Six months ago, Jeremy Bonderman was added to the Mariners active roster. The Mariners did this in spite of other equally mediocre options that wouldn't result in the loss of a player, and that player lost was Vinnie Catricala, bumped off the 40-man roster and claimed by the A's. Catricala was a monster in 2011, lost in 2012, and faltered yet again in 2013, even back at the level he once annihilated two years before.
I hated that the Mariners gave up talent who could possibly become something for somebody who was definitely not going to be anything, but they did it anyways. Things unfolded exactly as expected. Jeremy Bonderman wasn't very good, Vinnie Catricala remained not very good, and both players were out of the organization by the end of the year. It was the kind of transaction that teams make dozens of, and looking back at how much I felt it could have mattered six months ago, it barely mattered at all. It could have been a mistake, and Catricala could have figured it out again.
But he didn't. And now, he's given up on his baseball dream completely. Catricala has retired from baseball after posting a .584 OPS in AA with Midland last year, at age 25. He's the same age as James Paxton, who is a few months from launching the career he's always dreamed of. Meanwhile, Catricala is starting a new life, becoming a police officer in Sacramento.
Catricala was an in vogue sleeper bat in the Mariners system after 2011. He was a sort of non-prospect prospect, but one who masqueraded as the latter after hitting enough to force his way into the conversation. He showed up on a number of organizational top prospect lists, and his path really isn't that different than the one Stefen Romero is on now, and even though Romero weathered the AAA storm a bit better than Catricala, he also hasn't been the same hitter he was in 2012, tearing up Jackson. The transition to higher levels will break a lot of prospects, and don't ever believe the fallacy that AA is a harder league than AAA. It might have more future talent in it, but it's less polished. AAA is full of pitchers who have pitched to big leaguers before, and they use that knowledge to their advantage, exploiting first-time hitters to the level. Especially aggressive ones.
Catricala was never the same after he struggled at AAA, and maybe it was a confidence issue. This kind of thing happens more than makes sense, especially young barn burners. Brandon Wood destroyed the minors when he was just a kid, but has spent the past several years in the middle of his prime as a shell of former self. Jeff Clement never hit the minors quite the same after his failures at a higher level. The Mariners just saw Carlos Peguero, in the first of his prime years, put together a poor year after two consecutive solid minor league seasons. Some bounce back and earn another chance. Some languish for years. Catricala simply saw the writing on the wall and pursued something else.
Baseball is tough, and yesterday's news was a sad reminder. Catricala seems content enough in his new career, but it certainly isn't the future he envisioned for himself less than two years ago. The manta posted at the top of Baseball Prospectus articles is "Prospects will break your heart." Sometimes we have to take a step back to realize that sometimes prospects break their own hearts.
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