On Young Players Playing Regulary (Or Not)

LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 31: Brandon Belt #9 of the San Francisco Giants swings during an at bat against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Opening Day at Dodger Stadium on March 31, 2011 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

This is not a response to anything specific, although my mind was jogged upon Brandon Belt's recent promotion by the Giants. Bruce Bochy announced that Belt would see some action, but would spend most of his time on the bench, and being that Belt is one of the organization's top prospects, the consensus response was "what a waste." Or to quote Rotoworld:

What a waste.

With Belt, and with all young players around the Major Leagues, fans believe they need to play, and they need to play often. Catchers need to catch. Pitchers need to pitch. Outfielders need to outfield. If a prospect gets promoted, fans want to see that guy in the lineup, because fans want that prospect to develop, and how does a prospect develop if not by playing regularly?

And so, when a prospect doesn't play as often as possible, people get upset.

Now, it's true - there is no better way to get better at baseball than by playing baseball. You don't want to have a young guy on a team, only to sit him on the bench or at the end of the bullpen every day. But at the same time, playing time isn't everything.

Baseball teams don't only play games. There's a lot of other work that goes on. Pitchers throw bullpen side sessions in which they can work on their mechanics or improving a particular pitch. Hitters work in the cages. Everybody practices defense, and everybody has access to well-paid coaches. A baseball player's day doesn't begin or end with nine innings.

Sometimes there are adjustments that need to be made away from the field. Sometimes a player might have too much on his plate to play all the time. Sometimes a guy's confidence might need to be protected. And so on, and so forth. Additionally, if there is a developmental drawback to not playing all the time, one figures it would be more slight, and less severe.

We always want our prospects to play, and our hearts are in the right place. We want these players to get better. But playing them as often as possible isn't necessarily the best and only proper course of action for their development, and not playing them as often as possible isn't necessarily so bad, if it's bad at all. I've yet to see any compelling evidence that treating players with kid gloves early on impairs their progress. Ultimately, what we have to remember is that the teams want the same things we do, and they're not in the business of stunting their young players' growth.

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