The internet has allowed us, the general public, a new freedom: The freedom to tell sportswriters what we think in about 30 seconds. Most sportswriters respond as holier-than-thou, I know more than you do, how dare you question my superior intellect jerks (Wheeler and Doc, I'm looking at you). In response, we tend to paint all of them with a pretty broad brush.
Back in September, Rod Lockwood at the Toledo Blade reviewed Echos of Cincinnati Reds Baseball, about the great players and teams from Cinci. I sent him this email:
In today's Blade, you wrote a reveiw of Echos of Cincinnati Reds Baseball. In it, you make the statement there was "not even an exciting crop of youngsters coming up through the system to spark some optimism." This couldn't be further from the truth:
Jay Bruce, an outfielder, was just named Minor League Player of the Year by Baseball America. The 20 year old played at 3 different levels, and ended up with 80 extra base hits (2nd in the minors).
Homer Bailey, pitcher, is also considered among the top 5 prospects in baseball. He made his major league debut this year as a 21 year old.
Johnny Cueto, another 21 year old, sported a 3.24 ERA pitching at 3 different levels this year, along with an incredible 170/34 k/bb ratio and 1.12 WHIP.
Joey Votto, 1B, was called up September 1. He already has 2 homers and 2 doubles, leading to a .500 batting average and 1.071 slugging percentage. He turns 24 tomorrow.
Another 24 year old, Edwin Encarnacion, has been the starting 3B for the Reds the past 2 seasons. The quality of the top young players for the Reds is beyond dispute. For someone who presents himself as a Reds fan, you should know these things.
He replied the same day:
I hope you're right, Pete. But when I look at the Reds now I don't see an organization with any cohesive plan to develop a strong minor league crop of prospects who can come up and replace the uninspiring veterans like Griffey, Dunn, Hatteberg and whoever they have at catcher now. David Ross? Javier Valentin?
Look at some their top picks of the past few years, going back to 1995: Brett Tomko, John Oliver, Brandon Larson, Austin Kearns, Ty Howington, David Espinosa, Jeremy Sowers, Chris Gruler, Ryan Wagner... and you don't see any of these guys starring for the Reds now or forming the nucleus of a team that can contend, much less elevate itself beyond mediocrity.
Compare the Reds lineup and staff to those of Cleveland and Detroit, both of which are stocked with guys who came up through their system and are now key players on teams that contend for the championship. And, better yet, that are built to contend for years to come.
Homer Bailey is certainly a reason for optimism, but the Reds are traditionally horrible at bringing along young pitchers going back as far as Wayne Simpson and all the way up to Howington, so it's hard to be positive about his development. And Bruce is certainly worth getting excited about, but with Dunn proving to be a Dave Kingman-like bust, Austin Kearns long gone, Ryan Freel spending most of his time on the DL, and Griffey on the downside of his career and likely to move on to a contender, they need at least FOUR outfielders coming up through the system.
Compare this to the '80s when they had Larkin, Eric Davis, Jose Rijo, Kal Daniels, Tracy Jones, Joe Oliver, Chris Sabo, Rob Dibble, Norm Charlton, even Kurt Stillwell all coming up through the system. Not all of those guys were on the '90s world championship team, obviously, but they gave the team and the system depth, which is necessary so you can make trades that allow you go out and get veterans who can put you over the top.
I hate to be negative, but I just don't see a franchise that has a steady plan for long-term success. And living up here I see the Indians and Tigers up close and both of those franchises have clear plans that they're following and they're bringing up players like Sabathia, Verlander, Sizemore, Martinez, Granderson, Bonderman, Hafner, that are young studs who are going to be good -- maybe even great -- for the next 10 years. The Reds, in my mind, aren't even close. More importantly, thanks for reading the review and challenging my assumptions. I really hope your optimism is more appropriate than my pessimism. Go Reds. Rod.
Three things stuck out: 1. It was a well reasoned response. 2. He didn't talk down to me. 3. He didn't jump on me for my last sentence. All well and good. Frankly, I'd forgotten about it. Until yesterday:
Pete: This is Rod Lockwood, from The Blade. I just want to say: you were right and I was wrong. And I write that even though I know I sent you what I thought was a pretty well-reasoned breakdown of the woes in the Reds farm system and player development. But I was basing my view on information that was about two years old, rather than the current situation. In other words, if I was writing in 2006, it would have made more sense.
But today Johnny Cueto struck out 10 guys and got the Red their first win of the season. And I spent some time in southern Ohio recently and listened to a lot of the Reds on the radio and with Cueto and Jay Bruce (who I believe they ought to be playing with the big club), Votto, Keppinger, Homer Bailey, and this new kid pitcher Edinson Voiquez who they got for Josh Hamilton, the future's looking bright. And when I was down there listening to this stuff, and reading about Bruce in Sports Illustrated, I thought, "I owe that guy who sent me that e-mail about the Reds and their young players a mea culpa." So here it is.
And you were right, I should've known more about their farm system and dug a little deeper in my research and just not included that line in the review. This is a case, though, where I'm happy to be wrong. Thanks for setting me straight, even though it took me a few months to get the point. Rod.
Uh, wow. I didn't know how to respond at first. Not only did he respond to a conversation from 7 months ago; not only did he admit that he was wrong; he actually said that my snarky comment was right! Rod Lockwood is now my favorite writer. I don't pay attention to the bylines in the Blade (obviously, they spend quite a bit of ink on the Indians and Tigers), but I'm going to now.