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Rockies manager Bud Black shares his approach to young players

Black views the transition from prospect to major leaguer as a process

PHOENIX — Last week, we polled readers to see what questions they would like to have answered by the Rockies in the clubhouse one more time before the season was over. This was the top answer: “Why are there still unfilled spots on the expanded roster? Why are there some players who are seeing extremely limited playing time, such as Raimel Tapia?” I asked Bud Black a variation of that question, and the short answer to that was that there are not any plans to use the rest of the expanded roster, which went from 25 to 34 players between September 1 and September 4, and we could “potentially” see younger players, particularly in games “if they make sense in the strategic part of the game.”

The second most popular question was, “What accounts for the trust Bud Black has shown for young pitchers, and do young hitters feel the same trust?” Black answered that question in many ways, and he explained his process of helping build up young players into big leaguers.

“It’s a process to become a major league player,” he said. “It doesn’t happen *snaps* like that because you’re trying to win games. Especially now, this time of year when experience and veteran presence and veteran nerves take over. You need that because youth a lot of times in pressure situations is not well-served, from experience.”

So basically, right now the team plans to continue using the veteran presence because those players have more experience and are proven to be somewhat more reliable and consistent. That does make sense in most situations and it is a safe approach at a time when the team needs to play it a little safe to reach their postseason goal.

As a music educator who has coached competitive marching bands and grown up in a competitive music world, I completely understand the logic. The same thing happens in sports all the time too. It’s not necessarily right, but I get it. Nine times out of ten, you’ll get more out of your “veterans” because they’ve most likely proven themselves to perform consistently, be better leaders for younger players, and can be trusted to be more reliable overall. That’s not to say that there are some instances where the younger player is obviously the better choice, but unless they knock it out of the park and force their way in, the default is to go to the older, more experienced players.

That’s not to say that young players aren’t able to work their way in. Black elaborated on the process for young players to move through the ranks in baseball and earn that playing time:

“I think playing time is earned over time in a lot different ways, a lot of different auditions. Whether it’s spring training; whether it’s minor leagues and minor league production; whether it’s major league performance/minor league performance; evaluations from minor league evaluators, minor league coaches, managers, what they see from young players and forecasting what they’ll do at the major league level based on what they see at the minor league level.

“I think there are steps to be taken — being put on the 40 man roster, being in big league camp, becoming accustomed to the big league setting, all those things come into play. How they mentally and emotionally handle a big league game, a big league setting, conversations with them...there’s a lot of indicators that tell you when it’s their time.”

He articulated those indicators as, “some physical things that might need to be adjusted to become big leaguers, whether it’s the swing, whether it’s the approach, whether it’s the mental side or the emotional side. Some of these things that need adjustments and tinkering with to help for them to be big leaguers based on the talent difference [between the minor leagues and the major leagues].”

All of those steps are in place so that young players aren’t promptly thrown into the deep end of the pool and expected not to immediately drown.

“Instead of exposing a young player . . . and seeing that player fail, because we know why he’s going to fail, that doesn’t make sense.” Black said.

In teaching, we call that process scaffolding. When you’re teaching a unit or a lesson to a group, you don’t give the students the final test at the beginning of the class period. You instead give them smaller tasks with which they can learn and be successful from and then give them the test when you know they’ll do well. The same goes for baseball — some kids can handle the test of the major leagues right away while others need a little more help along the way. It’s a matter of understanding how each student (or player) works and adjusting your teaching and timeline to what their needs are.

Black sees helping his young players be successful big leaguers as part of his role. Half of his job is to coach and teach these youngsters while also putting together a winning team with the right mix of everyone. It’s not that he doesn’t trust the young players — he just wants to put them in situations where he knows they’ll be most successful and can help the team the most. Plus, the veterans understand a little bit more of the process of getting to the postseason and can use that experience to steer the team to where it needs to be — winning baseball games and making the postseason.