There are a couple of recent comments that have been really thought-provoking, so I’d like to take a look at them to add to those recent posts.
On my Top 15 list, Tyler Laabs asked:
One question for you on the Coulter thing. I understand the biggest plus for him is the raw power and strong arm in RF. However, putting stock into a strong start to the season (although he performed well for a full season last year) is awfully dangerous in my opinion. I think it’s time that we might even start mentioning Victor Roache’s name in the same breath as Coulter. They have basically flip flopped seasons, as Roache started poorly and has really come on as of late, even at a higher level. He provides the same type of power profile and defensive assignment, but rarely gets mentioned in any top prospect conversation. If he continues to hit at a .270 ish clip with his power, do you think we see him start to pass Coulter on some of these lists?
This is an excellent question in general, since Victor Roache came on strong in 2015, and perhaps was slightly drowned out by the trade deadline and other intriguing outfield seasons around the organization. However, it’s hard to deny the excitement about Roache’s promotion and his ability to make that jump to AA Biloxi and maintain several aspects of his game. Specifically, this question is also excellent because it speaks to my lengthy discussion about my thoughts on Tyrone Taylor and Clint Coulter. In hindsight, I should have included Roache in the discussion.
I agree about the issue with Coulter’s hot start, although he has done a few things in the middle of the season that are praiseworthy (for example, his June plate discipline and extra base hit totals were both strong, and although his defense looks raw in RF, it’s hard to ignore his loud assists). Moreover, I think the biggest difference between Roache and Coulter now lies in Roache’s promotion. Both prospects needed an extra stop at one level (Coulter in A Wisconsin 2013 & 2014, Roache in A+ Brevard County in 2014 & 2015), so there are some specific developmental, positional, and injury history areas one could dig into here (there’s quite a good interview at FanGraphs that touches on this with Coulter).
Whereas Coulter experienced a hot start and worked through a few cold stretches at one level, Roache’s surge occurred at a more advanced level, which places it in a different context. I don’t mean this as a knock against Coulter, who is also working for his first full season at a new position. However, one might simply expect certain question marks about Roache’s contact / hit tool to resurface, or for him to struggle upon facing a new level and promotion; it would not be reason to dismiss the youngster if he had some trouble at AA Biloxi.
Given Roache’s promotion (he’s now a level closer to the MLB, and depending on your view, he may have made one of the most important jumps), and his ability to develop his hit tool, carry his power, and his discipline (in terms of walks) to AA Biloxi, I’d say that there is definitely an argument to be made in favor of placing Roache ahead of Coulter. In my approach, I had all three lumped close together; for fun, here’s a look at the almost absurd number of outfielders that could be considered for a Top 30 ranking in the Brewers’ system (depending on how you value overall ceiling, or floor, tools, ceiling, advancement, etc.). Here’s how one might adjust a Roache ranking based on your question (if I rank Roache higher, I also would raise Domingo Santana, because I think he shares some strengths and also has the benefit of cracking the MLB compared to Roache):
CF Brett Phillips
OF Trent Clark
CF Monte Harrison
OF Domingo Santana
LF Victor Roache
RF Michael Reed
CF Tyrone Taylor
RF Clint Coulter
LF Troy Stokes
OF Demi Orimoloye
OF Malik Collymore
CF Joantgel Segovia
OF Kyle Wren
OF Nicolas Pierre
OF Shtervin Matos
OF Yerald Martinez
(And I am sure there are others still that could be added to this list of outfield depth).
I definitely thought about throwing all caution to the wind on Joantgel Segovia, Malik Collymore, Troy Stokes, and Demi Orimoloye, given their advancement or immediate application of their tools in 2015. Of course, all three are really far away from the MLB, but they have arguably made strides that give Brewers fans and analysts license to take their tools, development, and ceiling seriously. This is the tough landscape that Taylor, Coulter, and Roache face: they were just surpassed by one deadline trade, and they have a few Dominican Academy, draft, and trade newcomers breathing down their neck, too. I get that some of these youngsters might just be “glove men” or “speedy reserve outfield” types right now, but there’s still value to that depth even given the potential starpower at the top. I wouldn’t necessarily want to be an outfielder in the Brewers’ system right now: it’s a crowded field.
Homegrown Pitching and Contending
On my “Ranking Top Prospects” post, Josh was an active commenter, and I don’t mean to pick on him because he raises a good concern in general (namely that the Brewers may not have top rotation pitching prospects in their Top 10). Rather, I want to use this opportunity to discuss general assumptions baseball fans make about pitching:
I hate to be the debbie downer here, and even though are farm now has significantly improved, only 2-3 Top 10 prospects are pitchers and only 1 they are projecting as a starter and right now no where near a top of the rotation starter. Anyone who has paid attention to improving clubs the past few years like the Royals knows that you need home grown PITCHING talent to compete and sustain success unless you are big market clubs. Maybe we will be able to draft some top pitching talent that accelerate but the best offense in baseball still doesn’t win much above 500 usually. Hopefully, we can get much better pitching in our farm soon.
Yes, we do have cheap homegrown talent in our system currently but none are projected to be a #1 starter. Having four 3-4 rotation starters doesn’t cut it, and even with some very good positional prospects most teams wont trade an ace for 3 top position players, you must throw in a top pitching prospect to get your ace. Again, maybe a top offense can get it done, but it is rare. Hopefully some of our A ball guys will mature to be very good to elite and with mgmt changes coming, our farm can get better development
What do you look for in a starting rotation? Serviceable depth? Cheap, controllable, flexible arms? Star power and “innings eaters” combined? These are not facetious questions because, quite frankly, very few MLB clubs can complete a full season with anything resembling a “true rotation.” Roster moves, ineffectiveness, and injuries largely impact how clubs construct their rotations; fluctuation in performance from year-to-year also challenges definitions of starting pitchers.
There are arguably “performance definitions” and “scouting definitions” for different types of pitchers: in terms of performance, one can use any number of metrics to judge the value of a pitcher; in terms of scouting, one can judge a pitcher’s body type, development, pitch arsenal, injury history, delivery, and command. Therefore, there is huge room for disagreement about “#1, #2, #3, #4, and #5” pitchers; Edinson Volquez and Vance Worley are my favorite examples of this, for even though they would be scouted behind Gerrit Cole for many reasons, both Volquez and Worley prevented more runs than the young ace-in-waiting for the 2014 Pirates.
But, more than anything, I want to challenge the assumption that homegrown pitching is necessary to winning. Let’s take a look at 2014 playoff clubs; those with more valuable homegrown starting pitchers are bolded:
Giants: 4 / 8 homegrown; 3.4 homegrown WAR / 4.7 “acquired” WAR
Royals: 3 / 8 homegrown; 7.0 homegrown WAR / 6.8 “acquired” WAR
Orioles: 2 / 7 homegrown; 2.8 homegrown WAR / 6.4 “acquired” WAR
Cardinals: 7 / 12 homegrown; 6.3 homegrown WAR / 4.7 “acquired” WAR
Nationals: 4 / 8 homegrown; 7.6 homegrown WAR / 13.0 “acquired” WAR
Angels: 3 / 8 homegrown; 9.8 homegrown WAR / 2.3 “acquired” WAR
Tigers: 6 / 11 homegrown; 6.7 homegrown WAR / 9.5 “acquired” WAR
Dodgers: 3 / 12 homegrown; 7.3 homegrown WAR / 5.1 “acquired” WAR
Athletics: 2 / 11 homegrown; 3.1 homegrown WAR / 8.8 “acquired” WAR
Pirates: 2 / 8 homegrown; 0.6 homegrown WAR / 5.4 “acquired” WAR
Of course, this is one year, but I am confident that these trends in general rotation construction remain consistent over several seasons (since many teams maintain the same rotation, or similar rotation cores, year-in and year-out. For example, this year the Royals have 2 / 9 homegrown starters instead of 3 / 8; the Pirates 2 / 8; the Dodgers 4 / 16 (!!!); Cardinals 5 / 8, and so on). Notice that the teams are split rather evenly in terms of performance, and there are even different strategies in terms of homegrown pitching. For instance, one might be inclined to say that the Tigers used a homegrown ace to lead their club, but in all honesty, their general strategy was closer to “homegrown pitchers as replacements;” the Cardinals are tough to classify because fans so thoroughly identify Adam Wainwright as a Cardinal, but it’s always good to remember that the Gatekeepers of the Game traded for their ace; the Giants are tough to classify because everyone so thoroughly remembers Madison Bumgarner‘s heroics that they always forget that San Francisco (generally) has below average pitching.
But, the most important point is that since ballclubs can basically expect to fill an 8-10 man rotation throughout a season, teams need not limit themselves to one method of acquiring pitchers. The Nationals bear this fact: is it preferable to have Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann? Absolutely (8.4 WAR homegrown). It’s also great to have Doug Fister and Gio Gonzalez (7.8 WAR via trade). Got a Tanner Roark up your sleeve? Even better (5.1 WAR via trade). Don’t forget a homegrown and traded replacement corps of three pitchers (13 GS, 0.3 WAR). The Nationals had it all, presumably because they empowered their front office and scouts to find the best pitchers possible for their organizational strategy and approach.
So, when you’re judging the Brewers’ farm system, remember President and GM Doug Melvin‘s conservatism, and extreme loyalty to his own homegrown pitchers. Think about those cheap free agents (Volquez), trades (Roark, Wainwright, James Shields, Anibal Sanchez), and purchases (Worley) that can net your favorite club everything from a surprise breakout season to dependable rotation depth to a decade-long ace for the Milwaukee Nine. When you’re tempted to cite the importance of a pitcher like Yordano Ventura, remember his fluctuations and issues in 2015, versus his dominance in 2014. And so on and so on and so on: teams can succeed without homegrown pitching at the top of their rotation.
(And anyhow, let’s return to the Brewers as an example: judging by scouting reports for a pitcher like Zach Davies, scouts would not evaluate him as a top rotation starter. But if Davies matches the Mike Leake comparison, or even surpasses it as a command wizard, he could consistently prevent runs at an above average rate. The scouting evaluation and performance evaluation will not always match; maybe a guy like Davies outperforms the remainder of the Brewers rotation).
The next Brewers dynasty does not need to have fully homegrown rosters, nor will it (the 2015 deadline already ensures that); the question will be whether the incoming GM maximizes the club’s resources to produce the best trades, free agency and waiver acquisitions, and homegrown pitchers for the rotation. Only a diverse and flexible strategy will produce the best possible contending rotations (and, hopefully, the best strategies to weather each pitcher’s fluctuations).