This is the Monday—all of my vague, sporadic obligations come up heads, and I sit down to write the kind of post that inspires this kind of disclaimer.
Derrick Goold had a long, fine piece the other day about the Cardinals' aggressive player-promotion, and how it's gone from the byproduct of a skimpy-looking, injured farm system to an organizational philosophy. I'm happy to see it, on the whole—I'm not sure what a player learns from spending the full year at some place he dominates, as an amateur baseball analyst, and I love to watch the players climb the ranks, as a baseball fan. But I've been thinking about how this relates to our understanding of prospects for a while, and what I've decided on is this: we're going to have to change the way we think about prospects, now that the Cardinals have changed the way they think about prospects.
As an example I'll use Richard Castillo, who I like very much as a prospect—he spent the entire year as an 18 year-old, and he struck out nearly a batter an inning in two full-season stops. Historically, players who thrive in full-season ball at that age are considered first-order prospects; this guy did it, and this one too. But Castillo has—justifiably, I think—been relegated to sleeper status, in part because of pedigree, in part because of what I think is a subtle understanding of the Cardinals' new game-plan.
The problem is the prospect observer effect—once people notice that players who "hold their own" at a young age tend to become good prospects, the unquantifiable thing that observation was measuring is changed forever. That calculus—involving the team noticing a teenager playing far enough over his peers, and being sure enough of his skill to put him in a league that will test him instead of one he'll dominate, before he gets moved up to full-season ball—is no longer valid once a team makes it part of the philosophy.
Bryan Anderson is, of course, the young-guy laureate of the Cardinals system, the first example of the Cardinals' new philosophy. He beat up his Appalachian League competition in 2005, which led to a start in the low-A Quad Cities in 2006. In his first taste of full-season competition he held his own, but didn't show any of the power he'd managed in Johnson City; it was a quiet .300 season, amplified by the AGE and POS columns on his Baseball-Reference page. From there the real promotion began—he skipped high-A, where he would have been young, to move to AA, where he was really young.
Two unimpressive-but years later, Anderson's about run out of age rope. How would his career look if he'd spent 2007 in high-A and 2008 in AA? Would we be more excited, or less excited?
On a Super Bowl note, two comments which should illustrate my football-watching priorities: first, The Office, which has been shaky for me all season, has now run off two excellent episodes in a row; second, a little part of me died when Bruce Springsteen switched out baseball for football in "Glory Days." Aside from that... well, it's just two months until opening day.