If there is one common bond between Major League Baseball teams, it is that if something works for one, the rest are sure to follow suit shortly after.
A few years ago, “Moneyball” was all the rage among MLB teams, as Michael Lewis’s book showcasing the Oakland Athletics philosophy of moving away from traditional scouting and focusing on statistical analysis to assemble teams caused other teams to undertake the process of promoting on-base and slugging percentages as a way to evaluate their players. While the premise behind it was solid, front office staffs forgot to cater the philosophy to their teams and parks, making the process itself flawed in its nature. Today, it has been largely discarded or evolved to a more refined version.
Now, teams are jumping on a whole new bandwagon; promoting top prospects.
Certainly, a lot of this is fueled by the need to make a change on the major league roster, or in order to give the chance to a well deserving prospect that has been exceeding expectations in the minor leagues. Some of these players would likely already be at the Major League level if their parent clubs hadn’t wished to extend their service time by waiting until midway through the year to promote them.
However, there could be another contributing factor to the decisions of these teams; Stephen Strasburg.
On June 8, 2010, the Washington Nationals promoted the first overall pick of the 2009 MLB draft for his much-anticipated debut. Of course, Strasburg had earned the promotion by going 7-2 over 11 starts between AA and AAA, with an Earned Run Average of 1.30 and striking out 65 batters over 55.1 innings. Needless to say, he had proven his ability to pitch at the minor league level and was ready to make the leap to Washington. All he did in his debut was strike out fourteen batters over the course of seven innings, while giving up two runs and not walking a single batter in his first step. Granted, it was against Pittsburgh, but it was impressive nonetheless.
More impressive than the stats that Strasburg put up in the game though were the stats that mattered to the Nationals bottom line. Strasburg’s debut saw 40,315 fans walk through the turnstiles in Washington, a bump of over 21,000 fans compared to their average attendance of 22,102. That is the stat that will have other teams watching as well.
So, it was without surprise that just a few days later, the Pittsburgh Pirates debuted their top pitching prospect, Brad Lincoln. Lincoln didn’t have as dominating a resume in the minors as Strasburg, but he was still worthy of the call-up. Lincoln also did not fair as well, going six innings and giving up five earned runs. Unfortunately, Pittsburgh chose to debut him on the road, choosing not to capture the same sort of electricity that Strasburg brought to the home town crowd.
We can also add the Florida Marlins with outfielder Mike Stanton and the Cleveland Indians with catcher Carlos Santana to the list of teams that are bringing their top prospects to the big stage. Both of these players debuted at home and are expected to provide immediate offensive production to the middle of their respective line-ups.
However, neither will carry the fanfare that Strasburg will as he makes his first tour of the league, but that won’t stop teams from hoping to capture just a bit of the same magic. In fact, there is perhaps only one prospect left in all of baseball that could maybe create the same sort of excitement, but given that Cincinnati is in first place in the National League Central, the Reds are probably unlikely to promote Aroldis Chapman at this point of the season. Chapman, for his part, isn’t exactly wowing anyone at AAA anyway, having posted a 4.45 ERA and struck out sixty-one batters, but also walking thirty-four hitters in just 54.2 innings pitched. That’s hardly the same track record that Strasburg had achieved in roughly the same time period.
Regardless, teams will always look to add excitement, both to the team and for the fans. Now that the Strasburg promotion has shown that it can be a cash cow as well, it won’t be long before other teams jump on the wagon and try to latch on to the same horse.
Stephen Strasburg, Baseball-Reference.com
Brad Lincoln, Baseball-Reference.com
Strasburg to Face Indians In Second Game, AssociatedPress
MLB Attendance, ESPN.com