The Cardinal Nation blog

Brian Walton's news and commentary on the St. Louis Cardinals (TM) and their minor league system

Does the Cardinals’ signing of Joe Williams have a deeper meaning?


Early in the week on Scout.com, I wrote about Springfield lefty Joe Williams (pictured), a disciple of Dr. Mike Marshall who was recently signed by the St. Louis Cardinals organization after farm director Jeff Luhnow had Marshall meet with his Extended Spring Training staff. I found it to be an interesting topic to cover despite the long odds Williams still faces in ever reaching the major leagues.

Marshall seems to be a popular subject in the media recently. On Wednesday, The Discovery Channel – Canada ran a seven-minute feature that provides a glimpse of Marshall’s modest Florida facilities and stars Williams in his usual demonstration role. As opposed to the video I ran on Scout which shows Williams throwing various offerings, these clips illustrate a number of the exercises Marshall prescribes.

Marshall is a polarizing figure in organized ball as his methodologies are in conflict with traditional pitching teaching methods. Yet other than the low-risk signing of the 28-year-old Williams, I have seen no indication that the Cardinals are doing anything other than looking into what Marshall has to say.

Even that may seem threatening to some, but I wonder what harm could be caused in being open-minded about new and different ways to teach and learn. Still, in a tradition-laden environment like baseball or journalism for that matter, old ways die hard and new ones are notoriously slow to take root.

This Marshall-Williams situation seems to have resurfaced ongoing problems within the Cardinals organization. In the midst of sharing always-interesting details in his weekly chat on Wednesday, the Post-Dispatch’s Joe Strauss said this in response to a question about Williams:

“Your information is correct and represents an obvious split between player development and the major-league staff. Marshall has been seeking audiences with numerous major-league organizations trying to regain a toe-hold in the industry. A former colleague at the P-D has been working on a tome with Marshall. The Williams signing caught the attention of many in the system and served as a reminder that pitching philosophies are becoming increasingly factionalized. The “classic mechanics” was tested on Adam Ottavino last year with less than positive results. Others in the system believe the concept has value. Minor league pitching instructor Brent Strom also has ideas considered unconventional by many. To the Kool-Aid drinkers, this has little meaning. But to those with eyes wide open, it’s an example of an organization operating on different pages writing different chapters.”

The first and last sentences really make it clear. Strauss, who has as frequent access to the major league staff as anyone not employed by the Cardinals, is clearly pointing out a continuing rift between the Tony La RussaDave Duncan staff and the administration of Luhnow.

Later, in response to another question, Strauss came back to the subject, pointing out there are dissenters in other places than just St. Louis.

“Some organizations install a vertical flow chart where major league philosophy is implemented throughout the system. That does not apply with the Cardinals. The defection and firing of a number of instructors since Walt Jocketty’s ouster underscores “new” organizational thinking. The Cardinals retain a number of solid instructors and coaches, especially on the pitching side. However, those instructors are not consulted in crafting philosophy.”

There is no reason to believe that this is an exception to the old line, “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire”. The most relevant question may be to wonder “What will be done about it?”

As many Cardinals fans know, La Russa is in his 14th season managing in St. Louis and he and his coaches are not under contract for 2010 and beyond.

Luhnow has been with the organization for 5 ½ years with his first draft considered to be the Class of 2005. Of that group, five players have made the majors to date, including the top two picks reaching this season, Colby Rasmus and Tyler Greene. The others are Mitchell Boggs, Nick Stavinoha and Jaime Garcia, all first called up in 2008.

2006 has delivered Chris Perez, Shane Robinson and P.J. Walters to the majors so far. No players from 2007 or 2008 have arrived in St. Louis, though Jess Todd from the former year and Brett Wallace from last June may be closest. None are yet impact players, with Rasmus generally considered to have the best chance.

In a related vein, I must admit that I have received several notes from readers and bloggers alike in recent weeks questioning negative language from certain P-D writers that at times borders on condescending when referring to the farm system and those who cover it. For example, during Strauss’ Wednesday chat, he said the following in addition to the quote above:

“Depth is an issue here, despite what you may have heard about the burgeoning farm system from various media outlets and team mouthpieces.”

“It’s dangerous to drink Kool-Aid while reading your Baseball America.”

“There is NO support within the dugout for promoting Wallace any time soon. It probably wouldn’t be a bad idea to give the kid more than 50 at-bats at Memphis before pulling that trigger. To Wallace’s credit, he has no problem insisting his bat is major league-ready. Apparently he’s been reading a number of Cardinal-related Teen Beat-type blogs.”

At first blush, I admit it was disappointing to read such comments from a pro like Strauss. On the other hand, the “JSL (Live)” format allows Strauss to express himself in a more direct, new-school manner than his traditional articles can likely allow – not unlike a blogger blogging.

Perhaps most importantly, I come back to a point I made above about organizational contacts and orientation. Are these Strauss’ personal feelings, is he reporting the kinds of things he is hearing from the major league staff or some indistinguishable blend of the two?

I’ve discussed minor league coverage with Joe as recently as earlier this month, but didn’t come away with a definitive reading. In hindsight, does it really matter?

It is clear that the Post-Dispatch writers do not speak with one voice, which is certainly good. I still felt it necessary to point out to Joe that Baseball America’s Cardinals writer is one of his P-D peers and one of the fluffiest articles I can recall reading about the Cardinals farm system in the last few years recently ran in his own very newspaper.

Again, I want to be clear that this isn’t about Joe Strauss or any other writer personally. Look at their words and consider where they’re coming from. Everyone has an angle and a perspective.

As Strauss noted on Wednesday in response to another question about the 2010 Cardinals:

“Some of what happens will be dependent on who is managing the club.”

Certainly food for thought.

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