Saturday, February 23, 2013

If It's Not Lehigh Valley, It's Crap

The Phillies #6 prospect, according to John Sickels
Phillies' GM Ruben Amaro Jr. said today that he thinks preseason prospect rankings are, in a word, "crap".

This is not surprising. After all, Amaro's go-to move is to dump a truckload of prospects on another team for a player he thinks will put the Phillies over the top. Even marginal pickups like Michael Young and Ben Revere - and no matter what you think those guys will or won't do this year, they're definitely bargain bin pickups compared to the Halladay/Lee/Pence glory day shopping sprees - went on the BOGO plan. That's going to be harder to do going forward if Amaro admits that what he's got now is the equivalent of a deck full of Atogs and two Llanowar Elves. So of course he's going to trash the ratings. It's good business for him to do so.

And RAJ's supporters, who are legion in South Philly except when they're not, have his back. They point to the fact that just a few short years ago, the Phillies had one of the top 5 farm systems in baseball, loaded with hitting and pitching talent. Where is that talent now, they ask? It hasn't produced anything!

Which is precisely the sort of logic that leads to a drunken schmuck in a Santa outfit stumbling onto the field at halftime to serve as a moving target for an artillery barrage of snowballs. Yes, an awful lot of prospects, even highly touted ones, don't pan out. Anyone who ever drafted Brandon Wood in a dynasty league can tell you that. But at the same time, they're prospects. The reason most of them haven't done anything in the majors yet is that they aren't in the majors yet. It's like mocking a cow for not being a flame-seared filet mignon. They're still in process.

And that process is so variable, from team to team and teacher to teacher. A prospect who'd blossom under the Twins' focus on command and control pitchers might flame out in an organization that's all about velocity first. Colorado dissected Tyler Matzek's delivery until the kid was throwing with the equivalent of a discombobulated frog; no prospect can survive treatment like that. A masher in an organization with a star first baseman is doomed to rot - ask Yonder Alonso about his time in Cincinnati. A middle infielder in an organization hit with a rash of injuries might get rushed, overwhelmed, and ruined. What any of these kids is going to do is determined by so much more than just their base talent.

Yes, sooner or later, Travis D'Arnaud is going to have to actually suit up and play. Sooner or later Jonathan Singleton is going to have to step onto a major league diamond and produce. And if they do, all the Cottman Avenue yahoos who are frothing over the Chickie and Pete's cheesesteaks1 about how Singleton was blocked by 26 year old non-prospect Darren Ruf anyway will be choking on the Ryne Sandberg comparisons. Right now, no one knows, but the fact that the Mets made D'Arnaud the key bit of loot in the R.A. Dickey trade speaks volumes about the probabilities. The fact that the Astros are keeping first base warm for Singleton largely with the exothermic side-effects of the decomposition of the stiffs they keep running out there speaks volumes. Those rankings may be "crap" now, but someone looked at them and agreed with them enough to turn over real talent - the Hunter Pences and Roy Halladays of the world - to get them.

So maybe the prospect rankings are crap. Maybe Jesse Biddle will turn into another Cole Hamels, and Roman Quinn will become another Edgar Renteria, and Ruf will go Ryan Ludwick on the league for a couple of years (the good Ryan Ludwick, not the one from San Diego), and Amaro will laugh all the way to another pennant. But there's every reason to believe that when so many people independently come to the same conclusion about the quality of your farm system. they're on to something. And that when the trade deadline comes and the Phils need to plug a hole, nobody out there wants to trade for Atogs.

1The correct term is "cheesesteak". It is not "Philly cheese steak". Calling it that indicates that it is indubitably not from Philadelphia or made by a Philadelphian. It is not "Philly steak and cheese sandwich". Calling it that indicates that not only is the sandwich not from Philadelphia, but that the person describing the sandwich has never been to Philadelphia, has never eaten an authentic cheesesteak, and as such would have about as much luck identifying one in the wild as a Big East official would have picking out a team likely to stick around more than six weeks.
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