Honestly, I was excited to read this. I was excited to see where the experts at Baseball America ranked our fledging group of farmhands that, to us at least, should be propelling the Astros farm system into a respected status. Instead, I was greeted with another reminder that it's easy to keeping kicking a man when they're down.
I'm not trying to say that I think Ben Balder was excessively harsh (really I don't think he was at all...just off on some of his criticism...but that's later), just that it stings sometimes when you have to view your hometown team the un-rose-tinted lens of an outsider. As used this experience as all of us are, there were some issues I take with Balder's analysis of the farm system, and the Astros handling of it.
The main issue that Balder seems to take with the Astros is that they haven't accelerated this process enough. Balder points to the Rangers and the Athletics as models of how to revamp a farm system through dealing away talent to bring in prospects, but is achieving a great farm system ranking over night really the goal? Maybe. Since making those farm system altering deals, have the Atheltics and Rangers taken the AL West by storm? No. Not that I mean to imply that they can't soon be fielding excellent teams with the prospects they received, but it'll take them at least two to three years to do this—no?
Looking at the top 10 list of prospects Balder submits, just marvel at how many of those guys have Bobby Heck's finger prints on them:
1. Jason Castro, c 2. Jiovanni Mier, ss 3. Jordan Lyles, rhp 4. Sammy Gervacio, rhp 5. Chia-Jen Lo, rhp 6. Ross Seaton, rhp 7. Tanner Bushue, rhp 8. Jay Austin, of 9. Jon Gaston, of 10. T.J. Steele, of
Will it take another two years for us to see the fruit of Heck's labors, for the most part? Yes. Will Castro and Lo likely make appearances in 2010? Yes.
I have no beef with the criticisms that Balder makes towards the way the organization has handled the draft over the last five years (seriously, they've screwed the pooch too many times), but I do think he's overly critical in a few areas. First, while the Astros have lost several draft picks to free agent signings over the years, it's not like all of those signings are indefensible in the face of losing a first round pick. Was Carlos Lee a good signing? No, but that's just because of the money they spend on him. Woody Williams? Hell no. Preston Wilson? Also a no. But aside from those two signings, in the last seven years (the period of time Balder is critiquing) it's not like the Astros have just thrown away draft picks for Type A and B free agents.
The place I think Balder misses to critique the Astros organization is that they've lost out on so many opportunities for compensation picks via arbitration. If we look back at that exact same period of time, we're out equally as many compensation picks, if not more. That's how they could have hedged the risk they assumed with those signings, but they failed to hedge and are paying the price now.
The second thing that sightly rankles me, is that Balder makes it sound like the Astros had an easy fix this year at the trade deadline. Assuming the Astros do trade Valverde and Hawkins, do they really just steal away so many prospects that produces a night and day difference for the farm system's ranking? Maybe...but I don't think it's as dramatic as Balder tries to portray it.
The Astros have themselves in a terrible plight as an organization, and it's of their own making. Too few of their players take up too much payroll and have no trade clauses. That's what's hamstringing them. They really can't even pull of the kind of trades that Oakland and Texas did. But, I also think one has to laud Heck and his department for continuing to deliver and shock the "consensus." They're taking a methodical and less leveraged approach to rebuilding the organization from the ground up, which seems like the right—and only—way to do it; it's an approach the Balder even praises when referring the Brewers between 2001-2004.
Could Ed Wade try a fire sale for prospects? Yes. Is that guaranteed to make things better? Absolutely not. There's no really proven track record with how to fix a farm system other than draft, sign, and develop quality prospects, which runs contrary to how Balder opens the article—so I guess I do have one beef with him. Other than that, Bobby Heck still his work cut out for him, but looking at that list and Balder's evaluations of Heck's draftees, I have faith in the man. Heck knows the game, and it's progress, rather than perfection.