The recent success of Rule 5ers like Herrera speaks to, among other things, the prevailing style of play and the glut of talent in MLB.
Most of the credit for the Phillies’ improbably competent start to this season has, with good reason, gone to the pitching staff. Vince Velasquez, Aaron Nola, and Hector Neris are as much fun to watch as they are difficult to hit, and the team has allowed three or fewer runs in 24 games already. They only had 60 such games all of last season.
Still, it’s Odubel Herrera who has most single-handedly improved Philadelphia this season. He’s neck-and-neck with Dexter Fowler for the title of best leadoff hitter in the National League. He’s already drawn more unintentional walks this season than he did in 2015. He’s the jewel of the Phillies position-player corps, and will be until the farm system starts to graduate some of its brightest lights. That’s pretty remarkable, considering that the Phillies got Herrera in the Rule 5 Draft.
It's too soon to say conclusively that Aaron Nola's six excellent starts aren't a fluke, but we can definitely say they aren't an accident.
When a player throws 20 consecutive scoreless innings at the major-league level, as Aaron Nola just has, he makes an implicit demand upon your time which, rendered explicitly, reads like this: Sit up and notice me! When that same player has Nola’s pedigree—drafted seventh overall by the Phillies in 2014; ranked in the Top 100 prospects in the game by this very publication that same year—but has not yet achieved consistent success in the majors, the demand is read at twice the volume.
Is the #process going to suffer the same fate as every other broadly embraced tactic?
The all-out, sell-it-if-it-ain’t-nailed-down, multi-year rebuild is totally in vogue. It seems to be working too. The Royals—whose rebuild appeared to have flopped by 2013—are coming off a World Series Championship and consecutive World Series appearances. The team the Royals defeated in last year’s World Series was none other than the fresh-out-of-a-rebuild (or at least just-not-spending-money) Mets. The Cubs, who lost to the Mets in the 2015 NLCS and who entered the 2016 season with the highest odds (per the odds makers) to win the World Series, appear to be perennial contenders after completely overhauling their roster upon the arrival of team president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer in 2011. The Astros' drastic rebuild was well documented during their playoff run last year, as is that of the Braves. The Phillies’ rebuild even appears to be going better than planned.
You all, of course, already knew all this, but the point, as maybe unnecessary as it is, is made. It seems that all teams have to do is be diligent about providing a terrible major-league product for several years in order to enjoy success for many years thereafter. For those who have been paying attention, and especially for those who have frustratingly watched their teams stagnate in mediocrity (or worse) for years, the full-rebuild (as we will refer to it here) can appear to not only be a savior, but also optimal strategy.
Whoppingly unexpected records in the NL East, Jake Arrieta allows a run, and more.
For every underperforming team like the Astros, there is a club that shocks us with its refusal to shut up and lose like it's supposed to. One of those teams is the Phillies. At 12-10, they sit just a breath out of first place after completing a sweep of the division-leading Nationals. Thursday’s victory was a 3-0 effort that saw yet another cathartic and well-earned walloping of Jonathan Papelbon. This could easily be a space to talk about the euphoric feeling of dunking on the schoolyard bully who picks you last for basketball in gym class, but instead we’ll talk about Bryce Harper and Elvis Araujo.
A second, totally different look at your favorite prospect.
Who was your favorite prospect bust? It’s not a really fun question, kind of the spiritual cousin of “What was your most heartbreaking romantic rejection?” and “What would you say is your greatest personal and professional regret?” But it is a question that I think is more likely to come up than the other two, if only because there are so many prospect busts to choose from and so many prospects tantalizing with what-will-ultimately-become-false promise. So, since we’re all friends here, I’ll ask again: Who’s your favorite prospect bust?
Mine is probably Brody Colvin. I’m a Phillies fan, and the “Baby Aces” period of farm system watching might be too particularized to be a communal memory, but you probably get the gist: There were three or four pitchers on the Phillies’ farm who looked like they might be future aces. As is wont to happen, only one, Jarred Cosart, has made the major leagues in any sustained way, and he’s currently languishing on the Marlins’ Triple-A squad. Colvin was even more disappointing. An overslot signee from the seventh round of the 2009 draft, Colvin never overpowered with strikeouts, but pitched to a 3.39 ERA/3.55 FIP at 20 years old in Single-A in 2010. There was so much to dream on there—maybe he’d put on muscle and velocity! Maybe he’d be the Roy Halladay replacement the team would need! Maybe he’d team up with Cole Hamels and solve mysteries!
Or maybe he’d be out of baseball entirely in 2014. Such are prospects, as we know all too well. I could rattle off 20 prospects, Phillies and non-Phillies alike, who I thought would be surefire major leaguers and got summarily drummed out of the prospect corps, while afterthoughts like Adam Eaton or Khristopher Davis wandered into the major leagues and hit enough to earn a full time job over a number of years. Or while pitchers like Jacob deGrom and Corey Kluber managed to shake their non-prospect status and become truly elite in a way that the Brody Colvins of the world could only dream of.
I’m not telling you anything you don’t know, though. Prospects are weird. They develop weirdly, their minor-league numbers translate weirdly, and their potential often isn’t valued properly until it’s all but determined. Don’t worry, I’m not about to go on a “prospects are just prospects” rant, like a 2005 screed being eviscerated on Fire Joe Morgan. No, I’m going to be arguing that, figuratively speaking, what we understand as a prospect has never existed. I’m taking my cue here from Jean Baudrillard’s provocatively titled The Gulf War Did Not Take Place. In this book, which encompasses three essays, Baudrillard – famous for his theories of “hyper reality” and “simulacrum” which described the anomie and detachment of postmodern, contemporary culture – is not literally arguing that the Gulf War of 1992 never happened. Rather, he is arguing that the Gulf War as we imagine we experienced it never happened: There was no “war” as we might expect, but a series of shock and awe styled attacks that overwhelmed and destroyed the enemy before war could really happen. That it is considered a war at all, Baudrillard would say, is all thanks to concerted media repackaging after the fact. In that way, glossing the politics here for the sake of brevity and sanity, the Gulf War (Such as We Imagined It) Did Not Take Place.
And in the same way, Your Favorite Prospect Bust Did Not Take Place, and also what’s more, Your Favorite Prospect Success Story also Did Not Take Place.
Brody Colvin, for instance, was not who I imagined he was. He was not some sort of saving grace for a thin-ish Phillies system; there were no “baby aces”; Roy Halladay wasn’t going to be replaced or even going to be pitching past the first month of 2012. Much of what I still understand about Brody Colvin’s life as a prospect is part of this narrative I wrote about him through the lens of my own fandom. In reality, he’s a 25-year-old dude, going on 26, who is on at least his second career, not of his own choice, and probably not because of anything that he or we can pinpoint.
The Miley cannot hold, mere anarchy is loosed upon the Mariners. Meanwhile, Vince Velasquez allows runs, while Mat Latos postpones the inevitable for one more start.
The Tuesday Takeaway
Entering Tuesday’s game against Cleveland, Wade Miley had yet to allow a walk this season. Entering the fourth inning, this was still true. Then that changed in pretty dramatic fashion.
With the Mariners down 1-0 courtesy of a Mike Napoli RBI double in the third, Miley opened up the fourth by striking out Yan Gomes. Of his 48 pitches at that point, 37 had been strikes, with both his four-seamer and his changeup looking fairly solid. But things started going downhill for Seattle’s lefty shortly after that. It started with a Marlon Byrd single. Then away went the fastball command and in came the walks.
The Juan Nicasio bubble popped, for one day at least. Meanwhile, Noah Syndergaard keeps getting better, and the Red Sox blow another lead.
The Tuesday Takeaway
What was once a minor miracle is now something of a trope: The broken pitcher comes to Pittsburgh for one more chance and he is saved, his career revived. But strong as the narrative may seem, the reality is far from a guarantee—as Juan Nicasio reminded everyone Tuesday afternoon.
After a strong spring and an impressive first outing, Nicasio looked more like his old self yesterday. It started with a Justin Upton solo shot in the first (his debut home run as a Tiger, and a 451-foot one at that), and it didn’t get any better from there. Nicasio took 94 pitches to make it through an ugly three innings, giving up four runs and setting the Pirates up for an 8-2 loss to Detroit.