My brother-in-law has real live friends, at least on the Internet, instead of shouting his thoughts into the void 2,000 words at a time. He shot me an email yesterday afternoon, after a conversation on a thread at wgom.org switched him into Rebuilding Team Fan Winter Beast Mode.
The specific line that sparked the message was: “Also: if you read the Buxton and Sano writeups, it might have dawned on you that when people argue about who’s better – Trout or Cabrera, the Twins in the near future might have reasonable facsimiles of both.”
Even as a Twins fan, my brother-in-law admitted that that was a stretch, but he still had to sigh at the thought. I made it my job to crash his party, perhaps too harshly. I pointed out that, while a perfect-world projection of Miguel Sano might someday look a bit like Miguel Cabrera, that was more than wildly unlikely: It was a false equivalency. I noted that Cabrera was a less patient, shorter-swinging, less powerful but much less strikeout-prone minor leaguer than is Sano.
The two aren’t on a similar developmental path at all. In ‘Moneyball,’ Michael Lewis quotes Billy Beane in a scouting meeting: “Good hitters develop power. Power hitters don’t become good hitters.” That’s what Cabrera did. He went from a good hitter to a very, very good hitter, and his power developed as his swing and his approach permitted. Sano is not an all-or-nothing guy, exactly, but he’s much closer to that end of the spectrum than the other. It wasn’t so for Cabrera. Expecting Sano to develop contact skills and start hitting .300 is folly.
Nor are Trout and Buxton a fair pair of comparables. Trout hammered Double-A pitching at age 19, and played 40 games in the Major Leagues during his age-19 season. Buxton will turn 20 this winter, and has yet to reach Double-A. That gap in development speed is far too much to ignore.
I pilloried those comparisons, but the truth is, the comps aren’t the problem. The imagined impact of them is. What gets lost far, far too often when teams rebuild and bulk up their farm system, is that no farm system, alone, is sufficient to turn a team from a loser to a winner. Look at the Kansas City Royals of recent vintage. With every bit of the star power and far superior depth to that of the Twins, or the Cubs or the 2013 Cardinals or any other farm system you care to choose, the Royals assembled more talent throughout the minor leagues than any team ever had before.
It wasn’t enough, though. It took a while for the studs in that system to figure things out. Eric Hosmer has developed. So has Wil Myers. Salvador Perez even popped up as another great piece. Mike Moustakas, though, has disappointed a bit. Myers is gone, and so is Jake Odorizzi, casualties both of the effort to save a pitching staff that never came together.
You need more than a farm system. No two superstars can carry you to a championship, the way perhaps they can in the NFL or NBA. You need waves and waves of talent, and many means through which to acquire it. You need not just young guys with lots of talent, but players who have succeeded in the big leagues for long enough to assure you that their apparent abilities are real, and can be translated to MLB.
I’m not encouraging despair. The Twins, Cubs, Astros and others have brighter futures thanks to their minor-league stashes. They all lack big-league talent right now, and I think there’s danger, sometimes, of overestimating the real value of those risky long-term assets.Next post: Dodgers Score Big Win in NLCS Game 5, Will Send Clayton Kershaw to Mound for Game 6
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