Monday, April 7, 2008

Slaughter of the innocents

Baseball America just posted their latest minor league transaction log today. It includes some names on the cut list that should be familiar to anyone who's followed our minor league system over the last few years:

*Jason Sharber, a good-looking righty who hasn't been able to pitch since early 2004 due to a series of arm problems. He was trying a comeback this spring, but things apparently didn't work out, and this is likely the end of his pro career. A look back at Lynchburg's 2002 roster is a good reminder of the inherent instability of young pitching. Every starter on that team looked like one variety or another of prospect, but Burnett and Sharber got hurt, and Jacobsen, Connolly, and Borner were finesse guys who apparently didn't have the stuff to handle the transition to the upper minors. Bennett looks like he's finally establishing himself with the Braves, but even he didn't exactly have a smooth ride to the bigs: He got picked in the Rule 5 draft, had Tommy John surgery, got released, missed the entire 2006 season, and gained more than 50 pounds.

*Cameron Blair, a sixth-round pick from 2005. Blair had the misfortune of being an offensively-minded second baseman whose bat didn't translate to the bigs. He looked pretty lost from day one, and also spent part of 2006 on the restricted list for reasons that have never really become clear. I don't think he'll be missed, but it's a pretty strong indictment of your scouts when they miss this badly on a fairly high pick, and our success rate on middle infielders in particular has been low in recent years. Which brings us to our next guy...

*Taber Lee, the brother of former ML 1B Travis Lee. Taber was our third-round pick in 2002. The selection was pretty roundly criticized in the fan community at the time, as a microcosm for the Creech/Littlefield/McClatchy drafting preferences for gloves over bats, ML proximity over ceiling, and signability over everything else. Regarded as a future utility infielder, Lee was unable to reach even that modest ceiling, as his glove was not as strong as had been previously assumed.

*Mauricio Mendez, one of the three guys we took in the minor league portion of the Rule 5 draft this year. His stat line was interesting, and I wonder why they didn't take a longer look at him. He's actually the second of our Rule 5 picks this year to depart before suiting up in a game; we also sent Rafael Cruz Chavez to a Mexican team a few months ago.

*Vic Buttler, one of the longest-tenured players in the organization. Part of Mickey White's insanely productive 2000 draft, Buttler joined the franchise in the 14th round as a 19-year-old outfielder from El Camino College. Over eight years, he played at every level of the farm system, making league All-Star teams in 2002 and 2006. If you've seriously followed any of our affiliates for a few years, you've probably seen him play at least once or twice.

Those may be the big names (for varying values of "big"), but there were a lot of other cuts as well. Fairly anonymous guys, drafted in the 30th round, or the 40th, or not at all, who pitched a dozen innings in the GCL, or sat on the bench at State College. They all knew that the odds were long, but they've played baseball all their lives, and they wanted to believe that they'd be the next Mike Piazza (62nd round, '88) or Rob Mackowiak (53rd round, '96). Now, they'll try to catch on with an indy league team, or settle into that sales job. Maybe give coaching a try.

From an institutional standpoint, it's a good thing that the Pirates won't need to fill their short season team with late-round college players anymore, but there's still a certain pathos in watching the guys who didn't have The Right Stuff pack up their gear and go. That's baseball, red in tooth and claw. Every shiny new draft pick is taking someone else's job, and even if you are one of the lucky chosen few with an arm or a bat touched by God, you aren't going to be able to make it to MLB without stepping over the bodies of a dozen other guys who had the same hopes and dreams.


Anonymous said...

I remember seeing Vic Buttler last year in Trenton talk to someone he knew at the ballpark... he was so happy to see her, it made me think how tough of a life it is to be a minor leagure with such little chance of making the bigs. (I really think it was Buttler, but that could be apocryphal.)

Vlad said...

Sounds plausible, anyway. He spent most of last year with the Curve, so the timeline's right.

Thanks for sharing.

hyzduhq said...

Taber Lee! I remember buying into the 'hype' about him. I thought wow we drafted Travis Lee's brother! Then he went and showed that no matter the spin on draft day, performance is what matters most. Great post.