Thursday, August 27, 2009

How much can you harvest?

Jim Souhan of the Star Tribune this week provided a lengthy critique of the Twins scouting and player development operations. As he sees it, the farm system is at the root of the major league team's current plight:

Their numerous call-ups haven't helped, and scouts from other organizations have privately said the Twins would have been hard-pressed to make a deal at the trading deadline because they don't have much big-league ready, front-line talent in the minors.

True enough. But he understates an underlying truth behind that sentence:

The Twins' top-line talent was already in the major leagues.

The problem isn't that the system has failed to produce major league talent — it's that the talent that has had some major league success regressed. Alexi Casilla. Francisco Liriano. Jesse Crain. Or it got hurt. Pat Neshek. Boof Bonser.

The problem isn't that when they needed a 10th starter it was Armando Gabino. It's that they needed a 10th starter, period.

The problem isn't that Kevin Slowey (drafted in 2005) and Glen Perkins ('04)— weren't in Rochester to be called up when injuries and ineffectiveness crippled the starting rotation. The problem is that Slowey was one of the injured and Perkins one of the ineffective.

Yes, there have been failed draft picks. Everybody has 'em. The Twins took Matt Moses in the first round in 2003, and wish now they hadn't. They also took Scott Baker in the second round that year. There are a lot of teams that wish they'd taken him earlier.

The Bill James Handbook annually ranks organizations by the amount of young major league talent. It's a formula that weights age and accomplishment; Joe Mauer is accomplished but not all that young anymore. The Twins this spring ranked No. 1 in young talent. From James' essay:

The Twins have not a single player in the top 25, but they have six players in the top 50, eight in the top 120, and 10 in the op 150. The average team has five in the top 150; the Twins have 10 ... the Twins rank seven in the majors in young pitching talent, and first in non-pitching talent.

I expect the Twins to fall off in that ranking next winter. The young talent is a bit older, and a lot of it looks less impressive now.

But that's not the farm system's fault.

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