Recently I had a discussion about the state of the White Sox system and the age of prospects at certain levels was one of the points of contention. A number of Sox farmhands are off to hot starts in leagues where they are older than the competition. Obviously, it's early in the year so to start complaining about promotions not happening is silly, but it got me thinking. Just how old is too old for each level?
Thanks to baseball-reference.com I was able to rather easily calculate the average age of each team in a full season league that includes a White Sox affiliate. So here's the breakdown:
|Affiliate||Average Age||League's average age|
As you can see, Charlotte is pretty much in line with the league average, but the lower down you go, the worse it gets. Birmingham is the fourth oldest team out of ten in the Southern League, the Dash are the second oldest in the eight-team Carolina League and most disturbingly Kannapolis has the oldest average age in the 14-team South Atlantic League.
If you're looking for a reason why the Sox have struggled in player development in recent years, this could be an argument. I'm not going to say that simply because the Sox are holding players back that they aren't going to develop as much, but it's hard to get excited about a 22-year-old dominating Low A ball.
For a more individual oriented view, let's take a look at our last top 25 prospects and where they are relative to age. Chris Sale and Brent Morel are obviously in the Majors, Kyle Bellamy is out for the year, Stefan Gartrell got traded and Miguel Gonzalez is in extended spring training so they won't be counted in this next part. That leaves 20 players.
Of those 20, six players (Michael Blanke, Ryan Buch, Santos Rodriguez, Jacob Petricka, Charlie Shirek and Nate Jones) are the same age or older than the league's average age. Another five (Jared Mitchell, Andy Wilkins, Addison Reed, Charlie Leesman and Andre Rienzo) are within a year of the average age. You can debate the value of a 24-year-old in AA or a 22-year-old in High-A all you want, but I'd say it's a concern that so many of the system's best prospects are actually old for their level.
Petricka has been one of the year's best performers so far, but he turns 23 in June and really needs to be starting next year in AA. Staying in the SAL does him nothing at this point.
It's a harsh reality that so few of the system's prospects are actually young for their level and have ample time to develop. One bad season could devastate the value of many of the current group. Considering Kenny Williams' penchant for trading prospects maybe that's why so many are moved up the ladder slowly.
Note: Baseball Reference counts players as the age they will be for most of a season so someone like Petricka (born later in May or June) has already aged according to BR's numbers. Also, my league averages were actually the average of the team averages to make it easier so if you find an official number somewhere it could be a little different.