Why Quality Player Development Won the 2013 NLCS for Cardinals
There are several ways to look at the 2013 NLCS victory for the St. Louis Cardinals.
You might see it as an example of great starting pitching or as the collapse of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Undoubtedly, some will remember it as the demise of Don Mattingly. Some will blame officiating, while others will accuse Joe Kelly of intentionally hitting Hanley Ramirez in the ribs to start the series.
All of those explanations are possible (except for the Kelly-Ramirez scenario), but they don't get to the real issue at hand.
What won the 2013 NLCS for the Cardinals is simple: quality player development.
What the Cardinals proved against the Dodgers is that the "new school" way of building a baseball team can work. If they win four more (and the resulting championship), expect to see more teams begin to follow suit.
The traditional method of blockbuster trades and monster payrolls isn't winning the way it once did. The win-now mentality is a big gamble that rarely pays off for teams.
While experience is crucial, the way to the future is through the game's youth—just ask the Cardinals.
The key to October success is not a matter of experience versus youth. It requires a quality blend of both. That's something the Cardinals have done a good job of ensuring.
While they put a major emphasis on the organization's up-and-coming talent, the front office also understands that it needs to have quality veteran team leadership in place.
Having a farm system chock-full of talent is great, but without some more seasoned players to guide them, the road likely wouldn't have been as smooth as it has been.
Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak knows that philosophy well because he's played a key role in its development.
"You've got to realize that our core players—Molina, Holliday, Waino—set the tone of what's going on," Mozeliak said Friday evening immediately following the Cardinals' win to clinch their fourth World Series berth in 10 years. "So, with our young players coming up, we've injected them into this great formula."
But that formula still requires talented young players who can handle the pressures at this level.
In St. Louis, the expectations are high from day one.
"The key thing here is that those young players perform and perform well," Mozeliak said. "The culture of this organization is about expectations at a very early age. For our younger players to learn that from day one and quickly realize that this is their goal, that's a big change."
The player development program put into place by the Cardinals is the result of a top-to-bottom organizational plan that has been in the works for several years.
While Mozeliak deserves plenty of credit for the Cardinals' drafting success, don't forget the majority of the young players currently in St. Louis were drafted by Jeff Luhnow, who was the vice president of scouting and player development.
Luhnow, who has since been named the general manager of the Houston Astros, marked the beginning of the organization's philosophical shift. The exit of longtime GM Walt Jocketty and the installation of Mozeliak guided the Cardinals toward where they are today.
Regardless of your opinion, the success of this organization is worthy of recognition.
Whether it's some special X-factor or the "Cardinal way" we so often read about that contributes to their success, one thing is for certain: Whatever it is works very well.
With so many players on the roster below the age of 25, there's also reason to expect we will be watching this team late in October for plenty of years to come.
All quotes obtained firsthand by the author.
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