MLB.com Astros beat writer Brian McTaggart is about to be very disappointed. Following last night’s moves to call up Jason Castro and Chris Johnson from Triple-A, he wrote:
Simply put, this youth movement is exciting. The Astros will never admit to rebuilding, but the arrival of Castro could be a watershed moment in the franchise’s future. And that future is now.
Unfortunately for McTaggart and the Astros not all “top prospects” are created equal. Teams like the Nationals (Stephen Strasburg), Pirates (Pedro Alvarez), Indians (Carlos Santana), and Marlins (Mike Stanton) calling up their best prospect represents an “exciting youth movement” and “watershed moment in the franchise’s future,” but the Astros doing the same doesn’t represent much of anything, really.
Castro was the 10th overall pick in the 2008 draft, but was considered an “overdraft” immediately and has hit .287 with a modest 16 homers and .411 slugging percentage in 215 pro games. He has good on-base skills and should be a solid enough player, but Castro certainly doesn’t project as a star, let alone someone whose arrival is capable of creating “a watershed moment in the franchise’s future.”
Johnson has even less chance of developing into a building block-type player, because he’s almost 26 years old and has hit .282 with a .321 on-base percentage and .459 slugging percentage in 172 games at Triple-A. He was off to a strong start there this season and giving him a chance to supplant the washed-up remains of Pedro Feliz at third base makes plenty of sense, but Johnson’s upside is somewhere between role player and mediocre starter.
All of which shows why the Astros’ situation is so ugly. Not only is the big-league team 26-44 with an aging core of veterans and mistaken-prone general manager who seems uncertain about engaging in a full-on rebuild, the farm system is among the worst in baseball. I don’t mean to pick on McTaggart, because he’s one of the better beat reporters in baseball and trying to find some reason for optimism might be his only chance to stay sane covering this team, but he’s in for a massive letdown.
The Nationals began the year with Blake Treinen as their closer. That didn’t last long, and now Koda Glover seems to be Dusty Baker’s man in the ninth inning. He earned a save for the second consecutive game yesterday. Glover has been pretty darn good in the early going, posting a 2.35 ERA and striking out six batters and walking only one in seven and two-thirds. That obviously a small sample size, and anything can happen. If it does, Baker has Shawn Kelley as an option.
Not many household names there, which is probably why the Nationals are reported to be interested in the White Sox’ David Robertson and Alex Colome of the Rays. That report comes from Jim Bowden of ESPN, who also notes that the A’s have a number of guys with closing experience on staff and are likely to be sellers too. The David Robertson thing may have more legs, though, given that Mike Rizzo and Rick Hahn pulled off a pretty major trade in the offseason. If you know a guy well, you call that guy first, right?
As far as problems go this isn’t a huge one. The Nats sit at 13-5 and, as expected by most prognosticators, are in first place in the National League East. The Cubs had some questions in the pen this time last year too. They had the luxury of trying to figure it out before making a massive trade for a closer. The Nats do too, and likely will. But expect them to be a part of any trade rumor conversation for the next couple of months.
Travis Sawchik writes about the post-Camden Yards generation of ballparks over at FanGraphs. The ones everyone loves because they’re nice and clean and friendly and are full of amenities. And that’s true! They are nice! But they all have a huge flaw: unless you’re in expensive seats, you’re too far away from the action.
Sawchik uses cross sections of ballparks — available at Andrew Clem’s website — to show that fans sitting in the upper decks of ballparks are way higher and way farther back than they used to be at many old ballparks such as Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium, Old Comiskey, Tiger Stadium and Ebbets Field.
A lot of this has to do with an admirable impulse: to eliminate the beams which obstructed the view of many seats in those old parks. If you want to move that upper deck closer to the field, you have to have the beams because one can only achieve so much via cantilever effect. But that’s not the only impulse and probably not the primary one. More expansive lower bowls — which feature more expensive tickets — push the upper deck back and up. As do the luxury suites and club level amenities in between the lower and upper decks. Exacerbating this is the fact that most newer parks are built on vast tracts of land with few architectural constraints. If you can sprawl, you will, which leaves the most affordable seats in the land of binoculars.
I don’t agree with everything Sawchik writes here. He spends a lot of time talking about how much better neighborhood parks like Wrigley Field are and how it’d be better if newer parks were built in neighborhoods. I agree, neighborhood parks are ideal, but the fact is, most places don’t have mass transit like Chicago does. In most cities you have to have a place for 40,000 people to park.
That’s a quibble, though. Mostly, it’s a good look at an important thing most folks overlook when they praise the new parks. Important because, if you don’t have an enjoyable experience at the ballpark, you’re not likely to come back. And if you’re not fortunate enough to be able to buy expensive tickets, you may not have a great experience at the ballpark.