Mark Prior: Dodgers Succeed Behind All-Encompassing Player Development
Walker Buehler, Mark Prior
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports

Seemingly each season the Los Angeles Dodgers find a player another team didn’t want and turn them into a key contributor or even an All-Star. They have done it so often it can’t be considered a coincidence.

That type of success is a testament to the team effort between the front office, coaching staff, Minor League development system and their scouts. Although all the departments play a role, Dodgers pitching coach Mark Prior recently said, “a lot of the credit goes to our front office and baseball ops guys.”

“They give us a pretty good scouting report and breakdown of what guys do effectively, what they have struggled with, things we can exploit. I think we — myself, Connor McGuinness, Josh Bard, Danny Lehmann — the four of us take a holistic approach,” Prior added.

“You bring the performance staff into that equation, bring our training staff into that equation, and take a holistic approach to have conversations.”

To make the process work, the front office, coaches and players need to be in sync with each other and understand what each player’s skills and weaknesses are.

“I think first it starts with a lot of question from all of us to get an understanding of what makes guys tick, what are they like, what do they like, are they delivery guys, mechanic guys, spin guys, grip and rip type of guys, do they want to do certain things? I think sometimes there’s ideas they’ve got that they don’t feel comfortable with,” Prior said.

“I think it goes back to understanding who your player is, and what their wants and needs are. I think we do a pretty decent job of that. We don’t always get it right of trying to get an understanding of what they want to do. And then we just slowly start building relationships around that with different guys from the coaching staff and performance staff.

“It’s really just trying to build that trust and network of how we do things here. Sometimes it’s a little bit of a wait-and-see. Even in Bickford’s case, it was a little bit of initial conversations, we kind of had our ideas but you want to see him go out. We want to see them go out and perform.

“I think at the end of the day it’s, what do you do well? We try to hammer that home. Let’s really hammer what you do well to start, and then we can build from there. Just lay that foundation with guys that we’re in this together.”

Aside from knowing a player’s strengths and helping them build on that, the Dodgers also want to make sure each player is comfortable with the changes they want to make or the strategies they want to implement.

“It’s never about, ‘We need you to do this, we want you to do this.’ Because guys have their own opinions, and we really have to take what they feel they can do and put a lot of weight in that,” Prior said.

“We’ve had a lot of pitchers this year and guys we didn’t have in Spring Training. I think one is the players have welcomed guys coming in, their input and conversations on the field, and from a staff level, I think we as a group feel really confident in each other’s abilities. Whether it’s Connor doing stuff, Danny doing stuff, Josh, B. Mac, Travis, we have trust in our process and how we go about getting guys better and executing on the field.”

Dodgers focus on mental side

The Dodgers also place a strong focus on the mental side of the game, especially after injuries, which can take a toll on a player.

“It’s been an interesting year across baseball. It’s not just us, but it has been interesting with injuries. Yeah, there’s definitely a mental and emotional component to having physical injuries,” Prior said.

“Especially when they’re prolonged injuries, and whether you’re trying to pitch through them or it completely shuts you down, like in Corey’s (Knebel) case for an extended period of time.

“It’s tough, because all these guys, the reason they make it to the big leagues is they’re competitors first. They want to be out there, they want to be part of the team, they want to help win ballgames, and being on the sidelines is extremely tough.

“I think that’s one thing that our front office does a really good job of doing, is building depth, so we don’t have to rush guys back or rely on them before they’re completely ready. And we don’t just mean ready from a volume standpoint, or can you do three or four innings, or whatever. It’s more like, can you effectively get outs at this level? Because games matter, specifically at this time of year, and I think that’s the one thing that is nice.

“We can tell these guys, ‘Look, we have patience and we can wait for you to get healthy.’ When we do put guys out there, we want them to be convicted and confident in what they can do, and not have a slight reservation in the back of their head if they’re completely back.

“We want to make sure they feel completely healthy and ready to go, and that their stuff is in a really good spot, like it would be coming out of Spring Training.”

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