In reply to a question about which starting pitching prospect would be called upon to replace Carpenter should his injury prove insurmountable, Joe Strauss provided a curious response and he apparently reiterated a similar sentiment on the radio days later:
First of all, assuming Carp’ is ‘shelved for the year’ has no basis at this time. Neither is assuming that Shelby Miller is close to ready for this level. There are many within the organization who see Joe Kelly as a rising option should further need arise within the rotation. Based on his velocity, his maturity and his makeup, Trevor Rosenthal has won many admirers within the organization, including the major-league clubhouse. Folks need to re-think some of their assumptions.
I am guessing that Strauss’s sentiment does not line up with the thinking represented in the Future Redbirds community, but it does not jive with several pre-season ranking systems either. Rosenthal and Kelly were unanimously ranked below Miller, Martinez, and Jenkins. See the table below. For the record, I did not consult sites that listed rankings behind a pay wall. Also, this discussion might become irrelevant if Lance Lynn continues to impress in the rotation.
|Player||MLB.com||John Sickels||Baseball America||Kevin Goldstein|
Strauss’s statement does not necessarily argue that Kelly and/or Rosenthal should be regarded as better prospects than Miller, Martinez, or Jenkins, just that they would get first crack at the big leagues. Even so, it is interesting that the organization would consider promoting Rosenthal and/or Kelly over Shelby Miller, the most highly touted prospect in the system whose performance has met, if not exceeded, lofty expectations. In terms of who will reach St. Louis first, Carlos Martinez and Tyrell Jenkins are at obvious disadvantages since they have started the 2012 season in single-A, and so I will focus on Kelly, Rosenthal, and Miller.
Let’s tackle Joe Kelly first. Despite taking parts of three seasons to escape single-A, Kelly starts 2012 in triple-A at 23 years of age. Kelly has maintained acceptable strikeout numbers (~20% K/PA) and impressive ground ball rates (between 56% and 65%) throughout his minor league career, and he even managed to cut down on walks at double-A last season (9.5% BB/PA in 59.1 IP). Given his ability to induce grounders via sinking fastballs, he might benefit from superior defenders as he progresses through the system. Having said that, Ryan Jackson and his well regarded glove followed Kelly from Springfield to Memphis, so his past struggles cannot be attributed to porous defense entirely.
Trevor Rosenthal elevated his prospect status with a strong spring training performance that included surprise 100 mph velocity rumors and compliments about “attitude” and “guts” paid by Chris Carpenter(!). It is easy to get carried away with such hype but Rosenthal’s numbers at Quad Cities were nothing short of excellent in 2011. He struck out 25.9% of the batters he faced, walked less than 8%, and generated ground balls 52% of the time. And now he was rewarded with a spot in Springfield’s rotation. Provided ongoing success, he’ll climb through the system quickly for sure, and his peripherals suggest superior talent to Kelly. But… will Rosenthal get promoted before Shelby Miller? Really?
Just as a reminder, Shelby Miller dominated Quad Cities at 19-years-old, or two years younger than Rosenthal did. He also struck out more hitters while showing similar control (7.5% BB/PA) and generating slightly fewer ground balls (46%). Shelby then went on to excel in 80+ innings at double-A, hence my surprise when Rosenthal was suggested as a legitimate candidate to get promoted first. This discussion has obviously been colored by questions of Shelby’s maturity (alcohol incident in 2011) and present conditioning (weight loss before 2012).
Is Rosenthal better suited for MLB than Shelby at this time? What we have is data that points to the latter but anecdotal support for the former. Pragmatism suggests that Rosenthal needs to justify his aggressive promotion to an extreme hitters league before we should expect him to skip another step of the minors (triple-A Memphis) on his way to the big show. Should he stumble in this challenge, then this conversation becomes irrelevant.
Confession: my initial reaction to this rumor was defensive. Maybe some of you can relate. I think that response stems from hypersensitivity that developed over time to young players that were arguably mishandled (e.g. Anthony Reyes, Brendan Ryan, Colby Rasmus, etc.), but maybe we need not be so paranoid now that Tony LaRussa has retired. This looks like an organization very interested in creating a fluid approach from top to bottom. In the new era, prospects have been given greater exposure to veterans, and minor league coaches – not just players – have been promoted to the big leagues.
Upon further consideration, I think this says very little about Shelby Miller and everything about Trevor Rosenthal. That Rosenthal even has a chance to rival Miller’s standing in this organization should be considered a blessing, not a curse.