Forgive me, here: I'm a little disoriented by the reintroduction of actual baseball into my life. For four months—coinciding with my tenure on this site, to make matters worse—we've been making hay, seven times a week, re: the same limited pool of information. Now we've got some new material, but, complicating matters, it is the kind of material in which Kyle Lohse gets beaten up and Joe Thurston homers off a guy who was last effective three years ago. It's like J.D. Salinger coming back after the layoff and writing Twilight fanfiction.
Which is not to say it's unwelcome. This has been an exciting first week for me, in fact. One of my favorite non-prospects, Blake Hawksworth, led off the spring season with—and this is good news—a completely unremarkable outing, and now another, 2005 supplemental pick Mark McCormick, is going to join him with the big club.
Now McCormick is an aging relief prospect with control problems, but once upon a time he was a guy who threw a fastball in the Baseball America high-90s (93-95, I would think), occasionally touching BA triple digits (97), and featured a knockout curveball. I hope he appears on video at least once before he returns to the minor league camp; even after all this time, and the innumerable injuries, I'd love to see what the fastball/curveball combo I heard so much about actually looks like.
Speaking of all this time, we're coming into the last shot for a lot of members of the class of 2005; now is as good a time as any to take a look at what seemed, at the time, to be a nice haul of pitchers in the first and second rounds.
McCormick went first, as compensation for losing Edgar Renteria to free agency. Like any self-respecting amateur scout I am disproportionately impressed by pitchers who are alleged to throw really hard, so the triple digit whispers—combined, importantly, with the fact that he was still a starter—really did a number on me. As recently as January, 2007, I listed him among my Top Cardinal Prospects, even though he'd done little more than strike out a batter an inning in the Midwest League and get hurt at that point. Fast forward two years, and his accomplishments are more or less unchanged.
Next up was Tyler Herron, the Matheny comp pick, who's done the most to retain his prospect status. One major advantage Herron takes into this competition is his youth; he was 18, as baseball ages go, when he made his debut in the Appalachian League, which means that he has the luxury of repeating AA as a 22-year old this year. After two undistinguished years in rookie ball—he still seemed all uncertain projection at the time—Herron made his name in 2007 by throwing 137 innings in his full-season debut, showcasing excellent control and the kind of average stuff that appends the word but to every great outing.
In 2008 he still kept the ball in the zone, but a worrisome drop in strikeouts and an unpleasant AA debut have taken the bloom off his prospect rose, although that's also related to the simple volume of prospects that the Cardinals finally have. If nothing else, given his innings pitched over the last two years, he's ready to slip into a full-time role if he can earn it; worst-case scenario, he has the same exciting future as 2005 fifth round collegian Mitchell Boggs, caught between prospect and fill-in.
The Cardinals' second rounder was another young high school pitcher, the forgotten man of the group before the whole group was itself forgotten: Josh Wilson. The Texan righty has a lot in common with Tyler Herron, on a very broad level. He was a high schooler who was more polished and less projectable than the average prep prospect, almost a collegian in a high schooler's body. (The Cardinals seem to love this kind of guy, and his bizarro counterpart, the Chris Lambert memorial raw collegian.)
As if sensing this lack of differentiation was going to hurt him in the fickle eye of prospect watchers, Wilson made sure people would tell him and Herron apart by getting a late start to 2006, reaching full-season ball early, and then tearing his labrum, all over the course of three starts. He made his comeback in 2008, with low-A Quad Cities, and was somewhat successful, showing great control but an inability to miss bats. By August he'd had enough; he's apparently retired.
The final member of this pitcher clutch was Nick Webber, the most frustrating of them all. Webber was a big—6'7"—sinker-happy college closer the Cardinals found at the University of Central Missouri. Sensibly, they saw him as a possible starter, and groomed him as such. After a vaguely promising half-season in the New York Penn League Webber, then 22, began 2006 pegged for high-A Palm Beach. But little did he know that he would never strike out another batter again. Seriously, look at these: 4.4; 5.2; 1.9. Those are not the strikeout rates of a prospect, let alone one who is supposed to throw in the low 90s. After that first shockingly low strikeout rate the cry came down from on high to properly utilize his talent in the bullpen. The end result of that experiment was 2008, in which he struck out all of 9 batters in 43 innings.
You've heard of turning every batter into Albert Pujols from one side, or neutralizing lefties like they're pitchers—Nick Webber apparently turns every batter into Yadier Molina.
It's startling to see how these picks turned out. They can't be blamed on Prior Management; they aren't the results of budget constraints or odd philosophies. They just worked out like this, one prospect out of four. Pitching prospects just don't keep well.
Today's game, on at 12:10, is available via MLB.TV and the MLB Network; watch Todd Wellemeyer pitch against Livan Hernandez, who hopefully brings out the Spring Training eephus once more. While I attempt to figure the system out, consider this the game thread.