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

When does rooting for prospects cross the line?

I don’t have a deep thought for the day. It is more of an honest question, posed directly to fans of teams other than the St. Louis Cardinals. Ideally, I’d like to hear from those who closely follow successful organizations that have also recently been among those ranked as having some of the best collections of prospects in the game.

Q: When your team’s system was its fullest with top prospects, did a segment of your fan base develop unreasonable expectations about how soon these players should be brought up to the majors?

Here is why I ask. I see it occurring with the Cardinals right here and now – and it isn’t happening with just one player. Even before last year’s phenoms have been established, a new wave of bright and shiny youngsters have become the rage.

As any of the regular readers here already know, St. Louis has been placed on the top pedestal – the number one minor league system – among the 30 Major League organizations for 2013.

Of course, to ascend to that spot means the Cardinals system sports a number of very good prospects getting close to the major leagues. The current batch includes right-handers Shelby Miller and Trevor Rosenthal, both of whom made their MLB debuts in 2012.

The upper echelon of the Cardinals top prospect list also features three players yet to have set foot on a Triple-A field in Michael Wacha, Kolten Wong and Oscar Taveras. Solid showings by all three players during the first week of their initial major league spring training camp should be considered a positive.

So why do I find myself concerned?

The reason is the overreaction I am seeing from some in articles, on message boards and via twitter. It is one thing to be excited about the future. It is another to go off the deep end in the present over a few good spring training games in February.

The minority who at least seem to understand that rosters are not unlimited in size still appear ready to cast aside incumbent major leaguers without concern of ramifications – to make room for these youngsters.

For me, it has been building up since spring games opened. It seems like a different prospect moves to the front of the hype line each day.

My tipping point occurred during Thursday afternoon’s contest. Carlos Beltran was hit by a pitch and had to leave the game with a bruised toe. There were some who actually tweeted hope that Beltran would miss time with his injury, allowing Taveras more opportunity to play in his place. We’re not talking about a fringe player in Beltran. He is one of his team’s best and still among the game’s best.

But rooting for anyone – star or not – to be injured is just plain sick – and I mean that in the most traditional sense of the word.

Don’t get me wrong. Prospects are my main business. I have ranked these particular players highly and think they will enjoy long major league careers ahead.

But I also understand their time will come soon enough. It doesn’t have to be this instant.

Followers of successful teams like Washington, Texas, Atlanta, Tampa Bay and San Francisco, did you see this kind of behavior when those clubs also ranked among the top minor league systems in the past few years?

Please offer your comments, experiences (and I hope encouragement) below.

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Brian Walton

Brian Walton runs The Cardinal Nation and The Cardinal Nation Blog, covering the St. Louis Cardinals and minor league system.
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18 Responses to “When does rooting for prospects cross the line?”

  1. crdswmn says:

    I am not a fan of another team, but I will comment first. I was appalled when I saw some of the tweets after Beltran was injured. The prospect frenzy has gotten out of hand. Oscar T is only 20 years old. He has plenty of time to be a star in the majors, when he is good and ready to be. Oscar’s play today in center field today shows he needs more work. A run scored because he couldn’t be bothered to hustle after a ball. He has done this time and time before, and not just on offense. He was benched at least a couple of times in Springfield last year for failing to run out grounders. One time was at a game I attended, so I saw it with my own eyes. He needs some AAA time for sure.

    Why people can’t understand how player development works is a mystery to me. The farm system exists for a purpose besides having a place to stash players. They are supposed to be learning the skills they need to be successful in the majors. Oscar clearly hasn’t learned them all yet.

    Michael Wacha has been impressive—in two starts. He pitched out of the bullpen last season. He is not ready to be the 5th starter on any team.

    People need to get some perspective, seriously.

    • crdswmn says:

      “Offense” is supposed to be “defense”. Man, what I wouldn’t give for an edit function.

    • blingboy says:

      The critisisms of Taveras I have heard are not the sort of things some time in Memphis will cure.

      He’s not going to ‘learn’ to hustle at AAA. He’s not going to get maturity in a few months.

      Perhaps a way could be found to give him the Shelby treatment. That wakeup call was very effective.

      This guy is reminding me of Colby. I wonder if Mo is thinking the same thing. Not good.

      • crdswmn says:

        Would you rather have him jog out ground balls and lollygag in the OF at AAA or in the majors? Maybe he won’t learn it in a few months, but rewarding the behavior by putting him on the roster is sending the wrong message. In my opinion. (better CC?)

        Brian has already told you in his opinion Oscar is not ready either. From what I have seen of him, I agree with that assessment. That is all.

        The world is not going to come to an end if all the hot prospects are not put on the roster immediately.

    • CariocaCardinal says:

      “Wacha has not proven he is ready” or “Wacha is unlikely ready” would be statements that could probably be supported. To say “he is not ready” is an opinion that I doubt you can support – especially without seeing him pitch or hearing respected opinions say as much. Others have successfully made the jump he has made with less credentials – Wacha could too. Yadi said yesterday he is major league ready. That doesn’t mean that is what is best for him but that is different from saying he is not ready.

      • crdswmn says:

        I actually did see Wacha pitch in the Texas League playoffs. One time doesn’t mean anything, but it is not like I have never seen him.

        Oscar I have seen play in Springfield 4 or 5 times.

  2. blingboy says:

    We need to send Rosenthal back to Memphis to get in the AAA innings he missed. Mo went off the deep end rushing a 21 year old to the major’s, and then, giddy over a few games of success, only let him have 15 innings at AAA. Such over reaction is appalling and will ruin Rosey’s career.

  3. JumboShrimp says:

    Oscar needs at least one full year at AAA, to refine his game and to mature.
    I think Wong could use the next two years at Memphis. We will be fine at 2B with Descalso. Wong did not excel offensively at AA, though he got rushed through A level ball, helping explain ho-hum offensive numbers at springfield.
    Baseball teams are businesses. The Cards should choose when to give these guys at shot at the majors. In the interim, its fine to stash them at Memphis, for years. Rasmus got advanced to the Majors before ready, while his family snarked on message boards and then he begged to be traded. It was fantastic when Mo shipped him out of town to grow up somewhere else.
    Matt Adams is already to hit in the majors, but he can spend more time (2013) at Memphis refining his game and beating up on PCL hurlers.

    I feel different about Wacha, because a pitcher. If Wacha is a genuine stud, he could be fast tracked to the Majors. Pitchers are riskier and can be injured down in the minors. If a hot pitcher is ready, let him have at it.
    The way to phase Wacha into the majors is not directly from spring training, however. He should begin April in rotation at AA. If so good, he can prove this at AA for a month or two, then advance to Memphis and prove it again. If excelling at AAA by mid-season, Wacha will have by then put himself into a position to be considered for a ML opening.

    • Nutlaw says:

      Right. The counter argument to letting guys get seasoned in the minors until they are fully prepared in every aspect is that players get hurt and lose effectiveness or careers all the time. Lots guys who could be useful in the majors don’t excel to the point of cashing in big after six years.

      • Brian Walton says:

        I don’t believe all players should be handled the same way. For the future star, whether pitcher or position player, managing his service time is an important factor that is far less relevant for a role player. The latter may not be around after six or seven years and even if he does and departs, it would not be a substantial loss.

        • jj-cf-stl says:

          the two above replies are speaking of FA status, and losing control of the player.

          most “future stars” service clocks get reset around 3.000 and 4.000 service yrs, with an extension, if he has proven worthy during those pre-arb seasons. even pit can extend mc cutchen.

          the bigger the future star, the less i am concerned with getting the minimum control, and then he’s gone.

          • Brian Walton says:

            By management of service time, a team can delay reaching that 3.000 point by one year. In the process, the team can save multiple millions for that last season, which has real value. Of course, the player later reaches 6.000 and free agency later too. Even with an extension, which we cannot assume, it will likely cost more in total salary. That could be avoided by keeping the player in the minors for a short time early on.

            • jj-cf-stl says:

              you can’t avoid paying “future stars”, it can only be delayed, which is no help to the parent club while he’s not on the 25man.

              “future stars” either earn their extension into FA seasons (pujols, molina, wainwright, garcia) by 3.000 – 4.000 if worthy, or get dealt rather than non-tendered, before his arb gets too expensive (rasmus).

              you’re correct, all players should be handled individually, but, it’s the role players whose clock needs the most management, not the “future stars”. role players get too expensive for their production much quicker.

              • Brian Walton says:

                My focus is on managing service time of future stars. Delaying paying a large salary by a year and potentially keeping him a year longer definitely has value, whether the player later signs an extension or becomes a free agent.

                • jj-cf-stl says:

                  adding craig to the above list whose clock didn’t matter.

                  • Brian Walton says:

                    For any given player, service time either matters a lot or not at all. If the player can be delayed to reach his arb-eligible years a year later, it saves the team money for sure and perhaps a year of control as well. It was not a factor for Craig, but I did not suggest it was.

                    • jj-cf-stl says:

                      if stl had tampa or pit’s player budget, the control clock matters more. we almost need to be club specific about the player/org, and the correct approach. it’s a difficult topic to broadbrush and expect good results.

                      rasmus / jon jay is a good example of how stl handled the situation differently in CF. we didn’t manage colby’s clock, and are very fortunate Mo kept an eye on JJ’s super2 clock.

                      rasmus was expected to be a “future star”, who probably earns an extension before 3.000, and JJ was expected to be more of a role player whose clock was managed. this is the star vs role player point i’m trying to make.

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