A World Series prospect-related primer
By Sam Dykstra/MiLB.com
No one gets to the World Series by accident. There are three* rounds of baseball taking up at least seven and at most 13 (counting Wild Card play-ins) combined games where teams get to prove that they are, in fact, superior to their American or National League cohorts, not to mention the 162 regular-season contests to earn a spot in the postseason.
But beyond even that, Fall Classic appearances can be earned in the preparation that goes in way beforehand. This year, both the Red Sox and Cardinals leaned on incredible organizational depth, especially this postseason, to earn their spots in this year’s Series. Perhaps that shouldn’t come as a huge surprise, given that the farm systems for both are consistently ranked among the top five in baseball.
With Game 1 coming this evening, let’s take a look at some prospects (or former prospects that played heavily in the Minors in 2013) from each squad that should influence this year’s World Series, in order of highest impact to lowest.
1. Michael Wacha, Cardinals right-handed starter: Though 2013 is Wacha’s first full professional season, many believed entering the season that the 2012 first-rounder (19th overall) was the most advanced among his cohorts, especially after a strong first Spring Training. He carried that into an impressive introduction with Triple-A Memphis (4-0, 2.05 ERA in nine starts) before making his first Major League start in late May. After returning to the PCL in June, Wacha was back in the Majors for good in August as a reliever. He finished with a 2.65 ERA and 0.99 WHIP over 15 starts for the Redbirds. He transitioned back to the starting role in August and showed dominant stuff that allowed him to be slotted into the postseason rotation for the NL Central champs.
You should know the rest. Armed with a plus fastball and a changeup that could very well be the best in the game, Wacha, who turned 22 on July 1, has been arguably the best pitcher of the postseason. He carried a no-hitter into the eighth inning in Game 4 of the NLDS against the Pirates and didn’t allow a run in either of his starts against the Dodgers en route to MVP honors. In total, he’s 3-0 with a 0.43 ERA and 22-to-4 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 21 postseason innings. He’s slated to take the ball in Game 2 at Fenway Park and will likely take the hill again for Game 6, if the Series gets that far. At one time, you could have said Wacha is the next big thing in St. Louis baseball. Right now, I’d say he is the big thing.
2. Xander Bogaerts, Red Sox left-side infielder: The 21-year-old wasn’t a lock to be on this list, never mind this high, a few weeks ago. After an excellent Minor League campaign in which he slashed .297/.388/.477 between Double-A Portland and Triple-A Pawtucket, Bogaerts was brought up to the big club in late August, receiving sporadic starts at shortstop and third base. In one of their bigger roster decisions, the Sox decided to keep him on for the postseason with the thought being his bat could help off the bench.
The Aruba native showed his worth with two walks and two runs scored in a 3-1, series-clinching win over the Rays in Game 4 of the ALDS and provided some spark with a ninth-inning double and run in Game 4 against the Tigers. With Will Middlebrooks struggling, Red Sox manager John Farrell made the move to Bogaerts in Game 5 and 6, and Boston’s prospect took off from there, going 2-for-4 with two doubles, three walks and three runs scored while playing serviceable defense at the hot corner. The third base job will be his to lose in the World Series, and although the rookie shouldn’t be expected to maintain his ALCS production, Bogaerts, who is known for his calm demeanor, should be a serviceable bottom-of-the-lineup hitter. With Stephen Drew a free agent this winter, it is expected that Bogaerts will slide over to his natural spot at shortstop come Opening Day next year.
3. Carlos Martinez, Cardinals right-handed reliever: This one has to sting a little for Red Sox fans. As told in this MLB.com story, Boston signed the right-hander when he was known as Carlos Matias, only to have the contract voided due to identity issues. The Cardinals scooped him up instead after things were cleared, and they are the ones who will enjoy his services in this year’s Fall Classic and beyond.
Like Wacha, Martinez yo-yoed a bit between Triple-A Memphis and St. Louis this season, serving as an impressive starter (2.51 ERA in 13 starts) at the former and an at-times struggling reliever (5.08 ERA in 21 games) in the latter. Thanks to his plus fastball and better-than-average breaking stuff, he improved in September, when eight of his nine outings were scoreless, and the Cardinals felt comfortable enough to give him the setup role heading into the playoffs. In his seven postseason appearances (all of which have come in the seventh or eighth innings), he’s allowed only two runs on two hits and two walks over 6 2/3 innings. Martinez’s future as either a starter or reliever is still to be determined, but either way, the Cardinals have yet another quality arm in their arsenal going forward.
4. Brandon Workman, Red Sox right-handed reliever: With bigger-named arms in the system like Matt Barnes, Henry Owens, Allen Webster and Anthony Ranaudo, Workman was admittedly overlooked entering the 2013 season as a right-hander whose ceiling didn’t appear to be as high as the others. The 6-foot-4 former Texas Longhorn proved plenty steady in the Minors, sporting a 3.21 ERA and 108 strikeouts in 101 innings for Pawtucket and Portland before moving up in July. He was used exclusively out of the bullpen from August onward and finished with a mediocre-at-best 4.97 ERA and a 1.41 WHIP along with a 47-to-15 K/BB ratio.
The numbers in the postseason have been another story, though. Workman hasn’t allowed a run in five appearances and has scattered four hits and two walks over 5 1/3 innings. He tossed 1 2/3 big frames in Game 6 of the ALCS to keep the Sox within a run of the Tigers before exiting in the seventh (following his own error on Torii Hunter’s bunt attempt). Shane Victorino then hit his forever-famous grand slam in the eighth. The 25-year-old hurler is Boston’s third-best right-handed option out of the bullpen following Junichi Tazawa and the superlative Koji Uehara (and fourth-best overall behind southpaw Craig Breslow) and should be expected to see time in the middle innings when the Red Sox starters don’t last seven-plus innings.
(In a comical aside, Workman grabbed Bogaerts after Game 6 and said, “‘We’re a long way from Portland right now, aren’t we?’”)
5. Others: Cardinals left-hander Kevin Siegrist, who started the year in Double-A Springfield, has been a left-hander out of the bullpen for the NL champions who can also get righties out. He’s allowed two runs (one earned) on four hits in 2 2/3 innings. Only one of his five outings has lasted longer than two outs. … Second baseman Kolten Wong and outfielder Adron Chambers, both of whom spent most of the season in Memphis, have been used exclusively off the St. Louis bench. Neither has recorded a hit in 10 combined at-bats. … One can’t help but wonder what kind of impact top Cardinals prospect Oscar Taveras could have had if he hadn’t missed most of the season with an ankle injury.