Yesterday, Baseball America posted its first list of top 10 prospects for the 2012 season. According to them, the best set of 10 in all of baseball belongs to...the Seattle Mariners. This is more than a feather in the franchise's cap. It is validation of the team's process.
As the BA article briefly touches on, 2011 did not look all that much different from 2010 in some sobering ways. The M's still couldn't generate offense, and largely because of that they lost a ton of games.
However, the turnover on the roster was staggering. Nearly a whole roster's worth of rookies (18 to be more precise) played for the Mariners last year. Teams talk about getting younger every year, particularly when they are out of the pennant chase, but few commit to it like the Mariners did. When you think about it, the Mariners almost fielded an entire roster's worth of players that had never played in the majors before.
With that said, it's really quite easy to get younger. Any team could do it. All a team has to do is call up a bunch of minor-leaguers. Heck, the Mariners could have signed me to a contract and said they were getting younger!
*Though maybe not. I've got to get used to being "old." I just turned 25, though 2011 would have been my age 24 season. I'd be sinking on prospect lists at this point :(
Younger rarely means better, because inexperienced players in hyper-competitive arenas like the sports world generally have to learn their lessons the hard way. Getting younger comes with the promise of getting better though, and that's the real trick. Will the young talent be something some day?
It's hard to believe things are going in the right direction when a team more or less exhibits the same problems two years in a row. I remember listening to Jack Z on some post-game radio shows last year, and he was adamant about growing from within (which he has been since day one on the job), and increasingly said that the home-grown talent was close.
Jack Zduriencik hasn't been pulling a fast one on us. Baseball America agrees. The talent is good, and it is close.
Baseball America is an independent scouting agency. It has no vested interest in pumping up or undermining the value of any team's prospects. They over and underrate scores of players every year, but not due to biases against teams. If I had the time to sit down with their prospect handbook, I bet I would disagree on hundreds (if not thousands) of their evaluations, but that's baseball. Really, that's life. The difference would be a difference of opinions. If anyone were to come in with a bias for against teams, I'd bet that I would be the more likely person.
I digress. More importantly, the Mariners front office has preached the value of building within, and asserted to the fan base that there is good talent brewing in the farm system. Now, a group of scouts completely independent of the Mariners, after evaluating all of Major League Baseball, picked the M's top 10 prospects as better than anyone else's top 10. That's powerful validation of what we have been hearing.
Ultimately, talking about prospects is really about the hopes and dreams of a better tomorrow. The future doesn't always pan out quite as planned. In fact, it rarely does. It's not as if the Mariners are all of a sudden in a better position to compete now that Baseball America has bestowed high praise on their farm system.
There are good and bad signs though. I always thought it was ominous when Carlos Silva signed his mega-deal seemingly before the ink dried on the contract proposal. If Z's plan of building within really is working, we should expect these prospect rankings by outside organizations to be high before the Mariners really start winning games.
In the end, the Mariners are going to have to win some games for this whole process to be a success. However, to date, things line up. When Jack Zduriencik asks for patience, I'm still willing to give it to him and the Mariners. Whether there are better days ahead for the franchise is yet to be seen, but a growing mass of people believe those days are coming.