Nationals Arm Race

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Too Old for the level Revisited

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Brady House is certainly NOT too old for his level. Photo via primetimesportstalk.com

One of the key points in evaluating minor league prospects (or any amateur prospect really) is the consideration of their age in relation to their level. We constantly see added on to the evaluation of a player’s stellar performance at a certain level the caveat of, ” … but he’s old for the level.”

I did a deep dive on this back in 2011, trying to compare the rules of thumb advertised by expert minor league evaluator John Sickels versus our own observations. Now, 10 years on, with evolutions of player development, minor league consolidation, the removal of an entire Short-A level, and the compressing of the lower ranks of the minors, I thought i’d revisit it.

My working guesses before going in and looking at the data are:

  • The compression of the minors will mean that there will be an older skew of players now in Low-A.
  • Hitters will generally be younger than Pitchers, since we have such a prevalence of injuries in the sport which delays pitcher development.
  • the lost Covid year will add at least a half a season or more, especially to pitchers who got hurt at the wrong time (see Irvin, Jake below)

My methodology was to grab the entire list of players with non-trivial stats (meant to remove rehab assignments that would skew the average ages) from the four main full season levels, and grab average ages. Unfortunately fangraphs only lists the “age” and not the birthday for minor leaguers, so this is a bit of an estimate (and thus I couldn’t get meaningful quartile/median figures). I wasn’t willing to scrape dozens of rosters from milb.com to get actual birthdays … so this will have to do. I also only grabbed the leagues where Nats have affiliates; otherwise this would have been 3x the spreadsheet work. I think its a safe assumption that the average age of the players in the Eastern AA league is roughly the same as the Southern AA league.

To start, here was the old Sickels “rules of thumb” for age expectations in the four full season leagues:

  • AAA: Typical Age range is 23-24.  Age 25 depends.  26+ is old
  • AA: 22-23.  24 depends.  25+ is old
  • High-A: 20-22.  23 depends.  24+ is old
  • Low-A: 19-21.  22 depends.  23+ is old

This already seems way low, especially in AAA, where we now know that teams store tons of 4-A 40-man roster guys who will press the issue. But we’ll get to that.


Here’s 2021 full season average age analysis for Hitters with > 30Abs for the year:

  • AAA Hitter Avg Age:  26.53801
  • AA Hitter Avg Age:  24.11027
  • High-A Hitter Avg Age:  22.92832
  • Low-A Hitter Avg Age:  21.40741

and here’s fy2022 so far for hitters with > 30ABs this season:

  • AAA Hitter Avg Age:  26.599
  • AA Hitter Avg Age:  24.169
  • High-A Hitter Avg Age:  22.705
  • Low-A Hitter Avg Age:  20.975

And here’s a bit of a deeper dive into the 2022 hitter data, with quartiles shown:

 MeanYoungest0.25Median0.75Oldest
Low-A Hitter Avg Age: 20.9751552795031820212225
High-A Hitter Avg Age: 22.7046979865771922232427
AA Hitter Avg Age: 24.1689189189192023242533
AAA Hitter Avg Age: 26.5985130111522225262834

So, what are we seeing in Hitters?

  • In Low-A for Hitters, we’re seeing a bit of an inflation of ages from the old rule of thumb, with the 25%-75% quartile range going from 20-22, whereas before it was 19-21.
  • There’s nobody in Low-A right now younger than 18 and you can count on one hand those who are 18. Washington’s T.J. White is one of them. Makes sense; you draft a HS kid and they’re going to generally start in the complex league, and only if they’re stellar will they make the next year’s low-A team … and White was really young for his class out of HS.
  • The average age for high-A hitters jumps more than a year and a half from the Low-A average. interesting. Does this imply that it’s going to take kids a year and a half to get out of low-A now? This would seem to support the argument that we could really use another level (you know, something like Short-A?)
  • The Average age for AA hitters jumps up another year and a half from High-A, showing that the old rules of thumb are now completely antiquated. The average age in AA for hitters is now north of 24.
  • AAA average age is pretty useless in aggregate because of its status as a “spare parts” league. If you’re a prospect rising the ranks (like Cade Cavalli) there’s some analytical value to seeing just how young someone is as compared to the average age, but otherwise the prospects generally are in AA or below.

Lets look at pitchers.

Here’s 2021 full season average age analysis for Pitchers with > 20IP for the year:

  • AAA Pitcher Avg Age:  26.90933
  • AA Pitcher Avg Age:  24.76211
  • High-A Pitcher Avg Age:  23.28326
  • Low-A pitcher Avg Age:  21.93048

and here’s fy2022 so far for Pitchers with > 10IP so far this season:

  • AAA Pitcher Avg Age:  27.33068
  • AA Pitcher Avg Age:  24.5873
  • High-A Pitcher Avg Age:  23.23485
  • Low-A pitcher Avg Age:  22.03472

And here’s a bit of a deeper dive into the 2022 Pitcher data, with quartiles shown:

 AverageYoungest0.25Median0.75Oldest
Low-A pitcher Avg Age: 22.0347222222221921222329
High-A Pitcher Avg Age: 23.2348484848482022232426
AA Pitcher Avg Age: 24.587301587302212324.52530
AAA Pitcher Avg Age: 27.3306772908372225272937

So, what are we seeing in Pitchers, as compared to Hitters?

  • Right now, the fy2022 data on just a few weeks is almost identical to the full season fy2021 data, which shows that teams have already made consistent adjustments to the loss of Short-A.
  • Low-A pitchers are on average a full year older than the hitters at the level, and the 25%-75% quartile range is also a full year older.
  • The age difference is less pronounced in High-A and AA: high-A pitchers are on average a half a year older, while AA pitchers are on average 3-4 months older than the pitchers.
  • AAA goes back to half a year older between hitters and pitchers, but again these numbers are greatly skewed (especially on the pitcher side) by the large number of veteran arms in their late 20s/early 30s giving it one more shot (our own AAA team has more than a few).

So, what’s our new “rules of thumb” for being “too old for the level?” I think it has to adjust from the old days.

  • AAA: Typical Age range is 25-28.  A prospect at the age of 26 is iffy. 27+ is considered old for the level (with all the above AAA caveats). However, if you’re 27 and in AAA, you’re already passed through rule-5 draft, you’re probably pretty close to a 6-year MLFA and you’re not a “prospect” any more anyway. So these rules of thumb really don’t apply to AAA.
  • AA: typical age range is 23-25.  A prospect at 25 is iffy. 26+ is old for the level.
  • High-A: 22-24.  24 depends.  25+ is old
  • Low-A Hitters: 20-22 range, 23 depends, 24+ is old
  • Low-A Pitchers: 21-23 range, 24 depends, 24+ is old

Now, looking at our new rules of thumb, lets do a quick run-through of our notable prospects per team, and comment as to their relative age. This is not a comprehensive list of every player on the roster; just those “top players” who have appeared on prospect ranking lists lately.

  • Frederick’s Low-A Hitter Prospects: House (19), Infante (21), De La Rosa (20), White (18), Boissiere (22): they’re all within the appropriate range right now. Nobody is “too old” here. House and especially White are really young for the league. Boissiere is the oldest prospect here, and he’s repeating the level after struggling in his draft year/age 21 season. Nothing to worry about yet. We do have a couple of “too old” for the level players in Martina and Millas, but they just promoted Millas up as I was writing this draft.
  • Frederick’s Low-A Pitcher Prospects: Lara (19), Rutledge (23), Saenz (23): Lara obviously is young, while Rutledge is pushing the range of acceptability, especially for such a high draft pick and his highly visible failings so far. Saenz is also 23, along with some newer additions like Glavine and Schoff, both senior signs in their first full year of pro ball. While we’re all concerned about the fact that Rutledge can’t find the plate, the rest of these guys are not yet in the “too old” category, but are a little concerning.
  • Wilmington’s High-A Hitter prospects: Antuna (22), Pineda (22), Barley (22), Mendoza (24). So, despite our continual angst about Antuna’s progress, he’s still within the 75% quartile range for age in the league at age 22. He won’t turn 23 until October. His bigger problem is that the team put him on the 40-man way, way too early, and now he’s burned 2 options. Mendoza is in the “depends” category and we all know why: he failed at AA, got demoted last year, and has zero homers through 25 games in 2022 despite basically being a DH at this point.
  • Wilmington’s High-A Pitcher prospects: Parker (22), Brzycky (22), Shuman (24), Irvin (25). So, Parker and NDFA Brzycky are both actually young for High-A. Shuman is in the iffy range; he was excellent for Oakland’s High-A team, then was awful for us in 2021, earning himself a return trip to Wilmington in 2022 … but he’s been pretty solid so far. My guess is that he earns a promotion soon. Meanwhile, we now know that Irvin is way too old for High-A, but we also know why: he missed two full years of throwing with Covid and TJ. He’s also been basically unhittable in High-A in five starts and likely gets promoted within a few weeks.
  • Harrisburg’s AA Hitter prospects: Cluff (25), Alu (25), Harrison (25). We don’t have a lot of hitter prospects in AA; even these three guys are challenging the definition of “prospect.” Cluff is really the only guy who gets any industry-wide speculation. All three are 25, putting them all in the “iffy” category anyway. Cluff and Harrison are really struggling this year. Alu just turned 25 last month, and is hitting well in 2022, but has little prospect buzz.
  • Harrisburg’s AA Pitcher prospects: Henry (22), Carrillo (23), Cronin (24), Cate (24), Evan Lee (25). So, Henry is quite young for AA and is lighting it up, a great sign. Cronin and Cate are still “ok” for the level at this point, even if Cate struggled so badly last year. Lee is already “iffy” even though he just got put on the 40-man, but his AA performance so far has been stellar and he should get pushed up soon. Nobody “too old” here who’s a prospect. We do have several arms in AA who are way too old to be there (Herrera, Brill, Andrew Lee)
  • Rochester AAA Hitter prospects: Casey (26), Barrera (27). We don’t have a lot of prospects in AAA right now. Casey is “iffy” as a prospect based on age, but he’s a banner child for the Covid effect; he lost 2020 after earning a promotion to AA in 2019 at age 23; then he loses his age 24 season, solves AA at age 25 but has struggled in AAA ever since. So, its possible this is his peak. Meanwhile, we know Barrera is too old for AAA, and probably too old to be a “prospect” at this point, but he’s also a catcher on the 40-man roster and is next in line if Ruiz/Adams gets hurt. So he falls into the “AAA as spare parts” league category.
  • Rochester AAA Pitcher prospects: Cavalli (23), Seth Romero (26). As with hitters … our AAA is not really a place where we bring up our prospects. Cavalli at 23 is one of the youngest pitchers in AAA right now (only 7 arms in the International League are 23 or younger, most of them major prospects whose names you already know). Romero at 26 is “iffy” as a prospect, which makes me laugh to write since he’s been “iffy” as a prospect since the moment he was kicked off his college team. I still can’t quite believe he’s in the employ of the team, and it should make you sick that he was called up to then be put on the major league 60-day DL, thus meaning he’s earning MLB salary this year.

Conclusions? the Nats are generally keeping their prospects in the appropriate level, and the “too old for the level” iffy considerations all have easy-to-see explanations.

Written by Todd Boss

May 12th, 2022 at 9:45 am

One Response to 'Too Old for the level Revisited'

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  1. A deep dive, Todd. It’s important to separate hitters from pitchers when talking about age.

    It’s a statistical fact that a hitters best age is 27-28. There is always an aberration like Nelson Cruz who doesn’t make it to the show until 28 and still be productive for 14 years, but that is the sweet spot between reflexes, eyesight, and knowledge.

    Pitchers, however, don’t really have a pattern that’s useful. We know the danger zone for pitchers is age 24 and younger. The light bulb goes on at very different times for them as they learn their craft.

    Mark L

    14 May 22 at 7:41 am

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