FINDING THE PEARLS AMONG THE SWINE
[September 7th] -- These days, it's all about the future. Oh sure, we listen to more games on the radio than we really have time for, and, thanks to all that political pressure, we can now watch the Nationals on that contraption that Philo Farnsworth invented (shameless plug: Farnsworth is a native of Idaho, born just a few miles up the road from where I live). But wins offer no real sense of well-being, and losses cause no particular discomfort these days. We all know the Nationals aren't going anywhere this year; our hope is for the future.
But how can we tell if the future will be foreboding or fortunate? Currently, there 150 or so players in the team's minor league system with aspirations to be a major league player one day. How many will make it? One? Fifty? Major League baseball has been around for more than a century, and yet there is no such thing as a "can't miss" prospect. You really can't be sure that a minor leaguer is going to "make it" until he's in the major leagues and playing every day.
That said, there is a "hint" as to a player's potential, and in manifests itself early on. It isn't certain by any means, but it seems to be a very good indicator. You find it in the lowest rungs of the minors, in the Gulf Coast League as well as the various short-season leagues across America.
To make it in the majors, you have to shine during that first year as a professional.
Take a look at the chart above that shows how the current Washington Nationals starters fared in their first professional seasons. Some played in the Gulf Coast League, others played in the New York - Penn League. Ryan Zimmerman started in the South Atlantic and finished in the Eastern League. Alfonso Soriano, who always has to be different, played in the Japanese development league, similar to our 'AAA' designation. Without exception, they all shone as stars that first year. Brian Schneider only batted .253, but he was the top defensive catcher that year. But overall, they were among the best players on their teams, and in the league that year. What surprised me was the fact that only a very select few of today's major leaguers started their careers poorly. If success was to come, it was to come quickly.
Based on this scenario, who will help turn the Nationals from pretenders into contenders? Chris Marrero played well his first season, hitting .309-0-16 with a .374 OBP. There were several pitchers who excelled in the GCL. Edulin Abreu went 3-2, 1.91. Yunior Novoa, splitting time between the Dominican Summer League, the GCL and Vermont, went 3-3, 1.54 with a .194 batting average against. Matt Perks went 2-2, 1.69 playing for the GCL Nationals and Vermont Lake Monsters. Joe Welsh went 0-2, but had a 1.08 ERA with a .184 BAA for the GCL Nationals.
Certainly, someone who had a poor first year could end up being a star with the Nationals. Steve Englund, a top pick in this year's amateur draft, batted only .183 with the GCL Nationals as he battled injuries and illnesses.
You just don't know. However, based on the correlation between a successful first year and success in the majors, I'd keep an eye on those players who did well their first time out. It would seem that for them, at least, history will repeat itself.
That happened on this day in 1927