As the MLB draft approaches and the NCAA tournament opens up this Friday, it’s easy to spend a lot of time checking out the top prospects who are hoping to spur their teams on to victory in Omaha this June.
Every season, one star will saddle up the rest of his team and carry them along in the postseason, getting the big outs or hits when the team needs it most, collect all the accolades he can hold, then go on to a lucrative pro career.
But Stanford baseball’s recent postseason runs have had a distinct lack of these stars — at least, it’s had a distinct lack of any players that have gone on to be real superstars at the major league level. Since 1987, the Cardinal has had 22 players picked in the first round of the MLB draft, and yet, the casual baseball fan would probably only know one or two of those 22 players.
Those two are Mike Mussina, a five-time All-Star with the Orioles and Yankees who compiled a 270-153 record before retiring in 2008, and Carlos Quentin, a two-time All-Star with the White Sox before he was traded to the Padres this season. One is a potential Hall of Famer; the other is a pretty good player who might be the fourth outfielder on your fantasy team.
When looking at the list of names that haven’t worked out (players like Greg Reynolds, Jeff Austin, Danny Putnam, Willie Adams and more), a question springs to mind: Does Stanford baseball have a development problem? Or, more specifically, why exactly have Stanford’s players never quite taken the leap into stardom?
It’s hard to answer this because it does take a while before most players make any real difference to their clubs — guys like Buster Posey and Bryce Harper, who come in and make an impact right away, are extraordinarily rare in pro baseball. So for some former Stanford products like Rick Helling and David McCarty, both of whom had 12-year MLB careers, it’s far too harsh to say they didn’t exactly pan out.
That said, Stanford baseball products seem to hit a ceiling of good-but-not-great once they reach “The Show.” Does the college game somehow sap these players’ potential before they reach the big leagues? It’s hard to know. Every player is different, every farm system is different, and the nature of the game of baseball has changed a lot over the past 25 years, with the boom and bust of the steroid era. Perhaps it just might mean that the major league teams that picked these players incorrectly evaluated just how talented these players really were. Future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols was a 13th-round pick.
However checkered the Cardinal’s past may have been, perhaps this recent group of Cardinal minor and major leaguers will buck that trend, although the Cardinal’s current crop has been plagued by injuries.
Drew Storen, who was picked 10th overall in 2009, has been solid for the Washington Nationals in his role as a setup man and closer, recording 43 saves a season ago before an arm injury that has sidelined him so far in 2012.
Catcher Jason Castro starts behind the plate just about every other day for the Houston Astros, but he’s only hit a meager .216 this year after missing all of last year with a torn ACL.
Sean Ratliff, a member of the 2008 Cardinal CWS team and a fourth-round pick of the New York Mets, was crushing his way through the minors until he was hit in the eye with a foul ball last season. Four eye surgeries later, Ratliff is closer to being back on track, but who knows where he might be today — or where he might have been in the future — without the unlucky and unfortunate injury?
Following them, current players like Mark Appel, Stephen Piscotty, Austin Wilson, Brian Ragira or Chris Reed, the Cardinal closer who was picked 16th overall by the Dodgers in last year’s draft, could break through that ceiling and become Stanford’s next major league star.
Hopefully, one of those guys will first take the 2012 Cardinal and lead it to a win in the College World Series this year — then use that new hardware to spring himself into a superstar professional career.
Jack Blanchat wants to make sure any future stars remember him before they hit it big. Before you make millions, connect with Jack at blanchat “at” stanford.edu or follow him on Twitter @jmblanchat.