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June 2, 2000

The Daily Prospectus

Seeing Redbirds

by Joe Sheehan

Some people are up in arms over Scott Boras's comment, made during an ESPN.com chat session, that he has talked with Cardinals' GM Walt Jocketty about Rick Ankiel's pitch counts. The idea that an agent--The Evil One, no less--would have a say in how a player is used in a game is anathema to many people in and out of the industry.

What I found most interesting about the whole situation is Boras's claim that the Cardinals agreed to restrict Ankiel's workload until the pitcher turned 22. If the Cardinals were willing to acquiesce to such a demand, it indicates that they found it reasonable. If they found it reasonable for Ankiel, shouldn't they find it reasonable for all their other young pitchers?

If I'm a pitcher in the Cardinals' chain between 18 and 21, I have to wonder any time I'm asked to cross the 100-pitch barrier if the team knows exactly what it's doing to me, to my future, and whether they care. I know that the organization is willing to act conservatively if pressure is applied, or if the investment is big enough. And I know that a successful agent thought it was important enough an issue to make it a negotiation point for a tremendously talented player. Boras has his detractors, but he's an intelligent individual who represents hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of baseball talent. If he thinks it's important to protect a talented young arm, shouldn't that mean something to 30 player development directors? He may not be warm 'n fuzzy, but when it comes to the future of Rick Ankiel, who do you trust: him or Tony La Russa?

Here's a lifeline:

Major league innings pitched, 1997:

Alan Benes: 161 2/3
Matt Morris: 217

Major league innings pitched, 1999:

Alan Benes: 2
Matt Morris: 0

Along these lines, we're heading into Super Regional weekend in college baseball. It doesn't get a lot of press, because of college baseball's relatively low profile on the American sports scene, but college pitchers often shoulder workloads that would make Curt Schilling wince. They do so at the same ages as pitchers like Ankiel and Kerry Wood, whose pitch counts are watched like hawks by people like me and Rany Jazayerli and Chris Kahrl and Rob Neyer.

Here's hoping that the next step in preventing pitcher abuse is to shine a spotlight on college programs that ride 20-year-old arms as if they were Randy Johnson, and beyond that, to high school coaches who toil in anonymity but have the potential to end careers before they begin. Young men who have the potential and the desire to be major-league pitchers shouldn't have their future ruined for the glory of a state championship.

On a lighter note, I'm a bit embarrassed to admit I may be guilty of premature adulation. In April, I awarded the National League DiSar Award to Orlando Cabrera, who went 81 at-bats before taking his first walk. Well, Brian Flaspohler dropped an e-mail--a rare one without the word, "lunkhead"--to point out that the Cardinals' Placido Polanco was hot on the heels of Cabrera.

Last night, Polanco had his 81st at-bat without seeing ball four, so if he continues hacking for another plate appearance, I'll have to get in touch with Cabrera and have him return the Golden Crutch.

In case you're wondering how Polanco could achieve such a feat, well, wonder no more. He's clearly studying at the hands--or is it the eyes?--of teammate Shawon Dunston, who is right behind Polanco with 72 walkless at-bats.

Mmmm...veteran leadership.

Joe Sheehan can be reached at jsheehan@baseballprospectus.com.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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