Scarpetta in Crew's camp years early
Young right-hander on 40-man roster due to quirk in rules
PEORIA, Ariz. -- Cody Scarpetta and the Brewers are on the clock.
The broad-shouldered, 20-year-old right-hander is in his first big league camp about four years ahead of schedule because of a rules technicality. Scarpetta debuted in a "B" game on a back field at the Dodgers' sprawling new Spring Training facility in Glendale, Ariz., on Monday. The appearance started Scarpetta on a fast track that he hopes will lead to the Major Leagues.He's not there quite yet. Scarpetta couldn't locate his curveball, left a handful of 89-91-mph fastballs up in the strike zone and was knocked around by a Dodgers lineup that included big leaguers Juan Pierre and Andre Ethier. Scarpetta was charged with a run on three hits, one walk and two wild pitches in a 4-3 Brewers win in front of a few dozen fans -- including his dad, Dan, a left-hander who was Milwaukee's third-round Draft pick in 1982. "Obviously, I want to do a little better, but I was excited," Scarpetta said after his one-inning debut. "First big league camp, first big league-type game against some big league hitters. It was the first, but there are many more to go." Opportunity will come much more quickly for Scarpetta than your typical 11th-round Draft pick, and his accelerated path to the big leagues offers a lesson in baseball's often confusing roster rules.
Typically, a high-school pick -- Scarpetta came out of Guilford High School in Rockford, Ill. -- can spend five years in the Minor Leagues before he must be protected on the 40-man roster. Players who go unprotected after that time are exposed to the Rule 5 Draft, and can be snatched away by another team.
After a player is on the 40-man roster, he still has three or four Minor League options, according to a formula that is confusing even to some front office officials. In order to put a player from the 40-man roster in the Minors, a club must use one option per season, and then it can send that player back and forth all year without using another.
So, a typical high schooler can be drafted at 18, spend five seasons in the Minors and then three more seasons on the 40-man roster before he is out of options and must be exposed to waivers. At that point, he would be 26 or 27 years old.
The Brewers will not have control of Scarpetta for nearly that long because an unexpected injury prompted the team to void the prospect's original contract. When Milwaukee re-signed Scarpetta, the rules made the team place him on the 40-man roster following his first season instead of his fifth. That, in turn, meant his "option clock" started ticking four years early.
"It's a plus for him, I would say, because it starts the clock," said Brewers director of baseball operations Tom Flanagan, who was the assistant to amateur scouting director Jack Zduriencik when Milwaukee drafted Scarpetta.Scarpetta was projected as a second- or third-round pick in the run-up to the 2007 Draft, but he tore a tendon at the base of his middle finger that spring and required surgery. Scarpetta slipped to the Brewers at No. 341 overall, and was considering attending junior college to boost his Draft stock when the Brewers came back less than an hour before the August signing deadline with what he deemed an acceptable offer. A week later, Scarpetta says, he re-ruptured the tendon during a throwing session. A physical exam revealed that he needed another surgery, and prompted the Brewers to void Scarpetta's contract and re-sign him for significantly less.
In his first pro season, Scarpetta went 2-0 with a 2.23 ERA in 12 games for Brewers rookie league affiliates, then posted an 8.03 ERA in a four-game stint in the Hawaiian Winter League.Scarpetta views his uncommon circumstances as a plus. "I didn't even know if I was going to be able to pick up a ball again, so the fact they came with another offer meant something," Scarpetta said. "Now I feel like this is just an amazing situation for me. You play the cards you're dealt, and I have pretty good cards in front of me right now." Not that it has been easy. Scarpetta has a long scar that zigs and zags across his right palm, the result of those two surgeries. Because he was such a highly regarded prospect, he saw a number of doctors before undergoing the first procedure, and the prognosis was not great. "There wasn't a doctor who could guarantee he would ever pitch again," said the prospect's father, Dan. "The doctor we saw in Chicago said upfront that this could be a career-ending injury for him. You see a kid's dreams right there in front of you, and they might get away." Dad knows the feeling. He was Milwaukee's third-round pick in 1982 and pitched in the organization from '82-83 and '85-88 (he was traded to the Rangers along with former Brewers manager Ned Yost in '84, then returned the following season). Dan Scarpetta was in big league camp with the Dodgers in '89 and had a chance to make the team when a left elbow injury derailed his career. He visited Dr. Frank Jobe, a Los Angeles team doctor, who recommended Tommy John surgery. Instead, he chose to hang up his spikes. "The way I look at this situation for Cody, it's win-win," Dan Scarpetta said. "The Brewers want him to do well, but at the same time, he's 20 years old, and he's got 30 professional innings, and here he is in Major League camp with everyone's eyes looking at him. I tell him, 'There's no pressure on you at all.' He just needs to gather experience." Brewers general manager Doug Melvin owned a pair of those eyes on Monday. He stood behind home plate with manager Ken Macha throughout the seven-inning game and got his first look at Scarpetta. "It's way too early to put any pressure on a high school pitcher who has barely pitched [as a professional]," Melvin said. "He doesn't have nearly enough innings to give an evaluation. You just let those guys go play. I'm a big believer in that guys will help you make your determinations." Scarpetta was not sure about the date of his next appearance. He hopes it falls before Saturday, when the fan club that includes his grandparents, his parents and his cousin heads back to the snowy Midwest. Scarpetta will probably begin the 2009 season at Class A Wisconsin, less than 200 miles from his northern Illinois home. "I've gone through all the scenarios of, 'How am I going to make it up there with three more options?'" Scarpetta said. "But all I can control is what I do on the mound. I still have a lot to learn about how to play the big league game, and I'm here in camp talking to everybody I can talk to. I'm soaking it all up."
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.