The cautionary tale with Orioles prospects

July 25, 2012 | Mark Brown

The Orioles seem to get at least a token mention as being on the periphery of talks for nearly every player that’s been known to be available on the midseason trade market. What’s really going on? No one can answer for the bizarrely-successful (thus far) plans of Dan Duquette except for Duquette himself.

One thing that everyone who covers the team and baseball generally seems to agree on is that top prospects Dylan Bundy and Manny Machado are virtually untouchable on the trade market. Teams are asking and the Orioles are not giving signs that there is any player for whom they’d move those guys. That’s a good thing. Nobody should want to see the promise of either Bundy or Machado traded away for a rental in a desperate all-in gamble for one of the wild card spots.

There’s reason to be excited for Bundy and Machado. Their status as top prospects is echoed not only by the team-friendly media but by independent evaluators such as ESPN’s Keith Law and Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus. All agree they are studs.

With that in mind, it’s important to remember that there are no sure things in the prospect world. There are a variety of reasons why prospects never reach their projections. Maybe injuries get involved. Maybe there are players who just don’t have the mental makeup for professional baseball. There could be attitude problems or even just someone with a “projectable frame” that never quite fills out.

One axiom occasionally uttered in some corners of the prospect world underscores the nihilism: TINSTAAPP. That is: there is no such thing as a pitching prospect. Of course, this is not true, strictly speaking. The truth contained in it, however, is that all that stands between a young pitcher and a blown-out elbow or a torn labrum in his shoulder is… what? There are ideas about healthy mechanics, conditioning and the like, but nobody really knows. Sometimes a guy is rolling along just fine, and then there’s a pop, and a team’s multi-million dollar investment goes up in smoke.

Another thing is that some people aren’t as good as you thought – or you can’t develop them in the way that you thought you could. This will, we certainly hope, not be a problem with players like Bundy and Machado, but we don’t have to look very far back in the past to see a cautionary tale about relying entirely on the farm system to build up the major league team.

It wasn’t so long ago that Baseball America, the organization that publishes prospect handbooks every year, was projecting that the Orioles’ 2012 infield would consist of Billy Rowell (3B), Luis Hernandez (SS), Brian Roberts (2B) and Brandon Snyder (1B).

Another whopper is the projected 2012 rotation in the article: Chris Tillman (no. 1!), Brian Matusz, Jake Arrieta, Jeremy Guthrie, and Radhames Liz. If you’re lucky, you’ve already forgotten Liz. The rest of us can remember the one great game of his career, against the Twins in September 2008, and a whole heck of a lot of painful outings.