Nor is the work by these prospects over. Many are up in the big leagues, having spent the year as potential Rookie of the Year candidates or having just received a September callup. While most are playing out the string at this point, there are a handful of players who began the 2014 season as prospects who have the chance to truly contribute to a playoff race and into October.
That's the topic for this week's Pipeline Perspectives: Which prospect/rookie will have the largest impact in September and October? The only requirement for consideration was that a player began the year as a prospect, on one of our lists over at Prospect Watch.
Jim has decided to go with a starting pitcher, Yordano Ventura of the Kansas City Royals. I'm staying in the same state, but the other league: My pick is Cardinals second baseman Kolten Wong.
Ventura, obviously, has been a tremendous contributor to the Royals thus far. He began the season as the No. 35 prospect on the Top 100 and has been a mainstay in a Kansas City rotation that's been fourth in the American League in ERA. Wong's season has been a little more up and down, actually getting sent down to Triple-A in late April after initially winning the second-base job, then coming back up and settling in (eventually) as an important cog in the Cards' lineup.
But this isn't a discussion about which prospect had the best rookie season. I'd concede that to Jim in a second. This is about the present and immediate future: Which prospect will have more of an impact for the remainder of the season? Looking at this pair from that perspective gives me more than a leg to stand on.
I'm sure Ventura will pitch well down the stretch, and he's been outstanding in two September starts. But here's the thing: He's probably going to get four starts for the rest of the regular season and, depending on what happens, a couple of postseason trips to the mound. That's it.
Wong, on the other hand, is pretty much playing every day. That means our original No. 58 prospect could play in 17 more regular-season games. That's 17 vs. 4, for those of you scoring at home (you can tell where I typically fall on the position player vs. pitcher MVP debate).
Just playing every day isn't enough, clearly, but Wong has been playing his best baseball of the season right now. In his first eight September games, the 2011 first-round pick has hit .346 and slugged .538. In those eight games, the Cardinals have gone 7-1 and pulled away in the National League Central. Coincidence? I think not.
Really, since returning from the disabled list and allowing his shoulder to heal in early July, Wong has been a very productive part of the Cards' offense. The University of Hawaii product has hit .279 and slugged .480 since he came back, with 10 of his 11 home runs coming in the 216 plate appearances he had in July, August and those first eight games of September. He's also stolen 11 bases, in 12 attempts, in that time frame. Wong has stolen 20 in 22 attempts this season, all while solidifying second base defensively.
The only reason Wong isn't hitting No. 2 in the lineup has been Jon Jay's hot bat. He's been doing plenty of damage from the bottom, giving the Cardinals a deeper lineup, something they need, especially considering they don't have that one huge bat that can carry an offense.
It is true that a starting pitcher has a lot of control when he's on the mound. And every game does count; that works in Ventura's favor, especially in a short postseason series. But Wong's name in the everyday lineup -- especially given how he can help his team win with his bat, his legs and his glove -- gives him the slight edge here.