There was a time when a kid named Joel Guzman was basically the top infield prospect in all of baseball. He was 19, 20 years old, and he had the world laid out before him. Guzman was a lock to man shortstop or third base for the Dodgers for years to come.

And then, well, he just kind of stopped being awesome. A year later, he was marginalized, traded to the Rays, and hasn’t been heard from since. Until now, when he signed a minor league deal – sans Spring Training invite – with the Baltimore Orioles.

The Orioles have signed corner infielder/outfielder Joel Guzman, once one of baseball’s top prospects, to a minor league deal. He will not receive an invite to major league camp.

The former Los Angeles Dodgers’ ballyhooed prospect was dealt to Tampa Bay Devil Rays in 2006 as part of the Julio Lugo, trade-deadline deal.

He was with the Washington Nationals organization last year, batting a combined .268 with 12 homers at Double-A and Triple-A. Guzman, 25, batted .232 in 24 big league games with the Dodgers and Devil Rays.

Why am I bringing this up?

I love the idea that Starlin Castro is the future for the Chicago Cubs at shortstop. I really do. He’s clearly got all the skills, but he still has to actually develop into the player we’re all projecting him to be. A lot can happen along that road.

And when folks talk about refusing to trade Starlin Castro in any deal, I would just ask: remember Joel Guzman.

  • Matt S

    Obviously that’s the risk associated with prospects, but Castro is a bit of a different case because while he doesn’t have the ceiling Guzman had, he has a much higher floor. It’s hard to see him not contributing at the major league level at some point, something pretty unexpected would have to happen.

    Now with a guy like Vitters, I would absolutely be in favor of trading him while his stock is high, because he has a much higher chance of flaming out. I think your Guzman example is more applicable to him, and in his case you’re absolutely right, any trade that nets an established MLB star is definitely worth it.

    • Ace

      Matt, curious why you say Castro has a higher floor (which, if true, is a great point)? Guzman was putting up an OPS over .800 in AA when he was Castro’s age. Is it just the physical tools/defensive ability of Castro that gives you more confidence in his floor?

      And for anyone reading this comment, Matt is the one to know. Wrigley Bound (click on his name) is the place the learn about Cubs prospects.

      • Scarey

        I don’t want to speak for Matt S. but my guess on why he says Castro has a higher floor is the fact that yes, he does play very good defense, and he doesn’t strike out much. It’s rare to have a guy be able to get consistent contact like Castro does. He just has an uncanny ability to put the bat on the ball and from most reports I’ve read, when he puts the ball in play, he usually squares it up and puts the fat part of the bat on the ball.

        The fact that he can make contact is important especially in this instance because… Guzman always had problems with strikeouts and was very up and down on batting average. If Castro took more walks, I would say he would be as can’t-miss as they come.

        • Ace

          Vitters is an even better hitter to contact than is Castro, no?

          • Scarey

            I would disagree with that. But, Vitters is also very good in that area. Castro strikes out one every 8.5 plate appearances while Vitters strikes out 1 of every 6.5 plate appearances. Also, Castro has done it at AA.

            It’s true that Vitters has drawn Vlad comparisons, but I think it’s because his contact ability along with his power.

            • Ace

              Gotcha. Thanks Scarey (who also knows his prospect shit big time).

            • Kevin G

              Good stuff I am one of those guys that is willing to include Vitters in a trade I just dont see him being what they believe he is going to be. I seen him play a number of times in Peoria I wasnt that impress with his pitch selection and his defense isnt that great. I believe that his poor pitch selection will kill him in the higher levels.

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  • KB

    Ace, I don’t have remotely as much info as Matt S about our prospects, but I presume that Castro has a high “floor” because of his non-hitting skills. A SS can be valuable even when he’s a poor hitter (see Izturis, Cesar).

    • Ace

      That was my guess, too, though that’s part of why it makes me curious (as Guzman was also a shortstop prospect at Castro’s age).

      • Matt S

        I say he has a high floor because even if his power and walks never come around, he’ll be a major league player. He has enough defense at a premium position to be able to get away with being below average defensively. Even at the height of his prospectdom, it was pretty well understood that Guzman was eventually a third baseman. Castro on the other hand, will be an at least average defensive shortstop with a near .300 batting average. That’s a good MLB player, and anything on top of that is gravy.

        Another factor is plate discipline, as that is perhaps the most common way guys flare out. Guzman for example consistently struck out on 25% of his plate appearances without taking many walks. There are relatively few big time prospects who were busts and didn’t have major strike zone control issues. Castro last season struck out only about 10% of the time, while walking about 5%, and combined with his quick line drive swing and there’s not much to worry about in that department.

        Vitters on the other hand takes so few walks that it’s detrimental to his power ceiling and offensive production, which are big deals when you’re a weak fielding third baseman.