When I think about the minor leagues, I often think about what it must be like to be the sort of player tagged with the dreaded “organizational depth” label. If you aren’t a Jarred Kelenic or even an Eric Filia, you know that the major league team affiliated with your club is happy to keep you on—they’ve even seen some reason to keep you on—but ultimately, they really don’t think you’ll ever be anything, and neither does anyone else in baseball, really.
Joey Curletta was trending that way, two years ago. Traded for a pitcher who—as of this writing—has been exactly useless as a player and only known for being mistakenly tagged as “amphibian” in a headline, he was about as close to the exact line between prospect and non-prospect status as you could get. After acquiring him, the Mariners sent him back down a level—a demotion well earned after an 88 wRC+ in AA in 2016—and had him retool his approach at the plate, an effort which yielded marginal efforts at first and then significantly more in 2018, when he came back to AA and posted his best single season line yet at the age of 24.
John wrote ably here about Curletta’s changes. Those are exciting and fascinating, but his story also says something more. Instead of toiling in obscurity, he’s now Interesting. After languishing in the Dodgers system and being traded for a non-useful pitcher, he has now done enough to be considered worthy of a coveted 40-man roster spot in Seattle. Everyone who considered him a non-prospect or a bust is really now wrong, even if he never sees a major league pitch.
I suspect like every elite athlete, Joey Curletta never really doubted himself. It’s hard to remember that every minor league player has been the best player on the field for most of their lives, and the fact that they aren’t Vlad Guerrero or Michael Kopech or Justus Sheffield probably doesn’t affect them much at all in their own heads—or if it does, they likely aren’t long for professional baseball regardless.
It’s kind of hard to take a Mariner 1B prospect very seriously. It’s not really their fault, it’s just... [waves hand at Mark Trumbo-shaped pile of sadness] there’s sort of a history there. It’s our baggage, not theirs. Given all that—and how tired we all are of watching another meaty young lad whale sadly at a slider in the dirt—I have to admit, I’m sort of rooting for our salvation to come from a guy who was once traded for Pat Venditte and still made it all the way back.