The Arizona Diamondbacks’ season is essentially over. The sooner they recognize that, the better off they will be. On Tuesday night, the Chicago Cubs thumped Arizona 9-2, pushing the Diamondbacks to 5-18 on the season. Chicago had lost its first five three-game series and been swept in a doubleheader to begin the year, but have now won their first two contests against the Diamondbacks.
Brandon McCarthy surrendered five runs in five innings, and therein has lied Arizona’s greatest trouble thus far. In 12 of their first 23 games, Arizona starters have allowed at least five runs. They have already used seven different starters, and have a 7.23 aggregate ERA from those seven. Opposing hitters are batting .311/.373/.520 against Arizona starters.
Those ugly starter stats are why there’s a cry ringing forth from the peanut gallery, a name swelling into a roar as it bursts from the lips of every desperate Diamondbacks dreamer, every prospect-mad pundit, every columnist in need of a cause celebre: Archie, to the rescue.
Archie, of course, as in Bradley, the seventh overall pick in the 2011 draft, one of the three or four highest-touted pitching prospects in baseball and an imminent threat to the National League. I don’t want to make it sound like Bradley is expected to come up and completely reverse Arizona’s fortunes, but an awful lot is being made of his absence from the roster, in light of the misery that has been the big-league rotation early on.
Bradley did post a sub-2.00 ERA in 26 minor-league starts last season, a campaign he split between the hitter-friendly California League and the more neutral Double-A Southern League. He has a fastball that can reach the high 90s in velocity, and a breaking ball that scouts cross off their bucket lists. On the other hand, command has been a struggle for him at times, and in his first four starts with Triple-A Reno, he’s walked eight of 90 batters faced and has a 3.98 ERA.
To me, it’s clear that Bradley has more things to work on in the minors, and shouldn’t be rushed to the active roster. he can’t save this team, anyway: They’ve dug far too deep a hole, and wouldn’t be good enough to dig out of even a more manageable one.
Unfortunately for Diamondbacks fans, though, I suspect Bradley isn’t far from being called up. I suspect that, between now and May 15, Bradley will be called upon to fill some gap in the rotation, in a last-ditch effort to salvage the unsalvageable. In that respect, he’ll be following in the footsteps of one of the players who helped deal the Diamondbacks their latest blow.
Starlin Castro wasn’t quite a prospect of Bradley’s pedigree, although he was close. He also wasn’t quite on Bradley’s level in terms of experience at the upper levels of the minors. In fact, Castro just barely tasted Double-A in 2009, and had amassed only 240 total plate appearances at that level by the second week of May, 2010.
That’s when Castro got the call to the big leagues. The 2010 Cubs were in trouble, although not quite the same depth of trouble as the 2014 Diamondbacks. Chicago GM Jim Hendry, like current Arizona GM Kevin Towers, was a bit uncertain about his future, should that season fail to yield a return to contention. Chicago had been a playoff team in 2007 and 2008, but had slid back to mediocrity in 2009, and Hendry faced high expectations. (Arizona surged to the front of the NL West out of nowhere in 2011, but have been 81-81 each of the last two seasons.) With second base a glaring weakness in the offense, Hendry pulled the trigger, vaulting Castro to MLB and sliding Ryan Theriot off of shortstop to cover that hole.
Castro had a marvelous debut and batted over .300 in each of his first two seasons in MLB. At the time he was promoted, he was ready to contribute to the parent club.
The problems didn’t show up until later. Castro has phenomenal natural talent, and it continues to serve him fairly well. He missed a few things, though, when he was pressed into big-league action as soon as he was ready. He never learned certain things about carrying himself as a professional, managing his personal life, adjusting to the league’s adjustments to him and refining his approach. With each passing year, he learns hard lessons, and learns them less effectively than he would have in the minors, three or four years ago.
He’s also learning them expensively, and that’s the most important reason not to call up a player like this before they demonstrate, on every level, that they have nothing left to learn. Castro’s call-up in May 2010 made him a Super Two player, due to become arbitration-eligible after 2012. That pushed up the decision point for the front office that replaced Hendry after the 2011 season, and forced them to commit $60 million to Castro over seven seasons in mid-summer 2012. It was right about when he signed that deal that Castro really began running into developmental road blocks. If the front office had had another season to wait before making a major commitment to him, they would have been able to do so much less expensively, if they decided to do it at all.
In player development, little moves today can have big consequences years down the road. The league’s salary structure, if nothing else, ensures that. Like Hendry, Towers is likely to make the move that will make him look best, even if it’s not enough to save the season. (Hendry got another year to try it in Chicago, largely thanks to Castro, serving as a reminder of what Hendry’s administration was doing well.) In the long run, though, the only way to ensure Bradley will really return the organization’s investment is to prioritize his development, not the short-term needs of a mess of a roster.Next post: How the Heck the Diamondbacks Have Even Won Six
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