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.
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.
|NAME||DRAFTED/SIGNED||STL CAREER||rWAR for STL|
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.
*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.