By Mike Steffanos
In yesterday's post I took note of something Joel Sherman wrote on the difficulty of developing pitching prospects into major league pitchers. I believe it's important to be realistic about these kids, but I also feel that the true health of franchises going forward will be measured by their ability to find talent, nurture it, and create major-league caliber players.
I will quote a portion of a comment "dd" left in response to yesterday's post:
Certainly, it's agreed that all prospects aren't going to make it to the finish line.
But watching the various franchises over time, it becomes clear that some teams have a lot more success with their kid pitchers than others do. Sometimes it's the same team over a different time frame that show such different results: remember the big draft that fetched the Oakland A's Todd Van Poppel and three other prize prospects, none of whom ever amounted to squat? A far cry from all the success Oakland has had with its kids more recently, wouldn't you say?
Kid pitchers are never a sure thing, but there are some things a team can control: training that focuses on what a prospect can do and develop, rather than trying to fit every kid into a desired mold; conditioning and work load schedules that increase the odds that their prospects will develop and not get hurt; and, probably, teaching their kids how to live in the Big World while they're developing their abilities, to minimize flameouts and emotional implosions. A team is also in control of its scouting crew, what sorts of players they draft, how they value character and intelligence in relation to physical ability and potential, et cetera. And simply identifying the talent is not a given, either; Johann Santana is currently pitching for his third organization, having passed through Houston and Florida.
As we all have seen, all teams DO NOT perform these various tasks equally well.
The better a team does these jobs, the more like a sure thing having a passel of strong prospects becomes.
I guess I gave the impression that I was really pessimistic about pitching prospects, and that I felt that it was only chance that allowed some to make it while others didn't. Nothing could be farther from the truth. I completely agree with dd that a franchise can substantially improve the odds with these kids. As dd points out, there are franchises that consistently over time outperform the others in this regard. They not only out-scout the other teams, but they also do a better job of developing more of their kids once they have them in the organization.
What happened with Generation K a decade ago soured many Mets fans on pitching prospects for years. To my mind, though, Generation K didn't represent a substantial commitment to developing talent on the part of the organization, but rather something to hide behind as they retrenched from some execrable forays into the free agent market in the early 90s. Basically, Generation K was a marketing ploy. After it went bad, the team essentially abandoned trying to develop pitching, and that has been to their detriment.
I like what the Mets have been doing since Minaya took over. I really do believe they've become a franchise that has a real value on developing their talent, and I think that will pay real dividends over the next few seasons. I think it's important to keep our expectations realistic with prospects, but at the same time I think it's as important for an organization to expect their prospects to develop and contribute. As much as anything, that's what kept Atlanta on top for so long, and why I feel more optimistic about the Mets' chances with their rotation this year than many in the media.