Wednesday, March 29, 2006

williams in jeopardy

enough with this "marshall plan" trope already! can't something better come of this?

the sun-times repeats reports that jerome williams is in danger of losing his starting spot to prospect sean marshall after marshall's impressive spring and william's atrocious one.

marshall's next opportunity to improve his standing comes friday against the san diego padres in las vegas; williams' arrives tomorrow against the hot-hitting diamondbacks at hohokam.

the furtherance of this lark seems laughable to this writer -- but truly now the Cult of Marshall seems to have taken hold even in official quarters. mentioning him in contention with a number of others for a few starts in a temporary arrangement for the fifth spot in one thing; but talking about marshall as though he is the cubs' fourth-best (truly, third-best, taking rusch into account) healthy starter in the organization is either hysterical or a damning indictment of the lack of any pitching quality whatsoever in jim hendry's entire carefully constructed organization.

this writer uses the term "cult" with much consideration. it seems here that much of cubdom has become addicted to the idea of brilliant young starters riding in from the minors to dominate the majors when the team is in need. at least since kerry wood arrived in 1998, it seems every few cub camps has been characterized by one such starlet. in 2003, it was angel guzman. 2004 brought andy pratt. renyel pinto wowed 'em in 2005. but this is the first occasion in this writer's memory of any youngster not named mark prior gaining such cachet with so many so quickly.

marshall is no prior -- of that we can be sure. but what is he? one estimation might be the luckiest pitcher in camp. another might arguably be daytona's fifth-best pitcher last year, behind wells, marmol, mateo and gwaltney -- all of whom (excepting mateo) were called up to west tenn just the same. yet another might be this team's best option out of a bad lot for fifth starter.

whatever the answer to that question ends up being, what is just as sure is that cubdom has now let its imagination run away with respect to marshall, creating a pitcher better than jerome williams out of a sixth-round draft pick with -- whatever his talent or eventual ceiling might be -- no significant indication of ready major-league ability.

to be clear, williams is not a great pitcher. how his season will proceed has been recognized in this space already as a matter of some mystery and intrigue. but, as a matter of fact, williams is a former first-round draft pick who managed a 3.91 era in 18 appearances and 106 innings for this club last year, and has posted a 3.92 career era in 383 major league innings -- all before the age of 24. he is very definitely a good pitcher with a career certifiably ahead of him.

for comparison, marshall has never pitched beyond the southern league -- and made only ten appearances there, posting a 4.33 era in 54 innings over two seasons; spent most of last season putting in an unimpressive line for a 23-year-old at high-a daytona -- 12 gs, 69 ip, 63 h, 26 bb, 61 k; and has never pitched more than 94 innings in any year -- each year having been shortened by injury, which makes this comment by dusty regarding the reasoning behind sending angel guzman back to iowa all the more perplexing:

"Guzman has missed a lot of time," Baker said. "He's very close. You don't know if he's quite ready. Certain guys need to pitch. He has missed parts of the last three years."

is marshall really to be expected to outproduce williams' sub-4 era for the cubs? on the basis of ten innings thrown over three weeks this spring? the notion seems sheer folly to this writer -- and yet, this is what dusty baker's cubs are on the cusp of deciding.

this page would humbly submit that a more sensible and prudent course would involve allowing the marshall to gain experience and prove himself out in the minors this year while relying on williams to provide his usual staid output.

however, it is acknowledged that the cubs seem rarely enough to do the sensible and prudent thing. if marshall defies the odds and succeeds, making the effective leap from daytona to chicago, it will be a triumph for the cubs scouting and management in its minor league system. if he fails, it will be a capital indictment both of jim hendry and andy macfail, who built this team around arms that no one could reasonably expect to be healthy out of a desire to run a team with very little recent farm production inexpensively; and of dusty baker and larry rothschild, who could have stayed with williams and used rich hill or john koronka, but instead chose to pick an unready novice from deep within the minors.

but make no mistake: win or lose, it will have been a terrible gamble to take with marshall -- and a slap in the face of jerome williams, who has already done more than can be asked of most any 24-year-old in the big leagues.

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