Player development is a tricky proposition for Major League Baseball organizations. It’s hard to know when the right time is to bring someone up to the majors and it’s hard to know what to do with them if they begin struggling. Sometimes players just don’t cut it when they’re initially brought up, or sometimes they do well before they begin struggling. Although it’s seen by many people as a demotion, I believe the minor leagues can be an asset to players, not an embarrassment.
Pitcher Max Scherzer might be the best example of how the minor leagues can be beneficial for a player recently. Scherzer is a fireballer who came to the Tigers in the Edwin Jackson/Curtis Granderson three-way deal via Arizona. Although Scherzer started off well throwing six shutout innings in his first start with Detroit, he started getting bombed later in April. In a string of four straight starts, Max surrendered at least five earned runs each time out seeing his ERA jump from 2.63 to 7.29. The Tigers knew something was wrong so they sent Scherzer down to Triple-A Toledo to face lower-level competition, regain confidence, and redevelop his fastball. The plan worked to perfection.
After his demotion, Scherzer made two brilliant starts in the minors. He pitched 15 innings allowing just four hits, two walks, one run, and he struck out 17 batters. Upon getting recalled, Scherzer dominated by striking out 14 over five and two-thirds scoreless innings. He went on to post a 3.48 ERA over the course of June. In fact, things worked out so well with Scherzer that the Tigers are trying the same plan with Rick Porcello.
Porcello is a 21-year-old former first-round pick who went 14-9 and finished third in AL Rookie of the Year voting last year. Unfortunately it’s been a rough year for Rick who went 4-7 with a 6.14 in 13 starts with the Tigers. Hoping for the same Max Scherzer magic, the Tigers sent Porcello down to Toledo where he allowed just one hit over eight innings in his first start for the Mud Hens. Another result like that and he’ll likely be back up with the Tigers.
Going back to last season, Angels highly-touted prospect Howie Kendrick was struggling, batting just .231 with a .636 OPS over the first three months of the season. The Angels decided to send him down to Triple-A Salt Lake City to work things out. After three and a half weeks in the minors, Howie tore things up batting .346 over 20 games and the Angels brought him back to the big club. Kendrick proceeded to bat .358 with a .949 OPS after the All-Star break, raising his final stats to a respectable .291 and .778 OPS.
In addition to Scherzer, Porcello, and Kendrick, Carlos Delgado and Roy Halladay are two stars who had to be demoted at one point. Delgado famously hit nine home runs in his first 14 career games, but he tanked mightily after the hot start. Delgado went down to the minors to rebuild his confidence and he returned to put together a borderline Hall of Fame resume. Halladay had thrown nearly 165 big league innings prior to 2000 when he posted a 10.64 in a brutal season. The Blue Jays sent Halladay down to work out some mental issues. The next year Roy returned with much better stuff and a more level head, and three years later he won the AL Cy Young Award.
As you can tell by the title of this post and all the examples, I’m a heavy believer in sending young players down to the minor leagues when they’re struggling in order to turn things around. Sometimes all players need is a change of scenery, a new start, and a chance to rebuild their self-esteem and confidence. The minor leagues presents that opportunity. For these reasons, I believe the best option for the Cubs to proceed with Carlos Zambrano is to send him down to work on his stuff.
The Cubs have announced that they will place him on the restricted list and that he’ll pitch out of the bullpen when he returns. Rather than have a career starter work out of the pen when he comes back, why not send him to Triple-A to blow away minor league hitters and get back on track? The only risk is he would have to pass through waivers first, but if anyone is dumb enough to claim that contract then it rids the Cubs of the problem right there. Otherwise I believe a fresh start for Big Z within the organization is the best course of action to take with the former All-Star. The Cubs paid for the Zambrano who finished 5th in Cy Young voting on three occasions. They’d like him back. Putting him the in bullpen won’t help him regain his form, but a demotion might be just what he needs.
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