Bamboo theory. Of course. Right. Bamboo theory.
Wait … wait?
I’m not going to lie, when I first heard the analogy, I rolled my eyes. All I could think of was how the Rockies weren’t making any moves and the general manager was referring to a plant native to East and Southeast Asia. How could it have anything to do with the Rockies and cultivating a winning organization that can compete with the serious-spending Padres, Giants, and Dodgers, not to mention the strong-prospect-toting Diamondbacks?
When Rockies GM Bill Schmidt was talking to MLB Network at the Winter Meetings last week, former Rockies GM Dan O’Dowd asked Schmidt about transitioning from a scout to scouting director GM and what’s changed. Schmidt replied that it was “staying focused with everybody else, trying to get everybody on the same page – player development, international and professional scouting, … and I think we made some good strides last year.”
Then he pitched the bamboo theory.
“We’re not where we need to be. But I use the bamboo theory,” Schmidt said. “There’s a lot of stuff growing underneath that people don’t see, and it’s gonna pop here. When it does, we’re going to be good.”
After some more time to think about the metaphor and learn about bamboo (on top of not a lot of Rockies news to analyze), it does seem to be a pretty apt comparison. There are hundreds of variations of bamboo, but many thrive because of a strong rhizome system that stores nutrients to provide a strong foundation under the soil.
While it can take two to five years to reach the point where it can be harvested, bamboo can then become one of the fastest-growing plants in the world. During the growing season, bamboo can grow more than one foot per day. After seven to 10 years, “you could have high quality, harvestable timber” where approximately “20% of the total plantation inventory can be harvested every year without damaging the plant or its productivity,” according to Guadua Bamboo.
Getting back to a baseball farm system, bamboo theory doesn’t sound so bad. Considering Schmidt was named the interim GM in May of 2021 and then the GM in October of 2021, he’s either in his first or second year at the helm, depending on how you look at it. In terms of nurturing a young team, Schmidt has made progress but it’s too soon to expect it to show up in the MLB win column.
The Rockies farm system improved significantly from 2021 to 2022, jumping from No. 27 in the 2021 preseason MLB Pipeline rankings to No. 9 by the 2022 midseason rankings. The Rockies have four top-100 MLB prospects: outfielder Zac Veen (No. 24), shortstop Ezequiel Tovar (No. 28); shortstop Adael Amador (No. 64), and catcher Drew Romo (No. 66).
Tovar made his MLB debut in 2022 and Schmidt said he’ll have every opportunity in spring training to earn the 2023 starting job. Veen could debut in 2023, Romo could follow as soon as 2024, and Amador could arrive in 2025. If we count 2022 as Schmidt’s first full season, then the bamboo theory would schedule harvestable results for 2025 or 2026.
One of the benefits of bamboo is that if cultivated and harvested correctly, it sustains itself vegetatively. In other words, new plants grow out of the same rhizome instead of having to start all over again. Translated back to baseball, if the “scout and develop” method is done properly, the system can continue to thrive.
Despite not having GM experience and despite not embracing the analytics that drives many successful organizations, Schmidt is a veteran scout. If we are going all in on this metaphor, he’s good at finding rhizomes and now he’s in charge of planting and maintenance. He’s also optimistic about the production coming up in support of and after the current top prospects.
“I think we have best group of young Latin players that we’ve ever had in my time with the Rockies,” Schmidt said in the same MLB Network interview. “…My point is our system is getting closer. I think good things are about to happen for us as we move the next group of young Rockies players forward.”
While the bamboo theory seems applicable to plants in the tropics and even mountainous climates in Japan, will they work in Colorado? It turns out there are many kinds of bamboo that can survive in climates that reach -20 degrees and come out of snowy winters just fine. “However, the growth rate is dependent on local soil and climatic conditions,” according to the American Bamboo Society.
If the Rockies try to build like other teams, will it work? Or do they need a special team of coaches and a robust analytics department to study, learn from, and cater to local conditions? Can the Rockies provide a suitable climate? Can they turn prospects into stars? If they do, will they just trade them away or let them walk in free agency? Can they restore Kyle Freeland and Antonio Senzatela and develop more arms?
As Purple Row’s Kenneth Webber pointed out earlier this week, the position players are promising, but the pitching stock is a little less loaded. It’s also what the Rockies need most to succeed.
Only time will provide answers. At least for now there is reason to be hopeful for Rockies fans. Not for big offseason moves or more wins in 2023 or even 2024. Perhaps Schmidt’s final words of the MLB Network interview are the most true.
“We have to stay patient,” he said. “That’s who we are and we are going to play it out and be patient.”
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There are many reasons to be hopeful that Peter Lambert can be healthy in 2023. First among them is the Rockies desperate need for a solid rotation, followed by his high strikeout potential. Also on the list is the fact that his brother, Jimmy, is pitching for the White Sox and the brothers could face off against each other. It could happen in mid-August when Chicago comes to Coors Field. Fingers crossed.
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