Redefining 'prospect'

June, 5, 2009
It's getting mighty crowded in Colorado's outfield. Tracy Ringolsby:
    Carlos Gonzalez's time has come.

    The left-handed-hitting outfielder acquired as part of the package from Oakland for Matt Holliday will join the Rockies in St. Louis on Friday. The Rockies also have activated right-handed reliever Matt Daley from the disabled list.


    Manager Jim Tracy is expected to juggle Seth Smith, Gonzalez and switch-hitting Dexter Fowler in left field and center field, ensuring each gets at least five starts a week. Ryan Spilborghs would appear to be in line to become the fifth outfielder.

    Gonzalez forced the issue. He is hitting .339 with 10 home runs, 12 doubles, seven triples and 59 RBI in 47 games at Colorado Springs.

    "It's time,” Tracy said of bringing up Gonzalez, who came to the Rockies from the A's along with closer Huston Street and left-handed pitcher Greg Smith. "At the end of spring I sat in when Clint (Hurdle, former manager) met with the young man, and Carlos has answered all the messages he was given.”

    Asked about the crowded outfield, Tracy said, "That will be what I have to figure out. I accept that challenge.”

The good thing is that it really doesn't matter whether or not Jim Tracy meets that challenge, because the Rockies are going to finish a couple of dozen games out of first place either way. But if Spilborghs is now a fifth outfielder, I suspect that Dan O'Dowd is going to be getting a lot of phone calls, perhaps the first of them from Frank Wren.

It's not really the Rockies' five outfielders I wanted to write about, though. Rather, this story -- and particularly CarGo's stats at Colorado Springs -- got me to thinking about how we define "prospect."

My first impulse was to look up Gonzalez in the books about prospects that I keep handy. Gonzalez doesn't appear in either of them. It took me too long to remember that Gonzalez actually spent significant time in Oakland's outfield last season, and thus probably didn't qualify for inclusion in those books.

Sure enough, Gonzalez played in 85 games with the A's in 2008. He was awful, which is why Billy Beane was willing to trade him. But Gonzalez was regarded as a fine (though flawed) prospect before his struggles with the big club, and he turned 23 just last fall. Isn't he still a prospect?

Semantics, I know. I suppose this little essay is directed mostly at John Sickels and Baseball America, who publish my go-to prospect guides each spring. Baseball America goes 30 deep in each organization; Sickels goes well into the 30s. As you might guess, once you get past the first dozen or so prospects in an organization, you're mostly wading through guys who will either never make the majors or, if they do, won't make much noise.

In the interest of pure utility, then, I will suggest that we -- along with the authors of our favorite books about young players -- redefine "prospect" to cover any young player who hasn't yet made a positive impact in the major leagues, but might still.



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