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Prospect Promotion Principles: the Pros and Cons of Calling up Top Prospects Quickly

In which the author, with much alliteration, eats crow with local First Americans, modifies the Drake Equation in a footnote, and consults Nostradamus in support of promoting Astros prospect Jonathan Singleton.

The First Known Astros Fan, circa 1555
The First Known Astros Fan, circa 1555
Wikimedia Commons

To promote, or not promote -- that is the question:

Whether 'tis wiser in the mind to suffer

The Ks and errors and outrageous OPS

Or to swing bats against a sea of troubles

And by promoting end them.

Astros GM Jeff Luhnow, just the other day, over absinthe and enchiladas with the author but keep that on the down-low because nobody is supposed to know about it.*

Greetings to the oil barons, astronauts and mechanical bull riders of Houston from the landed gentry of Tidewater, Virginia on the eastern edge of the continent with the decreasingly toxic Chesapeake Bay as background, known for its peanuts, peasants and Parrot Heads and home to the vivacious star of the acclaimed Disney documentary, Pocahontas!

It has been a full fortnight since I kicked up a fuss by calling for the demotion of Krauss, Presley and Carter and a few days more than that since the promotion of Springer. Since then I’ve been biding my time, cooking and eating crow with local Powhatan elders, consulting the predictions of Nostradamus, and shamelessly self-promoting, all while contemplating the pros and cons of aggressive prospect promotions.

First, about that well-earned plate of crow: as we are all unfortunately well aware, Springer’s adjustment to the majors has been … ahem … rocky. His 2014 line went from 353/459/647 at AAA to 180/254/213 in the majors, thereby slicing his OPS by more than half. What’s more he generally looks lost at the plate, swinging wildly and awkwardly; and in the field, where he has committed 71 errors in 43 chances. (To his credit, it should be parenthetically noted, he has yet to kill a seagull.) While I still support his call-up and am not terribly worried about his future, his early struggles lend support to those who think he could have used some more AAA seasoning. Carter, meanwhile, has started to hit a bit better, as was predicted by the empirically minded and congenitally cautious writers of TCB. His average remains terribly low and his K rate horrifically high but a healthy walk rate and a few more HRs here and there has his weighted RC+ up to 87. Nothing to write home about but sky high compared to his early season performance. Presley as well has been hitting better, .333 over the last ten games and a line of 250/266/408 and weighted RC+ of 83. As with Carter, this crappy number used to be much, much crappier. Additionally, he remains the only viable available OF left-handed bat. I stand my ground, though, on Krauss and with much evidence in support. He continues to struggle mightily and his ceiling hasn’t magically gotten any higher in the meantime, with a line of 145/243/258 and weighted RC+ of 43. If only there were a potential replacement! Oh wait! There is – Jon Singleton, the top 1B prospect in the universe**, patiently powering his way to a 282/389/642 line. So the time has come to talk about his potential promotion and promotions in general.

In favor of these promotions generally are a variety of often related arguments. Aggressive player promotion can be done because the team needs a jolt, the current player holding down the position stinks, the prospect isn’t getting any younger/is old for his level, the prospect has mastered AAA, or maybe just because the fans deserve it. Most of these arguments are applicable to Singleton, to one arguable extent or another. He’s certainly still quite young and mastery of any level under any circumstances is at least somewhat in the eye of the beholder. But Singleton is doing quite well; Krauss, sorry to say, is stinking up the joint still; and goodness knows the fans deserve a break, having watched 516 straight games of .333 baseball. And, clearly, the team could use the jolt.

The cautious approach has a number of arguments in its favor as well. The player may need more time at AAA. This is really the prime directive. Is he ready? Granted, Singleton hasn’t been with the AAA club for that long and his K rate is high and production, while very good overall, up and down. The player may have so-called ‘makeup’ issues, which is a very big concern with Singleton’s known addiction issues. The player may be blocked, which certainly isn’t the issue here. And there are the two related financial reasons to delay related to service time accumulated. Singleton has safely passed the mark where the Astros gain an extra year of control but still roughly two months away from the estimated Super Two cutoff date. I don’t overly mind clubs bringing up players a couple weeks into the season, as was done with Springer, to gain the extra year. I am mostly opposed to the mid-season Super Two-related call-ups. I think they’re very much against the spirit of the rule and bad for the fans. Additionally, the Astros will likely be able to absorb that extra arbitration hit if we actually get that far without signing him to an extension. I certainly hope that’s not what the club is doing with Singleton. I should note, in the club's defense, Singleton is quite a bit younger than Springer, meaning his arbitration years are more likely to occur during his prime.

It’s fun to debate but in the end what is to be done? Should they bring him up sooner rather than later if he keeps up the good work or should they err on the side of caution and finances and just wait till July? Bring him up too early and we could drive him back to drink. Bring him up too late and we're squandering PAs and prolonging the collective misery. What should be done? What will be done? As it turns out, this was all determined some 450 years ago. Not by me or Luhnow on absinthe or the saber metric gods. Remember way back in the second paragraph when I mentioned I had been consulting the predictions of Nostradamus? Well, lo and behold, I found our answer after carefully examining quatrains for like three minutes total.

Near, far the failure of the two great luminaries

Which will occur between April and March.

Oh, what a loss! but two great good-natured ones

By land and sea will relieve all parts. (Century III, Quatrain V) ***

‘Near, far’ is clearly a reference to our futility both home and away (although I suppose it could be a My Heart Will Go On reference****). The two great luminaries would be Luhnow and owner Crane. April you get; that one is super obvs. March is likely the injury to Jesse Crain. And the two great good-natured ones are obviously Springer and Singleton. Here Nostradamus is clearly implying they work as a team. And my natural modesty almost prevents me from suggesting that the 'land and sea' bit in the last line may in fact be a reference to my geographic location. Here a careful reading of Nostradamus indicates Luhnow will read this article, be persuaded and call up Singleton. Pretty trippy. You're welcome, fellow Astros fans.

So suck on that, I say to the overly cautious. This is clearly a reference to the need to promote Springleton as a unit. And, think about it, much is explained, don’t you agree? Springer is lost at the plate without Singleton watching from the dugout or on deck circle. Springer without Singleton, it is now clear, is like Hall without Oates, Sonny without Cher, G without the T, S without the M.

So what sayeth you all? Are you a congenitally cautious oil baron or a risk-taking mechanical bull rider? Are you in awe of or dismayed with my case? (Or are you still watching that Celine Dion video?) Have you been powerfully persuaded by my principles of prospect promotion or are you currently collaborating on a crotchety, conservative cautious collective comeback in the comments?


*The author’s attempt at a legal disclaimer: Jeff Luhnow, whom I have never met (and now almost certainly never will), probably doesn’t partake of absinthe, even in super tiny doses. The author, as is his wont, was just joking.

** Via Fangraphs, I used the famous Drake Equation, formulated by astrophysicist Frank Drake and popularized by the late Carl Sagan, to calculate the number of 1B in the universe, with N = RfpneflfifcLB1B and B representing the number of advanced civilizations in the universe that play baseball and 1B the number of first basemen. I haven't yet worked out how to calculate and compare quality of 1B players on other worlds, which is admittedly a rather large hole in the equation but I'm sure I'll come up with something. Anyway, you got a better way, pal?

***This is an actual quatrain. Uncanny, right?

**** I found a seven-minute version. You're welcome.