The importance of organizational players

Late-night reading: Levine messes with Texas
Looking at Soriano's cutter against lefties

When I first started following the minor leagues however many years ago, one of things I didn’t quite understand initially was the concept of an organizational player. That’s a player that has a job playing baseball in the minor leagues even though he isn’t considered a Major League prospect. Why would teams bother with these guys, aren’t they blocking actual prospects? Those and about a zillion other questions raced through the mind, but now I know what’s up. Org players aren’t just a part of baseball, they’re a very important part of it.

Ouch, my elbow. (Kevin Pataky/

If you want to visualize the distribution of prospects in the minor leagues, think of a pyramid. There’s a whole bunch of talented players at the lower levels of the minors, but as you climb the ladder the number of prospects starts to thin out, with just a handful at the Triple-A level. That’s just the natural order of things, attrition will feast on the weak while the strong move on. But roster spots, those are a big solid block, not a pyramid. Teams still have to field a full roster at every level regardless of how many actual prospects they boast.

The Triple-A level is a bit unique because teams will typically stash backup players there, such as spare relievers and an extra outfielder, a starter or two, probably an infielder, etc. Not everyone is a prospect, but most of the guys on the 24-man Triple-A roster serve some sort of purpose to the big league team. Double-A and below is a different story; you’ll have a handful of prospects and then a whole bunch of roster spots that need to be filled, and that’s where the org players come in.

The role of an organizational player is simple, they just have to do whatever the prospects can’t. Any innings that need to be pitched, positions that need to be filled, whatever, it’s up to them. Prospects are usually on a set regimen and development plan (especially with the Yankees), meaning their usage and pitching schedule and lineup spot are fixed by the higher-ups and not by actual production. It’s a development thing, and it’s up to the org players to fill in around the prospects.

Word (ekemper). (Photo Credit: The Citizen's Voice)

The Yankees have a number of high quality org players in their system, none better than Josh Schmidt (above). A 15th round pick back in 2005, Schmidt crushed the New York-Penn League as Staten Island’s closer that year (33 IP, 14 H, 1 R, 6 uIBB, 47 K), but the now 28-year-old has spent most of the last three seasons soaking up innings for Double-A Trenton. His performance has been quite good (156 IP, 67 uIBB, 175 K), but because he lacks the stuff to get big leaguers out, he’s used to take pressure off actual prospects at the level. P.J. Pilittere has spent the last few years filling in behind the plate at various levels, Jack Rye has been bouncing back and forth between outfield jobs for Trenton and High-A Tampa over the last two years, and guys like Adam Olbrychowski and Eric Wordekemper and Phil Bartleski soak up innings at whatever affiliate happens to be short on arms on a given day.

Remember, these guys are all human, they all want to win. Development is obviously priority number one in the minors, but winning is not an afterthought. Good org players lead to more wins, and you want your best prospects in a winning environment. There’s also the business aspect of it; more wins means more butts in the seats, and the affiliated clubs appreciate that. It’s a two-way relationship, both the Yankees and the minor league clubs are supposed to benefit from their player development arrangement.

The other thing we can’t forget here is these guys are all teammates and will be stuck living with each other for six months a year. Good org players aren’t just productive on the field, they also help the prospects off the field and in the clubhouse. Most of these guys are old for their level, so the experience they share with the younger guys is just as important as the innings they eat.

Being an organizational player is a completely thankless job, but that doesn’t mean they’re not important. Productive players that know their role in the organization contribute a great deal to the development of the highly touted prospects they play with, they just happen to be more disposable. Don’t take them for granted though, quality players help breed a quality organization, regardless of how small their role may be.

Late-night reading: Levine messes with Texas
Looking at Soriano's cutter against lefties
  • JCK

    Out of curiosity, how much does a career double-A guy make?

    • Mike Axisa

      Not much at all, something like $2K a month during the season, if that.

      • Greg C

        I’ve always heard something around there, which is why I am less curious about why teams need org guys than why org guys choose to stick around. I know. I know. They love the game. ( Maybe) they think they can make it to the Bigs one day. But if you are in AA in your late 20s and the org pretty much tells you they consider you nothing more than mid-level depth with no chance of advancement…How does minor league free agency work? Are they just waiting for a chance to sign with another team that sucks and/or has no prospects?

      • BavarianYankee

        wow. Even German football players in the 4th division earn more. I guess guys like that just hope that they can turn their careers around somehow and perhaps they’re called up someday and earn some big bucks. I don’t know if it’s worth 2k, I earn about 4k by doing my “normal” job.

      • jwb

        AA scale is $1,500/month, $7,500/season.

  • Colin

    I just finished reading the Bullpen Gospels by Dirk Hayhurst, and that makes me look at this and wonder how those organizational players feel about their roles. They must really love baseball and playing the game, but in the end they all want to make the big leagues. If you’re basically stuck in Double-A and you’re making a minor league salary all those years it can be pretty tough.

    Still, I’m glad the Yankees have some good ones. I like it that our minor league teams are usually in the playoffs, it probably gets them ready for when they come up to the big league team eventually.

  • Nuggetpalooza

    With a son toiling in the minors, I know there is one other consideration of the organizational player: “You Never Know”.

    As long as you are playing, you never know when something in your swing might click, or you master that new pitch that turns YOU into a prospect.

    In my opinion, that’s what keeps those guys going.

    • whozat

      true! Just look at Axford, or RA Dickey

    • king of fruitless hypotheticals

      Good luck to him–its true: you never know. It must be hard as a dad–I don’t know what I’d do with my daughter if she were in that position (she’s 7, so right now we just cheer if she ties her own pony tail).

      Tell him to Be Relentless! I dozens, but I’m sure there are millions of people that wish they had chased their dream for a year, much less tried to make it a life.

    • cesar

      if your son is in the minor leagues tell him to always believe in himself and his ability. to never give up. i believe that it’s a miracle to be able to strive and live for a dream. i hope that he is successful.

  • JZ

    How often do org players ever make the jump to the bigs? Was Aaron Small an org player who got lucky for just long enough to get to the Major Leagues for a bit or was he a failed prospect who never reached his potential? If the org player never makes it than it’s really difficult to see how they continue to toil away, year-after-year, for peanuts knowing that they will never have a shot at the Show.

    • Rick in Boston

      Part of why they stick around is a love of the game. Some of it is because they don’t have anything else to fall back on. A friend of mine’s brother-in-law pitched for 17 years in the minors without an MLB call up. He kept playing because he was always holding out for that one last shot.

    • JGS

      Small was a 22nd round draft pick who was much more of a journeyman than an organizational player. He pitched 200 big league innings in parts of 7 seasons, mostly as a reliever, before saving the Yankees in 2005.

  • CS Yankee

    Bull Durham

    • johnny

      Damn, you beat me to it. Crash was one hell of an organizational player.

  • Opus

    You don’t want a player, you want a stable pony. My Triple A contract gets bought out so I can hold the Flavor o’ the Month’s dick in the bus leagues?! Fuck this fucking game… I fuckin’ quit.

    ………… Who we play tomorrow?

    • JGS

      Winston-Salem. Batting practice at 1130

      • I am not the droids you’re looking for

        Nicely done!!

  • Jen Green

    Wow. Thank you for explaining that. It’s something I’ve always wondered about and you explain it so well. I can absolutely see now, not only how important they are in terms of experience and support, but also how there are places that just need to be filled, without blocking the next big prospect. Thanks!

  • lordbyron

    Nice piece – my dad was a career minor leaguer and I grew up hanging around his teammates and the ballparks and most folks don’t really appreciate the ‘organizational’ players!

  • mike hc

    Enjoyed this article a lot. Interesting and well done.

  • I am not the droids you’re looking for

    This piece is written as if the org players are aware that they are org players as opposed to true prospects. Is that right or did I read too much into it? If they know, how do they know? Are they told? Is there something obvious in the way they are handled (say bouncing up and down levels to make spot starts or the like)? Or is it just assumed when you look around and all the guys around you are a few years younger, and you’ve been passed by several times?

  • king of fruitless hypotheticals

    anybody have the like to Mike Ashmore’s piece on the minor leagues?

  • Poopy Pants

    Was the Brooklyn Brawler an ‘organizational wrestler’?

    • All Of The Above

      I think he was. Just some wrestler, nothing special.