TPR11 Late January Update | The Process Report

TPR11 Late January Update

– Foreword author announcement coming soon. By the end of the week, if not the end of tomorrow.
– The mystery writer I alluded to in the last update is in. His name is Nicholas Macaluso. He’s a newcomer to this side of the Rays’ blogosphere, but he is an immensely talented writer — perhaps the most talented writer involved — and one we hope to have joining us around these parts a few times this season.
– After the jump, a chunk cut from a pre-existing chapter that covers the Rays’ success with pitching prospects.

There is no such thing as having too many when it comes to pitching prospects. Buy in bulk because they fail in bulk. Yet, the Rays have gone on a run of success in turning minor league arms into major league pitchers. Since Andrew Friedman took over the team in fall of 2005, Baseball America has ranked the following pitchers as top ten prospects in the system:

Jeff Niemann (Second overall, 2006; fourth overall, 2007; seventh overall, 2008; tenth overall, 2009)
Jason Hammel (Third overall, 2006)
Wade Davis (Sixth overall, 2006; seventh overall, 2007; fourth overall, 2008; third overall, 2009; third overall, 2010)
Chad Orvella (Eighth overall, 2006)
Matt Walker (Ninth overall, 2006; eighth overall, 2007)
Chris Mason (Tenth overall, 2006; tenth overall, 2008)
Jeremy Hellickson (Ninth overall, 2007; eighth overall, 2008; eighth overall, 2009; second overall, 2010)
David Price (Second overall, 2008; first overall, 2009)
Jake McGee (Third overall, 2008; ninth overall, 2009; eighth overall, 2010)
Matt Moore (Sixth overall, 2009; fourth overall, 2010)
Nick Barnese (Seventh overall, 2009; tenth overall, 2010)
Alexander Colome (Seventh overall, 2010)
Alex Torres (Ninth overall, 2010)

A 70-75% success rate on position prospects is unheard of. A 75% success rate on pitchers is downright ethereal. How important is sustaining rotation options to the Rays’ success, important enough that Friedman once said this: “Starting pitching is one of the rarest commodities in baseball. You can see that in what capable starters cost on the free agent market. It is essential that we develop our own starter pitching. The recent success we’ve had is a credit to our scouts in finding them, to our development staff and the philosophy we employ in bringing them through the system, and to our medical staff in keeping them healthy and strong. It will continue to be a top priority here for many years.”

Friedman is hardly the only general manager resigned to employing young pitchers that found success in the process. A young, bushy-tailed general manager oversaw operations for the Kansas City Royals in 1984. John Schuerholz saw his team win 90 games in his first season and only 79 in the second. In 1984, his pitching staff would see its average age drop from 32-years-old down to 27-years-old. Such is what happens when wily old veterans like 44-year-old Gaylor Perry and 38-year-old Steve Renko are replaced with pitchers like Bret Saberhagen (20), Mark Gubicza (21), and Danny Jackson (22). The barely legal trio combined to make 58 starts and a composite earned run average better than league average. The Royals made the playoffs in 1984 and won the World Series in 1985.

Schuerholz would leave the Royals after the 1990 season and take over as the general manager of the Atlanta Braves. Victims of seven consecutive losing seasons – including just 65 wins the year before – Schuerholz inherited a rotation that featured several young arms; 23-year-old John Smoltz, 24-year-old Tom Glavine, and 20-year-old Steve Avery. The Braves would increase their win total by 29 and win the division behind marked improvement from Glavine and Avery. The Braves would then win every division title through 2005.

The Braves’ economics during Schuerholz reign were a different monster than the Rays of present day. They could afford to add free agents (like Greg Maddux) and trade for aces from cash-strapped teams (Tim Hudson), but the team still produced plenty of young pitching talent that was either thrown into the rotation (Kevin Millwood, Horacio Ramirez) or traded to upgrade the Braves’ roster (Odalis Perez, Bruce Chen, Damian Moss) while the core remained and prospered.

Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus talked to Schuerholz about those young pitchers he employed in 1984 in the book It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over. Schuerholz is quoted as saying, “When we’re scouting guys, beyond baseball talent, we look for winning character. We look for those kinds of guys, and those three had it.” A storyline designed purely for narrative purposes, perhaps, but maybe there is validity to the statement. The Rays’ director of pro scouting Matt Arnold (who formerly did scouting work in the system) said, “Makeup is a huge factor.” Arnold added, “It’s like anything else in life, you can have all the talent in the world, but if you don’t apply yourself, you won’t reach your potential.”

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