. That's a whole lot of bus rides, Subway sandwiches, and rundown motels- but it's the price you pay for a chance at limo rides, filet mignon, and Ritz Carltons. And more importantly, a dream.
MiLB LIFE Series
Being a Senior Sign
Universal Big League Dreams
Explaining My Profession to Non-Baseball Minds
Wasted Hat Collection
Dealing with Heckling Fans
Being the New Guy
My First Call-Up
A Typical Game Day [Part One]
A Typical Game Day [Part Two]
Being the 'K-Man'
A Taste of the Minor League Off-Season
New Helmets Issued, Players Respond: "Are You Joking?"
The Fines of Kangaroo Court