Looking through Rosenthal-colored glasses

No first-time player in St. Louis Cardinals major league camp this spring was talked about more than right-handed pitcher Trevor Rosenthal.

It is justified. The 21-year-old has flashed upper-90’s heat, good secondary offerings, a humble attitude, willingness to learn and a feel for the game. The compliments, especially from those already wearing major league uniforms, have a segment of the fan base drooling.

After leaving MLB camp and making one strong minor league outing, Rosenthal was called upon to take the ball for St. Louis against his new Springfield teammates in the Monday exhibition at Hammons Field. The right-hander was again sharp, with four scoreless innings.

In contrast, the relative struggles of the organization’s top prospect Shelby Miller this spring have led some to already start comparing the two. This despite the fact that one pitcher is one full level of play above the other. Over the winter, Miller was The Cardinal Nation’s top prospect for the second year in a row, while Rosenthal clocked in for his debut at number 12.

Miller, 21, has a track record as the organization’s Pitcher of the Year in both 2010 and 2011, reaching Double-A Springfield. Rosenthal, five months older than Miller, spent all of last season at Class-A Quad Cities, where he was the named the top pitcher in the Midwest League playoffs.

This spring, it was the less-experienced Rosenthal who was the last non-roster starting pitcher in big league camp. He remained six days after Miller had been sent out amid concerns that the Texan’s off-season regimen had not pleased the Cardinals.

Rosenthal will open 2012 with Double-A Springfield, while Miller will headline the rotation for Triple-A Memphis. Leaping over A-Advanced Palm Beach entirely is in itself a huge test for Rosenthal, but the organization apparently has the confidence he is ready. Rosenthal currently seems to have the momentum on his side that Miller needs to regain.

Still, Rosenthal remains unproven above Class–A – until he shows his mettle on the mound in games that count this season. Miller’s Triple-A record is also completely blank.

Some Rosenthal supporters are already wondering out loud if the Missouri native will pass Miller and make his major league debut this season. They are apparently making some bold assumptions how Rosenthal will fare in the Texas League, ignoring 40-man roster considerations as well as a number of other solid starting and relief pitchers already proven at the Double-A and Triple-A levels.

The discussions have evolved to wondering aloud about changes in the Cardinals prospect rankings. This week, I had a personal message exchange with a cynical Rosenthal backer – folks I have labeled the “Rosenthralled” (TM). This individual assured me that a 21st-rounder would never be ranked ahead of a first-round draft pick because people like me who rate prospects are inherently biased.

When I suggested he go all the way back to our 2010 rankings, in which we did just that – placing a 22nd-rounder at the head of our top 40 ahead of the heralded first-rounder – the conversation ended abruptly. I haven’t heard from him since.

One key difference is that earlier 22nd rounder, Jaime Garcia, earned his prospect placement by his results on the mound at the upper levels of the system. Rosenthal has his opportunity to take that kind of step forward in 2012.

I like Rosenthal’s potential as well as many, but I wish folks would hold off on the wilder speculation until he demonstrates some success above Class-A. At Memphis in 2012, Miller must prove he is ready for the majors – in all aspects of his preparation.

By their actions on the mound this season, the pitchers will show us whether or not any comparisons between the two will be relevant. In the meantime, “Let’s play ball!”

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