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Increasing the Odds for Pitching Prospects

Mike SteffanosTuesday, February 20, 2007
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.

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Comments (8)

Mike:
>
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 didn't really think that, Mike, my first sentence notwithstanding.

I simply thought that there was more to say on the subject, basically. Many sportswriters, even good ones like Sherman, sometimes condense a subject to something beyond it's ecssence -- to where if one re-introduces the water, one won't get the original thing back, if you follow me. So I added a few qualifiers that I thought were appropriate.

Interesting thougt, that the Generation K thing was a marketing ploy. I'd make an exception in the case of Jason Isringhausen. I think that, properly handled, Izzy would have become an 180 inning, 15 win guy year in/year out. I think he was a better pitcher with his full arsinal than he is today.

Another thought: Aaron Heilman is with the big club and contributing after a two year wander in the wilderness. I guess the Mets deserve credit for figuring out what he was doing wrong, but don't they also deserve blame for letting two years lapse before looking at the tape of his pitching motion from when he was effective? We've all heard the tale of a slumping Keith Hernandez' dad studying the tapes of Keith at the plate, and noticing that his stance was more closed back then ("I could see your uniform number then; I can't see it now").

Not to suggest that Aaron doesn't shoulder some of the responsibility for his own success, but one would think a trip to the videotape would have been automatic.

It's amazing that NASA can predict that an asteroid may graze the earth on April 13th, 2036 (I think they've even got the estimated time of arrival nailed, too), but nobody can predict which of the forty or so arms currently in the process of reporting will stick with the big club forty days from now.

I know. It's not rocket science.

This is a great dialogue, and one that is often overlooked because of payroll disparity. Fans look at the failures of many small-market teams, and immediately determine that lack of funds is the primary reason for their futility. But sharper fans can look to things like scouting, drafting and player development for reasons why some teams just seem to have an edge on others, small- or big-market. If it were all about money, there's no way the A's and Twins would be perennial powerhouses in the financially rich AL.

However, with the growing trend (or so it seems to me) of draft picks holding out for large signing bonuses, a case could be made that big-market teams once again hold an advantage even in the scouting and drafting areas. And finally, with the lack of an international draft (bizarre, if you ask me), the big-market teams can easily scoop up the top Latin American teenagers and develop them in their minor-league systems without batting an eye. So on the other hand, money sure does play a role in the world of "prospects."

Nice dialog but the signing bonuses and winning team issues have been at the center of the debate for as long as I have been following the sport. Prime example is Van Poppel who SHOULD have gone first to Atlanta, but he stated he would not sign.

2. On that same vein McGwire and Clemens were also Mets draft picks......

3. Gen K gets alot of press but what does not get press is the other arms; Robert Person, Octavio Dotel, Nelson Figueroa, were also on the farm. The Mets were high on Wilson and with him went alot of hope. Also I agree with dd, Izzy was very very good but light on guts/self belief. (ala Gregg J?). He lost it in his Sophmore season. But like Dotel in '99 showed exceptional flashes with Orel Hershiser mentoring him. In particular I remember a duel he had with Kris Benson (PITT) that probably had Beane salivating.

dd - When I say that Generation K was a marketing ploy, I wasn't disparaging any of the 3 pitchers. I agree on Izzy, and when you get past the hype, I thought Paul Wilson had a chance to be good if he didn't get hurt. What I meant was that the Mets as an organization weren't demonstrating a commitment to developing talent as much as trying to justify not signing free agents. A commitment to developing talent is demonstrated by a sustained effort over a period of years, and doesn't involve putting more pressure on your prospects by hyping the crap out of them.

NostraDennis - Don't tell that to professor Rick.
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C Dubb - The Mets have been a big market team for a long time, but didn't always spend that money very well. I agree with you on the international players, though. I think there should be a draft for them, too.
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Ed - To me developing players isn't about originally having them in your organization and having them succeed elsewhere. It's the whole deal, from prospect to major leaguer.

Whoa, Ed; you awakened a whole big mess o' memories. Must be that time of year!

I was damn sorry to say goodbye to Octavio Dotel. My memory of him is a time he came to within two strikes of striking out the side on nine pitches. Fran missed it entirely, of course, which causes me to link it with the time it took, by my later measurement, 37 seconds for Fran to realize that Piazza had just hit into a triple play. I was taping the game or I never would have gotten the seconds count; I would have been too involved screaming at Fran on the screen. Now, Tim McCarver may get overbearing in making his points, but if he had been doing that broadcast he would have mentioned the triple play BEFORE the play was completed. Tim, he watched the games. Thank god we have Howie.

Robert Person: did you know he was on his fifth organization when he broke through with the Mets? Me neither, though I did know he didn't originate with us.

And Nelson Figuroa I have always pulled for, owing to a friend who was Nelson's "Baseball Mamma" in his days in the Apalachian League. How's it going out there, Marcia?

I could have included Wilson in the Gen K comment, only I never saw him healthy and right myself. No doubt he was at one time.

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