Originally posted on Fangraphs  |  Last updated 12/9/11

In free agency, the Los Angeles Dodgers struck quickly signing a pair of classic 4-5 starters to stabilize the back of their big league rotation in veterans Chris Capuano and Aaron Harang. When healthy, Capuano has proven to be a solid starter over his career providing relatively strong peripherals and should prove a discount over the life of the contract if he logs even 300 innings over the life of the deal.

And while Harang posted fourteen wins and a stellar 3.64 ERA, those surface numbers haven’t been important to the SABR minded since Ronald Reagan was President. In this rotation, Harang is likely the number five starter.

De La Rosa video after the jump

But this piece isn’t about the merits of those deals. It’s about how prospect injuries have the ability to force an organization to pivot quickly and change direction in a single off-season and the extreme value of prospects at a time where free agents are receiving millions.

Last summer, top prospect Rubby De La Rosa succumbed to Tommy John surgery after a meteoric rise from rookie ball to the bigs in about two years. During his 60 inning stint in Los Angeles, his averaging nearly a strikeout per inning, combined with a ground ball percentage of nearly 48% placed him in the class of elite pitching prospects in spite of an unacceptably high walk rate.

When scouting “Rubby” in person, his fastball was literally the best I’ve ever had the opportunity to see. What left me in awe was not the fact he was the first pitcher to ever touch 97, 98 and 99 MPH on my radar gun in the same outing, but that he was able to throw 96 MPH with some semblance of command, late drop and fade.

The unpolished righty paired his dominating fastball with multiple off-speed pitches which flashed above average in his slider and changeup. Even more impressive was that De La Rosa maintained velocity in the 85-88 MPH range with both offerings redefining the term “power arsenal” in my scouting notebook.

After recording a scouting report on De La Rosa, a contact emailed me and let me know every conversation he had with a Dodgers front office employee quickly turned to the development of the next great starting pitcher in Los Angeles – Rubby De La Rosa.

Then, his arm fell off – at least temporarily

In general, Tommy John surgery is not considered a career threatening injury, but De La Rosa’s case shows the extended time required for a player to return and contribute is long enough to force an organization to spend millions and change direction. “Rubby” should be healthy for 2013, but his role will be left for further discussion with two “grizzled” veterans in tow.

With De La Rosa, it isn’t such a stretch to call him the 11 million dollar man as the amount spent on Aaron Harang, minus what De La Rosa’s minimum salaries would have been over the next two years are a blow to the club both financially and on the field as De La Rosa’s 0.6 WAR over 60 innings matched Harang’s total in 170 2/3.

From a scouting standpoint, the dollars and cents of this forces me to reconsider the value of all pitching prospects, not just those in De La Rosa’s class. In terms of WAR, simple ratios allow us to envision De La Rosa being three times as valuable as Aaron Harang over an equivalent number of innings. Additionally, Harang’s salary will be 12.5 times what De La Rosa’s would have been in 2012. If this were a restaurant, Gordon Ramsey would be on a profanity laced tirade – Rather fitting analogy considering the bankruptcy proceedings.

But what about lesser talents such as Brett Oberholtzer of the Houston Astros whom I refer to frequently as an uninspiring, but functional pitching prospect. In scouting him on the same day as Rubby De La Rosa, Randall Delgado and Nathan Eovaldi, the stout left-hander ranked a distant fourth in terms of talent and upside. However, I’d venture to say he’d provide 0.6 WAR in Houston tomorrow at the league minimum. Is that not also extremely valuable?

When an Aaron Harang receives 12 million over two years, the value of even a somewhat marginal pitching prospect who profiles as a 4/5 starter becomes significantly more important for me. As somebody who began scouting prospects looking for future superstars, experience and scenarios such as this one have forced me to develop a more nuanced approach in an attempt to identify value…. period.

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