There are a multitude of reasons why pitching prospects don’t pan out. I believe that, after talent, the biggest reason is health. Every organization has had its share of pitching prospects that have flamed out, or at least have had their career temporarily derailed, due to injury and the Cardinals are no exception.
There is no absolute connection between workload and injury – certain “rubber armed” pitchers seem to be able to throw endlessly without injury (Livan Hernandez comes to mind), but there is enough of a connection that teams are paying much closer attention to pitch counts than they used to, especially with younger pitchers. The depth of the Cardinals system, at least according to most prospect lists, lies in our pitching prospects. The question then, is what has their workload been thus far, and what would be ideal for 2008? I’m going to take a look at five of the Cardinals top starting pitching prospects after the jump.
I mentioned the Verducci Rule in my Top 25 list (in conjunction with an erroneous comment on PJ Walters). You can read about the Verducci Rule here, but the bottom line is that pitchers who have an increase of more than 30 innings pitched from one year to the next have an heightened risk of injury. The Rule only applies to major league innings because minor league innings don’t seem to translate, but I think we can use the 30 inning increase limit as a conservative baseline when looking at prospects.
|High school stats unknown; 8 IP after draft||Instructional league only|
|2006||Combined innings of 155||Splitbetween A and A+|
|2007||103.1 innings||AA; shut down early|
It is impossible to say if the 155 innings during his first pro season were too many, leading to his elbow issue last season. Keeping that issue in mind, though, I would like to see the Cardinals treat Garcia a little carefully this season and limit him to between 130-150 innings. I think that would be enough of a workload to gauge his progress and to get him on pace to eventually take a rotation spot, while still being cautious about his health.
|63.2 innings||Northeastern Univ.|
|2005||96.0 innings||Northeastern Univ.|
|2006||Combined innings of 159.2||Split between Northeastern, A- and A|
The jump in innings between 2005 and 2006 is steep by Verducci Rule standards, but it doesn’t appear to have had any ill effects on Ottavino. I would assume that he will spend the year in AA, and I think a workload of 160 innings or so would be about right.
|High school stats unknown; 49.2 ip after draft||Rookie league|
|2006||76 combined innings||Rk league and A-|
Again the jump between 2006 and 2007 violates the Verducci Rule, but I suspect that an increase from 76 innings to 137 innings when you are in A ball doesn’t have the same heightened risk as going from 150 to 200 innings at the major league level. All the same, I would advocate for a conservative approach to his workload and aim for no more than 150 innings this year.
|58.1 innings||Treasure Valley JuCo|
|2005||88.1 innings||Treasure Valley JuCo|
|2007||180.0 combined innings||Gonzaga/A-/A|
Now that is a scary looking increase in innings for a young pitcher. Mortensen had already pitched 119.1 innings for Gonzaga before the draft, which was already a decent increase from the year before. Then the Cardinals gave him 60 more innings of combined work at Batavia and Quad Cities. I would hope for a considerable downshift in innings in 2008, somewhere around the 140 mark would be nice.
|2004||Did not pitch – tried football for a year||UTC|
|2005||119 combined innings||Georgia/A-|
Boggs, as with most pitchers, saw a hefty increase in innings during the year he was drafted. That increase is especially interesting considering that Boggs had taken a year off to try his hand at football. Since that point, however, the Cardinals have handled him very nicely, in my opinion. They have increased his workload every season, building up his stamina without any increase that you could consider a shock to his system. I would hope that he would get 175-180 innings this year in preparation for the big league rotation in the not-too-distant future.