Ask BA: How Much Does Spring Training Matter?

Jon Paul Morosi of Fox Sports asked me an interesting question over the weekend. He noted that the Cardinals were No. 1 in our evaluation of minor league talent--those rankings are in our current issue and should go online this week--and wondered how many teams had occupied the top spot within two years of winning the World Series.

Baseball America has rated farm systems since 1984, and only three other organizations have pulled off that double. The Blue Jays ranked No. 1 in 1993 after winning a championship in 1992, the Marlins captured the 1997 World Series and the top spot in our ratings in 1998, and the Yankees had the best farm system in 2000 following titles in 1998 and 1999. The good news for St. Louis is all three of those organizations had subsequent World Series championships in their near future (Toronto in 1993, New York in 2000 and Florida in 2003).

• I had just about completed today’s Ask BA when Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reported that the Brewers will sign Kyle Lohse, pending a physical. Lohse is the last remaining compensation free agent on the market, and assuming the deal gets completed, Milwaukee would give up the No. 17 overall pick in the draft (with a pick value of roughly $2.1 million) and the Cardinals (his former club) would get the No. 28 choice (worth roughly $1.8 million).

Lohse’s signing would finalize the 2013 draft order, which would look like this:

First Round
1. Astros
2. Cubs
3. Rockies
4. Twins
5. Indians
6. Marlins
7. Red Sox
8. Royals
9. Pirates (for failure to sign 2012 first-rounder Mark Appel)
10. Blue Jays
11. Mets
12. Mariners
13. Padres
14. Pirates
15. Diamondbacks
16. Phillies
Brewers (forfeited No. 17 pick for free agent Kyle Lohse)
17. White Sox
18. Dodgers
19. Cardinals
20. Tigers
Angels (forfeited No. 22 pick for free agent Josh Hamilton)
21. Rays
22. Orioles
23. Rangers
24. Athletics
25. Giants
Braves (forfeited No. 28 pick for free agent B.J. Upton)
26. Yankees
27. Reds
Nationals (forfeited No. 31 pick for free agent Rafael Soriano)
28. Cardinals (for Lohse)
29. Rays (for Upton)
30. Rangers (for Hamilton)
31. Braves (for free agent Michael Bourn)
32. Yankees (for free agent Nick Swisher)
33. Yankees (for Soriano)
Supplemental First Round (Competitive-Balance Lottery Picks)
34. Royals
35. Marlins (acquired from Pirates)
36. Diamondbacks
37. Orioles
38. Reds
39. Tigers (acquired from Marlins)
Second-Round Changes
Indians (forfeited fifth pick in round for Swisher)
Supplemental Second Round (Competitive-Balance Lottery Picks)
69. Padres
Indians (forfeited second pick in round for Bourn)
70. Rockies
71. Athletics
72. Brewers
73. Marlins (acquired from Tigers)
Third-Round Changes
76. Mets (for failure to sign 2012 second-rounder Teddy Stankewicz)
96. Phillies (for failure to sign 2012 second-rounder Alec Rash)
Supplemental Third Round
106. Athletics (for failure to sign 2012 third-rounder Kyle Twomey)

While spring-training stats should be taken with a grain of salt, many were impressed with Cardinals righthander Michael Wacha's performance. Do you believe his stock has increased any as a result, and do you believe he could force a callup sometime late this year, especially if an injury gives him an opening? His ETA was given as 2014 on Baseball America’s Top 100 Prospects list.

J.P. Schwartz
Springfield, Ill.

Michael Wacha

Michael Wacha (Photo by Ed Wolfstein)

Spring-training stats mean very little for a variety of reasons, such as small sample sizes and uneven competition. Neverthless, Wacha did open eyes nine months after the Cardinals made him the 19th overall pick in the 2012 draft. Wacha allowed just one run (unearned), seven hits and one walk while striking out 15 in 12 innings.

Twelve innings in big league camp don’t really affect Wacha’s stock. I was bullish on him to begin with and thought St. Louis got a steal last June. We ranked Wacha as the eighth-best prospect in the draft in the BA 500 and, given teams’ never-quenched thirst for advanced college pitchers, it stunned me that he lasted 19 selections.

This spring, Wacha showed the same stuff he had at Texas A&M and in his brief pro debut last summer. He showed a hard sinker that topped out at 97 mph and a changeup that Cardinals manager Mike Matheny called the best in his camp. He threw strikes and nothing fazed him. His slider still lags behind his other two pitches, and that’s the lone knock on him.

Though St. Louis may assign Wacha to Triple-A Memphis to start his first full pro season, he may not get much big league time this year. Even with Chris Carpenter sidelined, the Cardinals still have a deep rotation with Adam Wainwright, Lance Lynn, Jaime Garcia, Jake Westbrook and Shelby Miller. Joe Kelly appears to be next in line for a starting spot. Wacha could make his big league debut this year, but he probably won’t claim a regular role in St. Louis until 2014.

Yankees righthander Jose Ramirez has looked terrific in spring training. He pitches with marvelous fluidity and location with a mid-90s fastball, killer changeup and promising slider. If Baseball America had it to do over again, would he make the Yankees Top 10 Prospects list? How about the overall Top 100?

Douglas Carr
Westport, Conn.

The start of this answer is going to sound like the beginning of the last one. Like Wacha, Ramirez did make a positive impression in big league camp. He did so by living up to his scouting report rather than making a leap forward, so for now his stock hasn’t changed drastically since we ranked him 16th on our Yankees Top 30 in the 2013 Prospect Handbook.

As Douglas notes, Ramirez has a 93-97 mph fastball and also can get swings and misses with his changeup. At the same time, he lacks fastball command and a consistent breaking ball. He heads into his age-23 season without having pitched above high Class A or having dominated lower-level hitters.

Ramirez has one of the best arms in New York’s system, but he still has a lot to prove. I could see him making our Yankees Top 10 after this season, but the Top 100 seems like a stretch. A lot of scouts believe he’ll more useful as a reliever than a starter in the long run, though New York has no plans to move him to the bullpen yet. He’ll open this season at Double-A Trenton.

Given how much that Tommy John surgery has changed the game, who are the pitchers who have benefited the most in terms of number of wins following the procedure?

Allen Buller
Portland, Ore.

I’m not sure which is more amazing about Tommy John surgery--that John is more famous for having his elbow reconstructed than his 288 big league victories, or that we assume that pitchers will come back as good as new if not better after the operation. Tommy John surgery was in the news again last weekend, with the announcement that Padres No. 1 prospect Casey Kelly requires the procedure.

John won 124 games before Dr. Frank Jobe performed the operation on his elbow in 1974, and 164 games afterward. That gives him the third-highest victory total ever after Tommy John surgery, behind David Wells (239) and Kenny Rogers (219), both of whom had their elbows reconstructed before reaching the big leagues. Three other pitchers have won 100 games after the operation: Tom Candiotti (151), A.J. Burnett (107) and Matt Morris (102).

Ten pitchers have saved 100 games following Tommy John surgery. Jason Isringhausen is way out in front with 300 saves, followed by Eric Gagne (187), Brian Wilson (171), Billy Koch (163), Joakim Soria (160), John Smoltz (154), Fernando Rodney (132), Rafael Soriano (130), Bob Wickman (111) and John Axford (106).

" March 18 Ask BA