Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Dissecting the Bill Smith Era: Final thoughts

Bill Smith: Still part of
the front office, but
not the man in charge.
I had to laugh (quietly). The Puckett's Pond blog (currently on the siderail) does a weekly links post, and that compilation has frequently picked a "Dissecting Bill Smith" segment. At least once the poster called it his favorite series of the winter. And then last week's link at least hinted that it had gone long enough.

And it has. This series ran away from me. This will be the 23rd post in the series, and more than half of them were about trades. That explicitly wasn't my intent. As I said in the introductory post, trades are a prominent part of a general manager's job, but there are many other facets. And even the visible part of the trading game -- the trades that are made -- may be dwarfed by the hidden part -- the trades that aren't made.

Smith is not a popular figure with the fans. But after reviewing his tenure, I come away believing that in at least one crucial aspect, the organization improved during his reign.

Smith inherited the job at a time -- after the 2007 season -- when the minor league system was becoming exhausted. The Twins had been drafting in the bottom half for more than five years. They had been unwilling/unable to compete for talent in the hotbeds of foreign baseball, and unwilling/unable to "break slot" for talented players in the draft who fell because of their bonus demands. And with the team continually in contention, the trades of veterans for young talent had largely dried up.

The upper levels provided a few useful pieces early in Smith's reign -- Denard Span, Nick Blackburn -- but the lower levels were relatively barren.

That problem is being felt now. The Twins' Triple A affiliate, Rochester, is coming off back-to-back seasons of more then 90 losses, and it is not graduating impact players to the big club. That failure is rooted in the final years of Terry Ryan's first tenure.

And yet we can see a new foundation rising through the bottom rungs of the organization. Miguel Sano. Eddie Rosario. Oswaldo Arcia. Levi Michael. Kyle Gibson is more advanced, and sidelined by injury, but he fits the pattern too -- he fell in the draft, the Twins took him and went over slot to get him signed.

Player development is like an aircraft carrier; it doesn't turn on a dime. But if/when the Twins infield consists of Rosario at second, Sano at third and Michael at short, it should be remembered that Smith was the man at the helm when they came on board.

And, to be sure, that Ryan was back in charge when they were turned from prospects to players. Reading between the lines, it appears that Ryan is more effective than Smith at setting and enforcing standards.

1 comment:

  1. The Twins had drafted college players early in the decade who were already producing at the major league level. Garza (2005), Slowey(2005), Perkins(2004), Baker (2003), Crain (2002).

    They had drafted Plouffe in 2004, they added Parmelee and Revere in 2006 and 2007. All were high school players who were still in the lower levels. In terms of international players, Alexi Casilla had just arrived in the big leagues and Jose Mijares was at AAA. They also had some other prospects in the system who have contributed since then including Brian Duensing, Anthony Swarzak, Drew Butera, Danny Valencia, Luke Hughes, Rene Tosoni and Matt Tolbert.

    In addition to the high school first round choices mentioned above, Wilson Ramos was in A ball. So were Valencia, Tosoni, Benson, Parmelee, Manship, Waldrop.

    As I recall Manship and Valencia were both guys who fell because of signability issues. Valencia was expected to stay at Miami and Manship at Notre Dame. The Twins signed some other, similar, players. The idea that paying over slot will get you a better prospect is suspect in any case.

    There is no doubt that the new stadium adding money to the Twins player development system. Sano probably would not have been in the budget for earlier Twins teams. Although its important to remember that the courting of international players usually starts a long time before they sign.

    Its also important to remember that top rated A ball prospects often disappoint at higher levels. Moses Malone was supposed to be the Twins third baseman right now and Jay Rainville was being compared to a young Roger Clemens by some over-enthusiastic fans.

    There is a reason none of the first rounders from Smith's first draft - Aaron Hicks, Carlos Gutierrez and Shooter Hunt - are on the list. They have had enough time to show some of their warts. When we compare today's system to the system of 4 years ago, there is a tendency to compare our dreams of tomorrow to the observed reality of today.