First it was Jose Fernandez.
Then it was Shelby Miller.
Then Julio Teheran.
Then Wily Peralta.
Then Brandon Maurer.
Then Justin Grimm.
Then Tony Cingrani.
Then Jake Odorizzi.
Then Dan Straily.
Then Kevin Gausman.
Then Tyler Lyons.
Then Mike Kickham
Now it’s Michael Wacha.
I’m sure you’ve picked up on the theme for this piece, and it’s rookie pitchers. Here’s the thing folks – more often than not rookies do NOT pan out. Don’t just take my word for it, look at history. As Kyle Elfrink pointed out in Rookie & Prospects Are They Worth It?, the majority of the “elite” prospects struggle at the start of their big league career (the numbers are in the article but let’s say they aren’t anywhere near as good as most folks seem to think as the prospects were “hits” less than a third of the time). Rookies have to prove they belong by excelling in the minors. Their team has to be willing to give them a shot in the rotation. There has to be a spot in the rotation to give to the hurlers. Let’s spend a moment on that last point.
There has to be a spot for the starters. I warned everyone in every possible way I could to be leery of a Cingrani demotion when Johnny Cueto returned from injury, but as we all know no one listened (people argued with me every day). What happened when Cueto was promoted? Cingrani was sent back to the minors. So is life with rookies.
Odorizzi was called up when David Price went down with his triceps injury, and the assumption was that Odorizzi would hold down the spot until Price was ready to return (ETA likely mid-June?). Not so much. Odorizzi was demoted Wednesday after allowing nine runs in two starts (now the Rays might go with another rookie, Chris Archer in Odorizzi’s place). REMEMBER THIS SALIENT POINT – David Price gives up a run an inning for 2-3 starts and no one cares. An unproven rookie does it and more likely than not he ends up back in the minors.
To see how all the rookie hurlers are being rostered in leagues visit Fleaflicker.com.
That brings up the case of Gausman. Looked at as a top-20 arm currently in the minors, he was added with an extreme amount of hoopla to fantasy rosters all across the land a week ago when he was called up. I said it was fine to add the talent, but I also pointed out in The Future Is Now that he was a raw pitcher who needed experience. He’s made two starts for the Orioles and he’s looked pretty bad with an 11.00 ERA and 2.00 WHIP over nine innings. Now everyone is bailing from Gausman, a totally unfair call after just two starts, looking for the next big thing which is… Michael Wacha.
Wacha is an elite prospect with the Cardinals organization. However, he really isn’t ready if you ask me – he’s thrown less than 75 innings as a professional. He’s also struck out just 5.81 batters over nine starts at Triple-A. Of course, that hasn’t stopped everyone in the world from adding Wacha, and it hasn’t stopped everyone in the world from sending me some form of the following question in the last 36 hours – Gausman or Wacha? Straily or Wacha? Odorizzi or Wacha? And on, and on, and on.
Here are the words of someone you should listen to, even if you don’t want to listen to me. Cardinals’ GM John Mozeliak.
“The key thing is, from my perspective, is we just have to manage expectations a little bit. “(Wacha is) a year removed from college… a lot of expectations being put on him. And I don’t know how fair that’s going to be. And so I just think people need to be patient.”
Not to mention that the Cardinals also have guys like Chris Carpenter, Jaime Garcia, Jake Westbrook and John Gast at various levels of return from injury, and another elite level prospect in Carlos Martinez being stretched out in the minors. Will Wacha get a chance to make 20 starts the rest of the season? Oh, there’s also this too, something a whole lot of rookies have to deal with – an innings pitched concern. The Cardinals want to keep Wacha at about 150 innings this season. He’s already thrown 52.2 innings. If he made 20 starts at five innings a pop, and five innings an outing isn’t going to cut it for a starter, he’d reach reach his innings pitched limited. The Cardinals are aware and they have a plan. Again the voice of Mozeliak. “…if we get some of our pitchers back healthy and we can skip starts to protect him, then we’re going to be open (to that).” So even IF Wacha has success (A) he’s not a lock to keep a spot in the Cardinals rotation and (B) even if he does keep the spot, he’s not a lock to take the ball every five days.
Look, you have to take a shot on someone to fill out your rotation, and the temptation of a talented youngster is very alluring. At the same time your fantasy squad just might be better off if you add a Chris Tillman or Brandon McCarthy type off of waivers than taking a shot on the next hotshot rookie who may not even be in the big leagues in three weeks.
By Ray Flowers