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What’s the difference between AAA and the majors?

In our new offseason series, we give you the stories that we could have given you months ago but didn’t, because we wanted to have an offseason series

San Francisco Giants v Milwaukee Brewers
Ryder Jones, seen here having no problem with the pressure of the majors
Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

Over the course of the year, as I talked to various River Cats, after I finished asking them questions for the pieces I wrote on them, I then asked them all a few more questions so that after the season, I could stitch those answers together to give you, the McCovey Chronicles reader, a little insight into a few aspects of minor league life. As you may have noticed, it is now after the season, so here we are with the first of several articles.

Let’s start off with something simple: what’s the biggest difference between the majors and the minors? As fans and commentators, it’s easy to watch recent call-ups struggle and proclaim that the talent gap between AAA and The Show is as big as it gets. But do the actual players feel that way?

For the most part, they don’t. In late July, in Sacramento, Ryder Jones told me, “They’re a little better [in the majors],” but that wasn’t what really set the big leagues apart. Instead, it’s the pressure on every pitch, the focus that you have to have, and the way that just wears on you both mentally and physically:

“I just think every pitch up there, it just means so much. You have to keep yourself in shape and eat right and stay hydrated, because after the games up there, you’re a little bit more tired and worn down, just because every pitch you’re 100% locked in, ready to go. I think here, we’re trying to win, but we’re also trying to develop. Up there, it’s not as much about developing as it is about winning. Anything you can do to win, no matter what, is what everybody’s goal is, so that’s probably the biggest difference.”

Gregor Blanco essentially agreed with Jones, and also noted the emphasis in the minor leagues on player development over winning. “I think it’s the same baseball, but there’s not too much pressure. I think the pressure up there is more. Everything really matters. Down here, they’re just developing players. I think for me it would be pressure and, of course, the fans.”

“I think the talent level is pretty similar. I think if guys can play in AAA, they’re gonna be able to have a shot to play in the big leagues,” Trevor Brown said, one more guy who doesn’t think pure talent is what separates you. But it is a different experience in the majors, one that comes with pressure and delivers perks, and both sides of that really comprise the main difference for him:

“Obviously, the pressure’s much greater there. You have a lot more fans, you have TV. That’s the big club, that’s the one that everybody’s watching, that’s the one that really counts. Just going into playing a game there, you know there’s a lot more at stake on the line. That’s definitely different. I think off the field obviously is much different too. It’s just an overall different experience. It’s like when I was growing up, exactly what you picture it being or hope it is, is what it is really. It’s really cool.”

They’re just three guys who have been there, and Jones and Brown, at least, have a stake in psyching themselves up for what they hope will be nice, long major league careers in their futures. This doesn’t mean that the talent gap is small or insignificant.

But the pressure of being in the majors is real, and it’s not surprising that a minor leaguer who just got called up would feel it. The pressure isn’t the only reason guys struggle, but the next time some young guy comes up and has a rough time in his first few games, try to remember that while they’re playing the same game, in a lot of ways, playing in the majors feels completely different.