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RotoWorld 2002 Review

Recently RotoWorld republished their Top 100 prospects list from 2002. Lists like this are a virtual goldmine of prospect commentary opportunities. From talking about why Sean Burroughs stinks to why was Jake Peavy so underrated to the weird career or JR House. I'll just use it as a jumping off point for a couple of things today.

When looking over the list one pair of prospects jumps out at me. That pair is Ryan Anderson and Jon Rauch. They're both huge (6'10" and 6'11" respectively)     and at this point both had outstanding stuff. Anderson was ranked as the #1 prospect in the Mariner system for his fifth consecutive year. Rauch was Baseball America's Minor League Player of the Year for 2000. Anderson had the classic combination of mid/high 90's fastball with life and the workings of a venomous slider. Rauch was a couple ticks slower on the radar gun, but he had better breaking stuff and damned fine command and control.

Unfortunately for everyone involved they were also both coming off a season that was mostly lost to shoulder problems. Anderson had his labrum fixed and Rauch had "minor" surgery of his labrum to "clean it up". We all know Anderson's story, or at least we should at this point. He required further surgeries after this one and quickly fell completely off the map.

Rauch had a happier ending to his story. He split 2002 between Charlotte and the South Side. He clearly wasn't quite the same dominating force as he had been previously, posting a 4.28 ERA with 97 strikeouts and 14 home runs allowed in 109 innings in the International League and was knocked around a bit in the AL, posting a meager 6.59 ERA with 7 home runs allowed in a small 28 inning sample. The most telling thing was that his control was much worse than it had been before as he walked 42 batters in AAA and 14 for Chicago. He spent all of 2003 as a Knight and while his control returned to something close to normal at 2.53 walks per 9 innings, his strikeout rate dipped to a very pedestrian 6.79 per 9. In 2004 he was traded to the then-Expos in a deal that sent Carl Everett to the White Sox. The Expos tinkered with him as a starter (He actually did quite well in the rotation for New Orleans) before settling on him as a reliever. He's taken off since then, turning in 2 solid seasons in Washington and has settled in as their main setup man for Chad Cordero.

So what made Rauch different than Anderson? For one, the original injury wasn't as bad as Anderson's. If memory serves me correctly, his labrum was merely frayed instead of torn. I was personally afraid that he would nosedive into obscurity. And while Rauch was learning his new shoulder, Anderson was repeatedly re-injuring himself time and time again. You expect there to be setbacks and potential long term problems with velocity and/or command with a labrum surgery. You never expect to have to take him out back and give him the Old Yeller treatment.

Rauch himself also serves as a useful data point telling us where relief pitchers come from. Les Expos really did get a sweet deal, trading away a player they didn't need in Jurassic Carl and getting a reliever that they DID need in Rauch. For the most part, relievers are made, not born. If you're clever enough or lucky enough, you might not have to trade off valuable properties or sign overrated veterans to fill out your pen. You just find somebody else's forgotten prospect and enjoy the goodness.