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let's play some stinkin' ball already

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the Daily Fix posted its latest contest update this week. as you may or (more likely) may not recall, i participated in this annual exercise in preseason prognostication. my picks look pretty ridiculous by now, which puts me in good company. nobody saw the yankees' collapse coming, and the majority misjudged the cardinals (although several people did have them missing the playoffs). while i'm on this subject, i may as well go back and look at the summary of community projections we did here at VEB during spring training. . . . . hmmm. not quite as embarrassing as i thought it'd be. we did a nice job on chris duncan and were tolerably accurate in the rate stats for looper, eckstein, molina, and encarnacion. our projection for wainwright may yet prove to be reasonably on target. and we flat-out underestimated izzy. shield your eyes from the lines we project from reyes and wells, and you can look at these without going blind. as for our overall team projection (at the bottom of this post), ha ha ha; the cards would have to go 47-30 down the stretch just to get close to the mark. but we're no stupider than the "objective" simulations --- only the PECOTA-based projections correctly forecast the depth of the cardinals' struggles.

on to the minor leagues, about which i haven't written in a while. i'll start with the incredible game the franchise's newest affiliate, the rookie-ball GCL cardinals, played last night --- they were no-hit for 14 innings but still won. ended up with 4 hits and pushed the winning run across in the 17th; here's the box score. most of these players are products of the cardinals' caribbean scouting operation; a handful came from one of the last 2 drafts.

what i really wanted to do, though, was look at the system as a whole. let me ask you a question: how many players who are currently in the system do you think will go on to play at least 5 years in the major leagues? not necessarily 5 years for the cardinals; just 5 years, total, in mlb. what's a reasonable expectation?

to put a little context to this, i did a quick-n-dirty history of the system over the last few years. if we look back at the minor-league rosters of 2004, for example (they're available at the baseball cube), we find that the cardinal farm system included 4 players who almost certainly will play 5 big-league seasons --- chris duncan, adam wainwright, yadier molina, and danny haren --- and 4 others who, while not quite sure things, are very likely to last at least 5 years: anthony reyes, tyler johnson, brad thompson, and daric barton. (haren and molina both spent considerable time in the majors that year, but both started the year in the minors and spent more than a month there.) josh kinney entered the system that year and might last for 5 years if he regains his health. that specialest of all cases, rick ankiel, was in the system in 2004, along with jason motte, who pulled a reverse-ankiel by switching from hitter to pitcher (in which role he's now excelling); so were a number of guys who are still down there (or in other systems) and still have a chance to forge lasting big-league careers --- mostly relief pitchers (mark worrell, dennis dove, mike sillman, the just-recalled andy cavazos) but also a coupla starting pitchers (blake hawksworth, mike parisi) and some position players (joe mather, brendan ryan, jarrett hoffpauir, terry evans, cody haerther). and that's not counting the various players with previous big-league experience (kiko calero, john mabry, al reyes, randy flores) who were in the system and subsequently returned to the big-leagues, nor farmhands who did reach the majors but probably won't last for 5 years (john gall, skip schumaker, chris narveson, carmen cali, jimmy journell, bo hart).

that's a snapshot of the system when it was barren --- when it was unanimously considered one of the two or three worst farm systems in baseball (if not the worst). in that state, it harbored somewhere between 6 and 12 guys who'll meet the 5-year standard. today the system is widely seen as improving --- still below average, but in better shape than it used to be. so who are the players who'll go on to play 5 years or more in the bigs? in my mind, the four surest candidates are all at springfield:

  1. colby rasmus
  2. bryan anderson
  3. jaime garcia
  4. chris perez
obvious group to start with. not a whole lot to discuss about them; perez needs to improve his control, and anderson needs to work on his defense, but they all appear to have big-league tools; they're enjoying success already and are still young enough to keep improving. having said that, i'd be mildly surprised if all 4 of these guys go on to realize their potential; it rarely happens that way. guys get hurt, they struggle at the high levels, they lose their confidence; happens all the time. so out of that group, i'm going to assume that only 3 players will go on to have big-league careers lasting at least 5 seasons. just hedging my bets.

after those four, it seems most sensible to group the players by team. the best candidates at memphis seem to be rick ankiel, joe mather, jarrett hoffpaiur, brendan ryan, and nick stavinoha among the position players, and blake hawksworth, mike parisi, dennis dove, mark worrell, the just-recalled andy cavazos (i'll count him since he has spent most of the year in the minors), and troy cate (ditto) among the pitchers. i'm not counting anthony reyes or john rodriguez; they're both big-leaguers on loan to the triple A club. i am not convinced that any of these guys has better than a 50-50 chance to last for 5 years in the bigs, but even if we assign them all just a 10 percent chance then we could expect one 5-year big leaguer to emerge from this group; maybe two, if we handicap more generously.

i'm less optimistic than most about ankiel's chances --- according to his ball-in-play page at Minor League Splits, ankiel has a line-drive rate of just 12 percent. that's against mistake-prone triple A pitchers. he also has just 9 hits to the opposite field this season; for comparison's sake i looked up chris duncan's BIP data from his last full minor-league season (ie 2005) and found that he went the other way about twice as often. this is a guy who swings for the fences every time up; he's a one-dimensional hitter even at triple A and seems likely (in my opinion) to lose that single dimension against big-league pitching.

the post-dispatch had a nice piece about jarrett hoffpaiur today; he's off to a fast start at memphis. troy cate looks like he can pitch, but i'm a little worried about hawksworth; the league seems to be adjusting to him as the season goes on, rather than vice versa. a worse possibility: hawksworth's shoulder could be acting up again. here are the numbers from his first 8 starts, vs those from his last 9:

IP H BB SO ERA WHIP
first 8 44.1 47 11 26 3.45 1.308
last 9 47 63 14 24 6.51 1.638

well, at least his peripherals are stable; that's a hopeful indicator. wainwright followed a similar pattern at triple A in 2005 --- got off to a fast start, then hit a wall at midseason. he battled through it and finished up strong; if hawksworth can do the same, he'll remain a prospect. his so-so strikeout rate is not encouraging, however. at this point he's being outpitched by parisi, of whom i wrote not long ago and who continues to improve. he struck out 12 guys in his last start and has a 3.69 era over the last month, with 33 strikeouts in 32 innings. parisi has a better strikeout rate than hawksworth at this point, gives up fewer hits and fewer home runs, induces more ground balls; he doesn't have better stuff, but he's getting better results.

our tally so far: 3 long-term big-leaguers from the initial group and 2 from the memphis roster. now we move on to springfield, where --- aside from the aforementioned top prospects --- the top candidates for big-league success appear to be mark hamilton, tyler greene, mark shorey, cody haerther, mitchell boggs, adam daniels, and jason motte. the latter is having an incredible year, just his second as a pitcher --- he has nearly as many strikeouts as baserunners allowed this season, hasn't allowed a single homer in 42.2 innings and sports a 1.69 era over two levels. here is his career pitching line:

IP H BB SO HR ERA WHIP
81.1 75 24 81 2 2.66 1.217

most of that came against hitters in the low minors, but his success at double A is pretty encouraging. another player making good progress is mitchell boggs, who won for springfield last night to improve his record to 9-3. here's how his season has gone:

IP H BB SO ERA WHIP
first 9 starts 50 54 25 34 4.14 1.760
last 8 starts 50 52 17 40 3.06 1.380

walks decreasing, strikeouts increasing --- that's what you like to see. he has allowed only 5 hr all season in a very hitter-friendly league and, not surprisingly, has a high groundout/flyout ratio; doesn't look like a staff ace but might be a useful muncher of innings.

another groundball machine at springfield, adam daniels, has allowed just 7 homers in his entire minor-league career (more than 250 innings pitched). he's left-handed, which is always a plus, and rising rapidly --- which he needs to do, since he is about to turn 25. daniels has only made 5 starts at double A, but they've been good ones; if he has a decent 2d half i would expect him to open the 2008 season at memphis.

mark hamilton also looks like a player; that's an extremely talented team. just eyeballing and being conservative, i'll guess that 2 or 3 of the guys from this secondary group at springfield will have mlb careers of 5 years or more.

that gets us up to 8 or 9 for the system as a whole --- and that's where i'm gonna stop. the crop of very promising players in A ball --- the just-disabled allen craig and john jay, adam ottavino, pj walters, luke gregerson, brandon buckman, tyler herron, kenny maiques --- likely will produce another 1 or 2 long-time big leaguers, and we can hope for the same out of the 2007 draft (especially if they sign their #1 pick). that's about a dozen, all told. and don't forget, i'm only guessing at which guys will come up and last for 5 years; we can probably expect a second dozen (or more) to see at least some time in the big leagues. if i have to name the dozen who i think are most likely to last, they'd be (not necessarily in order):

  1. colby rasmus
  2. bryan anderson
  3. jaime garcia
  4. chris perez
  5. jason motte
  6. mitch boggs
  7. troy cate
  8. tyler herron
  9. blake hawksworth
  10. pj walters
  11. adam ottavino
  12. mark hamilton
come on back in 2015 or so and tell me how smart or stupid i was.