Malcontents or Mismanagement?

At least three top Cardinals prospects are unhappy campers. Is that expected or indicative of a more pervasive problem?

It's that time of year. More players are competing than there are available spots to put them. As a result, difficult decisions are made – some agonizingly and some apparently quite easily. But, in some cases, the ramifications are felt for months to come.

Sometimes, the decision is final, as when veteran reliever Jeff Nelson was waived on Sunday. In other cases, as in the demotion of 24-year-old starting pitcher Anthony Reyes, it is expected to be a short detour on the projected road to success.

Even so, the prospect of the future isn't always enough to stem the tide of disappointment. After all, it is human nature to feel let down when something you want so badly escapes your grasp. To that end, nothing that is said here should be all that surprising.

Still, there seems to be a common thread. In what follows, I left out all identifying information, as the players involved in all three cases are very familiar names and all three remain in the organization.

Player one – Don't fail
One top Cardinals prospect was told last week that he was being held at the same level at which he ended the 2005 season – a major surprise to him. The reason stated, or at least what was heard by the player, was that the organization "didn't want him to fail" at the higher level. Needless to say, whether he showed externally it or not, this young man is very upset.

Now, I am not a psychologist and though I have friends in the business, I didn't even have to ask if this isn't a textbook example of negative reinforcement.

Player two – Not ready for change
As told by someone close to player one, he and another high-profile demoted Cardinal are "having their own little pity party together". This second player is convinced that the organization is forcing him to change his style of play, making him into something that he is not comfortable being. His recent results would seem to indicate his funk is clearly carrying over onto the field.

Player three – Undue pressure
The third example comes from a close family member of another Cardinal player who didn't make the cut in 2006. It is worded very strongly and was not represented as the view of the player himself. Yet, it puts in print what many have suspected for a long time.

Whether right or wrong, accurate or inaccurate, if there is smoke, could fire be far away?

Said the family member, "First of all, La Russa always goes with what he thinks is going to get him to the World Series. Good for the City of St. Louis, bad for young players with potential.

"La Russa brings in older pitchers/players with experience, who are used to these situations, and they make the best of it. Young players who they like are filled with great hope and are told they have what it takes and to hang in there cause their time will come.

"With as many older players (especially pitchers) as they bring in, the younger ones have no hope unless they show star quality. In my opinion, the team paves the road for failure. How about saying, "Hey you're on the team, go out there and pitch" and take a little of the pressure off?

"The pressure on making a La Russa team, unless you're over 30, has to be immense. I feel sorry for all the young talent in the organization.

"If it were me, I would do anything possible to be traded to a team that lets youth play. Believe me, what they did to (Anthony) Reyes was insulting. To all the young players in the organization, I would say, "Remember this when you become a free agent"," said the family member in closing.

Two-seaming Reyes
Speaking of Anthony Reyes, I asked two scouts for their views of Tony La Russa and Dave Duncan telling Reyes that he must master a sinking two-seam fastball to be a successful major leaguer. Not surprisingly, the reviews were mixed.

Said one, "My guess is if they think that, then it must be important. A lot of pitchers can have success without a two-seamer, but his delivery much be such that his four-seamer is up in the zone too much and not overpowering enough, and perhaps they feel his change is no good or never going to work off his four-seamer."

The other scout replied, "It depends on the pitcher. If a pitcher is able to maintain his velocity, say in the low-mid 90's (92-96+), than he can usually get by with the four-seam fastball. If not, than he better have two other pitches to go to.

"As you are probably well aware, the Cardinals have really stressed keeping the ball low and limiting the HR ball, which is a good thing. The sinker (two-seam) helps pitchers achieve that. It isn't a hard pitch to master, but bringing that pitch to the forefront of a pitcher's arsenal, requires a different train of thought - pitching to contact instead of trying to get the strikeout.

"My answer to your question is this. I think a two-seamer is a more effective pitch when compared to a four-seamer, but if a guy is pitching effectively without it, and Reyes seems to be, than I wouldn't push it."

In closing
I thought about asking Cardinals management to comment about all this, but decided it was futile. After all, what are they going to say? "Yes, we purposely demotivate players." Not going to happen.

So, should this just be written off as the irrationalities of whining, youthful malcontents or considered another clear indication of poor communications by management? Is this momentary disappointment that will be lost over time or recurring symptoms of an uncaring organization?

Honestly, I don't have the slightest idea. But, I do know there are at least three high-profile Cardinals organization players who are pretty upset right now. And, I can't help but suspect that at least some of this could have been averted.

We can only hope that the start of the regular season and with it, the opportunity to take out their frustrations on the opposition, will enable these players to channel all this unhappiness toward the delivery of positive results.

Brian Walton can be reached via email at

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