Shelby Miller and Cardinals Homegrown Starting Pitchers

by on March 8, 2012 · 4 comments

Cardinals fans, even those on the realistic side, can’t help but hope – or perhaps even expect – that former first-round pick Shelby Miller will graduate to the majors by next April and become the next great St. Louis pitcher.

Miller, who made his 2012 Spring Training debut Wednesday, is sculpted like the ideal right-handed pitcher, possesses electric stuff and is ranked by most every prospect guru as the best player in the Cardinals’ system and among the top 10 in any system.

PHOENIX, AZ - JULY 10:  U.S. Futures All-Star ...

Image by Getty Images via @daylife

And while most people realize that prospects – especially starting pitchers – often don’t work out, I think the degree to which that’s true is still underestimated. This isn’t meant to rain on the Miller parade but simply to emphasize just how rare it is for the Cardinals to draft a starter, develop him, bring him to the majors and see him succeed in that role.

Consider the following table. Listed below are the starters the Cardinals have brought all the way through that process since the end of the Bob Gibson era in 1975 who have produced at least 4 wins above replacement (Baseball-Reference version) for the Cards. I relaxed that standard slightly for the last one on the list, who should easily get there this year.

Danny Cox 1981 1983-88 9.0
Joe Magrane 1985 1987-93 12.3
Donovan Osborne 1990 1992-99 5.5
Matt Morris 1995 1997-2005 16.2
Jaime Garcia 2005 2008-present 3.6


Yep, that’s it. Of course that list doesn’t include Adam Wainwright, whom the team acquired when he already was a pretty well developed prospect.

This reflects a couple of main factors. First, the Cardinals generally have focused on acquiring starting pitchers through trades or free agency, particularly during Walt Jocketty’s tenure. Second, it’s very difficult to develop homegrown starting pitching, due to the challenges inherent in the Draft and the attrition that occurs from trades, injuries, stamina issues and stalled performance (as well as mental hiccups in one notable case). Basically, starting pitching prospects don’t enjoy much more career stability than Spinal Tap drummers.

If you look at the Cardinals’ NL Central competition, you can see that over about the past 20 years, most have succeeded more at this difficult process, but not to an enormous degree. Below is another table, this one showing the top three homegrown starters for each of the other NL Central clubs since St. Louis drafted Morris in 1995. Only the Reds have struggled more than the Cardinals, but it’s not as if the other organizations are churning out long-term star after long-term star either.

Astros Brewers Cubs Pirates Reds
Roy Oswalt
41.8 rWAR
Ben Sheets
23.8 rWAR
Carlos Zambrano
31.8 rWAR
Francisco Cordova
12.7 rWAR
Johnny Cueto
8.2 rWAR
Wade Miller
13.6 rWAR
Yovani Gallardo
10.6 rWAR
Kerry Wood
21.1 rWAR*
Paul Maholm
11.1 rWAR
Brett Tomko
4.6 rWAR
Wandy Rodriguez
10.2 rWAR
Scott Karl
9.2 rWAR
Mark Prior
13.1 rWAR
Kris Benson
8.7 rWAR
Mike Leake
1.6 rWAR

*Wood switched to the bullpen after 2006.

The good news is that thanks to John Mozeliak and the now-departed Jeff Luhnow, the Cardinals have built a stable of pitching prospects unrivaled by anything in recent memory. Not only is Miller knocking on the door of the majors at age 21, but Carlos Martinez, Tyrell Jenkins, Jordan Swagerty, Trevor Rosenthal and others also have the potential to become big league starters.

Not all of them will, of course, but if even one or two provide the Cardinals with solid value, teaming up with the already-established Garcia, it will be a rare achievement for the organization.

Longtime Cardinals fan from outside Cardinals territory. Ray Lankford aficionado. Former intern covering --- gasp --- the Cubs (fandom temporarily suppressed in the name of objectivity). Once yelled at in the Wrigley Field visitors locker room by future Cards LOOGY Arthur Rhodes. Occasionally write about general baseball topics on my blog:
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PH8 March 8, 2012

What sort of alternate reality would we be living in if Wood and Prior had stayed healthy?

HitTheCutoff March 8, 2012

Dusty Baker’s dreams, or perhaps, this:

PH8 March 8, 2012

Well played, Mauer.

lazyrasmus March 8, 2012

Well done. This was fascinating.

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