Player development is no easy task. Even after developing an overall future projection for a player there’s an incredulous number of questions that a team has to try and answer:
How is the player’s work ethic? Is he mature enough to handle a tougher challenge at a higher level in the minor leagues? Will he be a good enough player at his present position to handle it in the major leagues? Will he be able to hit at a higher level? If he can’t, will the challenge of better pitching help him or hurt him?
In other words, there’s no flow chart for major league teams to follow. Even if you do take the time to carefully make each of the determinations listed above, there’s a very good chance that dumb luck will put an unforeseen hitch in the development process and invalidate all of your hard work.
Let’s look at one scenario.
Imagine you’re an MLB team. You’ve got a Top 30 prospect who has hit well at every level of the minors. He’s young for his level, but has shown nothing to cause any doubts. This player plays a premium position on the diamond and it looks like he’ll be able to handle it at the major league level. This MLB team of yours is quite good and you intend to contend in the coming season. However, there’s a hole on your roster at a premium defensive position; the same position that your top prospect happens to play.
Do you call up the top prospect and give him a shot at the majors?
If you’re looking to compete and you haven’t been given any reason to doubt the player, then yes, you probably call him up.
Replace ‘him’ with Dalton Pompey and ‘MLB team’ with the Toronto Blue Jays and you’ve got the precise scenario that the Blue Jays’ front office found themselves in prior to the 2015 season. They took a risk on Dalton Pompey and made him the starting centerfielder on Opening Day 2015.
As we now know, the Dalton Pompey experiment did not go as planned. In just over a month he’d gone from the Toronto Blue Jays’ Toronto area superstar to taking at-bats in Buffalo (then New Hampshire).
Now, two years later, after a season in which the Blue Jays resigned Pompey to a role of little major league consideration, the consensus seems to be that there is little chance that he could be considered for a roster spot at the beginning of 2017. For example, when asked why Dalton Pompey hasn’t been given more consideration for Opening Day, MLB.com’s Gregor Chisholm noted that the Jays still want full time at-bats for Pompey. He also noted another common sentiment, that, “Pompey is only 24 years old.” While not old for a baseball player in general, 24 would be old for a top hitting prospect getting his first full crack at the major leagues.
At some point the Blue Jays have to ask themselves: what are you trying to achieve by continuing to ‘develop’ Dalton Pompey in the minors?
It’d be nice if Pompey had a little more power, sure. It’d also be nice if he made a little more contact. However, unless the Blue Jays’ are drastically altering Dalton Pompey’s swing, only repetition and hard work will push him forward. In theory it would be better to work on that repetition in the minors; it’s a lower pressure environment. But Pompey has already played 170 games at AAA, at a time in which most prospects spend less than a season at the level and some skip it entirely. I’d argue that there’s not too much left for him there and he already possesses skills that can be leveraged into value at the major league level.
Conveniently, the Blue Jays also should have an opening for Dalton Pompey’s precise skill set. At present, the Blue Jays have a glut of outfield options, but none make for a perfect platoon without Dalton’s inclusion. The most likely LF scenario seems to be a platoon of Melvin Upton Jr. and Ezequiel Carrera, with Carrera filling the left-handed portion of it. However, while Carrera is indeed a left-handed hitter, he’s not a particularly good platoon partner – he has been 20 percent better against LHP than RHP in his career. Meanwhile, Dalton Pompey has consistently hit righties better than lefties throughout the minors.
Pompey’s impressive defense also provides some additional value with Jose Bautista starting in RF. As was noted in 2016, Bautista has become a remarkably poor defensive outfielder. As such, late in games the Blue Jays would do well to get him out of the outfield, either by swapping him out to first base or taking him off entirely for a defensive replacement. A Pompey-Pillar-Upton outfield in the 8th and 9th innings would go a long way to ensuring that the Blue Jays don’t lose games late due to defensive errors in the corner outfield; an occurrence that was all too frequent with Bautista and Michael Saunders in 2016.
While this is just one opinion, it’s the decision I’d make with Dalton Pompey. But the important piece in this puzzle isn’t that the Blue Jays follow my advice to a tee, but that the team needs to commit one way or another. If they think he can still reach his previously held potential, then make it clear that he’s a part of the future, but not in the picture for the present. If not, then make use of the Pompey’s skills now or trade his talents away. It doesn’t do anyone any good to leave Dalton Pompey in the middle, unsure of what the future may hold.
“I was left to my own devices. Many days fell away with nothing to show. And the walls kept tumbling down in the city that we love. Great clouds roll over the hills bringing darkness from above. But if you close your eyes, does it almost feel like nothing changed at all?”
- Bastille’s Pompeii or Dalton Pompey, you decide.
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