added 5/13/2009 by Scott Barzilla
If you recall, I harped on the Astros last time for demoting Paulino to the bullpen. Many might think his subsequent performance proves they were right. Actually, it proves why they were wrong. Confidence is such a fragile thing and they burned it in Paulino's case. Yes, they returned him to the rotation, but they did so in the worst pitcher's park in big league history. Obviously, they are going to use that to justify their opinion of him.
The case is just another recent example of the Astros blind spot. They don't know how to handle young players. Don't feel bad, a lot of teams struggle with that. If any of us had the answer we wouldn't be sitting in a cubicle wherever we are. We would be working for the Astros or some other club. Some teams have figured it out and others haven't. Mark the Astros down as one of those teams that are still fumbling about.
Whether Paulino succeeds or doesn't has little to do with his 2009 performance. It has more to do with whether the Astros allow him to progress. Hunter Pence will tell you that success and failure depends on a constant wave of adjustments. NL pitchers adjusted to him in 2008 and he finally began to adjust to their adjustment late in the season. Now, he's hitting .300 again with more walks than he had at this point last season. He's figured it out.
NL teams have a book on Paulino. They know what he throws, where he throws it, and on what counts he throws it. It's time for him to learn where the weaknesses are for the individual hitters. You don't learn that in Round Rock or Corpus Christi. Developing a young player can be frustrating, but it has to be done if you want your organization to go anywhere. Even organizations like the Yankees can't make it without young kids playing a key role. If you don't believe me then take a gander at the standings.
The Astros have made their recent living by identifying veterans that have been overlooked. That's fine and there is a good place for that. Russ Ortiz hasn't been completely horrible and even Brian Moehler looks to be coming around. Yet, when you take the collective performances of Mike Hampton, Ortiz, and Moehler you see why the club is where it is. Veterans like that can give you decent performance for small change, but they won't set the world on fire. You don't see mediocre veterans turn in all-star campaigns at age 25 very often.
So, while their performance is steady and predictable, it isn't enough to take you where you want to go. Successful teams know you sign one or two of those guys to finish out your staff or bench. When you have a half dozen or more you are in serious trouble. When you have only one or two young guys you find yourself stuck in neutral for too long. That is where the Astros are. Will they finish in fourth, fifth, or sixth place this year? Then again, does that really even matter?
The problem is not Felipe Paulino, but that the team only has one of him. The test of any young player is whether they are capable of making adjustments. Every player that reaches the majors has achieved some level of success in the minors. They are capable of producing that in the big leagues. The difference is that their opponents can now exploit their weaknesses. He may succeed. He may not. The Astros will never know until they give him a chance. This is the main reason why Paulino and Bud Norris need to be in Houston figuring it out.