Post Off-Day Inner Monologue: Pete Kozma

Before we get to today's game-recap-free entertainment, some bullet points: 

 

  • Bernie Miklasz will be pleased to know that Albert Pujols made it through his Shaq-instigated home run contest alive. At this point I think I'm getting nervous once-removed whenever Pujols participates in an exhibition; I worry less about his health than the gnashing of self-satisfied teeth that would probably drown Chris Berman out if someone were injured in the middle of a Home Run Derby. 
  • I was sorry to see Homer Bailey get knocked out so early on Wednesday. As a recovering Anthony Reyes fan I think I get sympathy-frustrated when I see him do something else that will undoubtedly become grist in the sure-he's-great-in-the-minors mill. As a Cardinals fan, though, I hope the Reds really do think he'll only be successful in the minors; I love his stuff. 
  • The impending Shelby Miller Deadline had me thinking about Cardinals first rounders tonight, and with Brett Wallace treading water in Sacramento (turning double plays, no less, with Daric Barton) that meant it was time to check on Pete Kozma in AA Springfield. He went 0-4, struck out three times, and didn't once powerslam Kevin Youkilis, which led to this:

Good news, everyone—I've invented a device that allows off-day baseball bloggers to confront hastily personified versions of the thought processes that led to much-maligned personnel decisions! It works by... er... ah, yes, I'll just turn it on. Greetings, personified thought process number one! State your humorously contrived vitals!

CONTROVERSIAL DECISION: YOUR MONEY OR YOUR ROTATION?

CONTROVERSIAL DECISION: Drafting high school shortstop Peter Kozma instead of amateur pro wrestler Rick Porcello with the eighteenth pick of the 2007 draft. 

THE BREWERS OF CONTROVERSY: The bloggers and blog-readers who later reclaimed the phrase "Faberge eggs."

THE PERSONIFIED THOUGHT PROCESS: Noted blog avatar and penny-pincher Jack Benny. 

In 2007 the Cardinals, who had made a habit of winning in the regular season and thus picking in the back of the first round every year, were given a rare opportunity: Rick Porcello, that year's best high school pitcher in ten years, had caused fingers to cross and uncross all the way down to the eighteenth spot, the Cardinals' lowest pick since 2000 but still considerably further than he'd have dropped on merit alone. 

It's been said that Porcello was tops on the Cardinals' draft board at that point, but monetary risk won out: In a post-draft interview with the mothership Jeff Luhnow said that "When you look at the chance that [a player] pays back that investment, it's not a slam dunk." Since then Porcello has at least made a layup, making 21 MLB starts in this, the third year of what amounts to a six-year major league contract worth $6.5 million, not counting his $3.5 million signing bonus. 

Kozma has been pushed aggressively, as well, but with somewhat less intriguing results. After two and a half years in the system he's a .246/.323/.329 hitter who's made 74 errors and hit 10 home runs. Yesterday he went 0-4 with three strikeouts, to move his AA line down to .216/.290/.294. 

FOR THE CONTROVERSIAL DECISION

Jack-benny1_medium

MR. JACK BENNY

Well. Friends, this is Jack Benny talking, and I'd like to talk to you a little about cost controls. [FROM THE ORCHESTRA: "Cost controls, Jackson? Like how you make all five trumpet players read from the same worn-out sheet music?"]

Now cut that out! Maybe it'd be different if anybody in your orchestra could read. [LONG, BEWILDERED PAUSE] 

Now, anyway, I won't deny that Rick Porcello is an exciting pitcher. He's yet to strike anyone out, either in A ball or the majors—only the great Miguel Asencio has a lower K/9 among recent sub-22 starters—but he's shown extreme groundball tendencies (as well as, it should be known, extreme gopherball tendencies) and whenever a young starter shows a remarkable fastball and those two characteristics the hope is that he will take the Kevin Brown career path and one day inexplicably double his strikeouts. 

But that career path won't come cheaply. It's like I was telling Jeff Luhnow, one day, when he treated me to lunch. The Tigers paid Porcello $2.5 million more than the Cardinals paid Kozma on the day he signed. In 2008 they paid him another $1.1 million, or about what the last four or five picks of the first round were getting, for zero major league wins; it was like they signed another first round draft choice, without getting anybody at all. [ORCHESTRA: You know, Jackson, it really was.] 

I... I don't really get that one. I suppose I should check the glossary. 

All in all the Tigers paid Porcello $5 million before his first trip to the Major Leagues. Thus far, in spite of his FIP of 5.11, he's been worth a little less than one win above a replacement pitcher. He'll continue to be a major positive value over the life of his MLB contract, but in spending so much to acquire him (and losing the extreme financial upside of the minor league contract) the Tigers neutralized, to some extent, the pre-free agency benefit of the deal. Forced to start his service time now, when he's a hair below average, they'll be paying market value for his best years. 

As for Kozma, he's been rushed. The high-A success that supposedly warranted his call-up to the Texas League was tenuous at best, and the mental lapses in the field make it seem like his futility at the plate has gotten to his defense, the one tool everybody agrees on. He might never be an impact player, which would be a major waste of a first round draft pick, but if he is he'll be both good and cheap. Now, I have to be going, the employees here at the Apple Store are starting to get suspicious. 

VERDICT: Unlucky Strikeout. The Cardinals' choice of Kozma, whose potential for success in this exercise is found in the payroll as much as it is on the baseball field, isn't an altogether terrible one in the abstract, given the shadow future Albert Pujols negotiation casts on the team's every expenditure. Draft money is tough to gauge, as a fan, because unlike the payroll we don't have any skin in it; either it's spent and the player's ours to root for or it isn't and it disappears into the ether. But Porcello was quite a cash outlay for a team unprepared, at the eighteenth spot, to lay it out. 

But the particulars of this decision are almost certain to wash out the Cardinals' theoretical objections to the deal. Young pitchers aren't nearly as likely as young hitters to portend future greatness with their average performance, but Porcello has followed his gameplan and found it workable against American League teams just two years removed from his high school squad. Kozma, one baseball year older, has washed out in his first shot at the high minors, and while that's not the end of his career—there was nothing in his career to date that suggested he was ready for AA in the first place—it's not the kind of third season you'd like to see out of a first rounder, especially one drafted under such unlucky circumstances.

Coming next time: Rick Astley discusses the particulars of Cardinals fans' infatuation with a pitcher traded in the Mark Mulder deal; TV's David Caruso attempts, through the magic of the one-liner, to personify every controversial decision the Cardinals have ever made in ten minutes. 

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