By Pat Murphy aka yankeesfan1324

What do Mike Leake and Xavier Nady have in common?

Mike Leake and Xavier Nady are the only 2 players who have had their MLB debut in the past 15 years to go straight to the MLB without playing in the MiLB or international professional teams. Mike Leake also played in the Arizona Fall League, which is usually around a AA or AAA level, and Xavier Nady only played in 1 game in the MLB before being sent down to AAA.

Why is this important? Sure, if you ever are asked this on a game show you can thank me, but that isn’t the point. The main reason I bring this up is because it means that with very few exceptions, nearly every single player you see playing in the MLB once played in the minors.

Many of the stars in the MLB don’t sign autographs often. Miguel Cabrera, Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Prince Fielder, Albert Pujols, all are considered bad signers. They just don’t have the time to sign autographs for everyone who wants them. Every single one of them played in the minor leagues at one point, and every one of them signed in the minors.

Let’s apply this to the minor leagues now. There are thousands of minor league players now, and eventually, many of them will play in the MLB. Looking back to just earlier this year, there was a young man who began the season in the minors by the name of Yasial Puig, often overlooked and unwanted. He probably didn’t sign every day, but if you wanted an autograph of him it wouldn’t have been hard to get. In only a few months, he became one of the most talked about players in baseball. If you are a baseball fan, it is almost impossible not to know of him. There are millions of people who would love an autograph of him and would be willing to pay a decent price for one.

For an idea of popularity, let’s look to Twitter. I’m from Ohio, so I’ll use the Indians as an example. Justin Toole, @Tooleyj24, is a player on the Columbus Clippers (AAA). I would say he is about an average AAA player and has a good shot at making the majors in 1-3 years. At the time I am writing this, he has 2,383 followers. If you want to, it would be easy to connect with him and talk. Once the baseball season starts up, I’m sure he would be more than willing to sign through the mail or at games.

Now, let’s go look at the MLB. Jason Kipnis, @TheJK_Kid, is probably about an average MLB player. He has played 337 games over 3 years in the MLB. At the time I am writing this, he has 75,398 followers, more than 25 times as many as Justin Toole. While it wouldn’t be impossible to talk to him on twitter, it wouldn’t be as easy. He sometimes signs through the mail and is decent at games, but not nearly as much as a minor leaguer signs.

What can we take from looking at Twitter followers? There is only 1 logical conclusion – most baseball fans completely ignore the minor leagues unless they are specifically told players are top prospects, and only pay attention to the MLB. This gives us hardcore fans more chances. Go out and find a few MiLB prospects (or more) that don’t get a lot of attention. Follow them on twitter and interact with them. Buy some of their cards if they have them, and if possible, try to trade the nicer ones (numbered parallels) for game used bats, gloves, hats, batting gloves, shoes, or anything you want. Send a through the mail request to them, or if you live close, go to a game. Really start a connection with them. If they make it to the MLB, you will not only already have their autograph/cards, but also a connection with the player. Players absolutely know which of their fans jumped on board when they got popular and which ones made a connection earlier on. You never know the opportunities that may come with making that connection. If you know them personally and they make it to the MLB, there is a decent chance that they will be able to get that tough signer to sign for you. If they are in the minors, especially single-A, there is a good chance that they will get the entire team to sign for you. Even if they don’t become anything special, at least you have some autographs and had a fun experience.

A note to fans of other sports – this works to some extent with other sports. The NHL and NBA have “minor leagues” (NHL has the AHL and ECHL, plus a few teams have other affiliates in smaller leagues such as the FHL and the NBA has the NBA D-League), but it is more common for players to skip them, especially if they are higher prospects. The NFL doesn’t have anything that compares, but many college athletes are good signers, especially if they do not go to top colleges.