Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Intelligent Farming

by Jeremy Bird

In this edition of "Bird's Eye View," Jeremy goes down on the farm to explore the components of a strong baseball farm system and explains why the Angels will dominate the American League West for years to come.

In the off-season, Angels GM Bill Stoneman refused to trade Howie Kendrick and Brandon Wood for Manny Ramirez.

Say what? Howie and Brandon who? Has the man gone crazy?

Stoneman had the money but passed on a 100-plus-RBI machine to keep a class A shortstop and double A second baseman no one has ever heard of.

He also refused to pick up Miguel Tejada for young prospects like Cuban first baseman Kendry Morales.

No, Stoneman has not lost his mind. In fact, Angels GM Bill Stoneman is one of the most intelligent GMs and talented farmers in all of baseball.

When his Angels dominate the American League West for years to come – in part because of the 6-4-3 combo of Wood, Kendrick and Morales – we will all be wishing we were Halo fans. And wondering why our GMs did not go to farming school with Stoneman.

According to L.A. Times sports writer Mike DiGiovanna (who tuned me into the Angels' intelligent farming), A’s GM Billy Beane actually wished that the Angels had traded for Ramirez or Tejada in the off-season. “I’ve seen enough of those guys to wish they’d go away,” Beane said of Stoneman’s farm system. “Unfortunately, I’ll see more of them over the next 10 years than I care to see. They’re not going to be just good. They’re going to be real good.”

Today, the Angels have five of the top 50 ranked minor league players in the game and seven among the top 100. They have four young players expected to make an impact on this year’s club and a plethora of near-ready talent in the minors.

Stoneman has refused to sacrifice his team’s future for the immediate gratification of a fan-drawing, media-enticing superstar this off season. He learned his intelligent farming by watching one of the best.

Farming lessons from Cox
Stoneman says he came to his senses watching Bobby Cox of the Braves in the mid-1980s. In the early 1980s, the Braves had one of the highest-revenue teams in baseball but underachieved with free agent spending sprees and high-priced overrated veterans. When Cox took over as GM in 1985, the Braves started getting rid of those veterans and investing in the farm.

Cox’s focus on the draft and real player development produced Tom Glavine, Steve Avery, Chipper Jones and David Justice, just to name a few. Fourteen consecutive division titles later, I believe most people would agree that Bobby Cox was a wise, wise farmer.

Cox also traded overpriced veterans for young talent. His most famous: sending Doyle Alexander to the Tigers in 1987 for a minor leaguer named John Smoltz. (Sorry Tigers fans. I know it hurts).

Components of intelligent farming

The Angels are not just committed to a farm system; they have developed intelligent farming skills. Those skills have three key ingredients: developing a strong scouting program, taking risks in the draft and investing in a Latin American program.

The Angels’ draft philosophy under Stoneman has been to take risks on talented players even if they are younger and less ready for the majors. He has bypassed some of the more refined, quicker-to-the-big-league players to go after raw talent. He says he goes after the potential All-Star not just the potential Major Leaguer. “If you go after the safer pick, you have a chance to be an average club.”

That takes risks and patience. Recently, Stoneman drafted a high school pitcher who had just undergone reconstructive elbow surgery during his senior year in high school. The 6-foot-3, 185 pound, 17-year-old right handed Nick Adenhart was a gamble. But, he has the potential to be an All-Star with his dominating fastball and overall potential.

“Intelligent risks,” Stoneman calls it. I call it intelligent farming. Like a good farmer, Stoneman goes out to find the right crop. A strong Latin American program has helped the Angels land Morales, who has power from both sides of the plate. His domestic program has produced Wood (.321, 43 homers and 115 RBI in single A) who draws Cal Ripken, Jr. comparisions and Kendrick, a second baseman who can hit for average and power.

And, he does not sell the farm to the highest bidder. That takes a long-term view of your program and tremendous courage to deny your fans Manny in exchange for the promise of Howie and Brandon.

As with all intelligent farmers, Stoneman is going to enjoy a plentiful harvest. Oh, to be a Halo fan come harvest season...

Stoneman's harvest: “Wood to Kendrick to Morales for the 6-4-3.”

Jeremy's column, "Bird's Eye View," appears alternate Tuesdays


Anonymous Anonymous said...

good insights jeremy

Tuesday, March 28, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Funny how you credit Bobby Cox for Stoneman's Intelligent Farming skills when Stoneman played an integral part in the Montreal Expos organization that developped Randy Johnson, Larry Walker, Marquis Grissom, Vladimir Guerrero, Cliff Floyd etc.

Saturday, April 01, 2006  
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Wednesday, April 19, 2006  

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