The Prospect Hype Machine
Often times when it comes to prospects there lies the real possibility that eventually the chatter surrounding them will exceed their talent, at least for the time being. For those of us who follow the up and coming players closely and reserve our excitement with guarded optimism avoiding the hyper machine is second nature. We are however, outnumbered. Over the years the hype machine has steamrolled its way through the organization leaving fans sour when the prospects fail to fill the bill. Some of the more recent players to fall victim to this were those that were regrettably tagged as the “killer B’s”; a monicker that invited ridicule from the get go and had miscarriage written all over it. Looking back at the trio of Brackman, Betances and Banuelos, they all enjoyed some steps forward and successes during that summer of 2010 when they burst on to the radar, but was any of that reason to completely ignore what the evaluators had been saying all along? Let’s revisit those reports and see how close they came to fruition… Brackman sported a decent fastball and a very good breaking pitch, both with plus potential. The rub with Brackman was no doubt, his size. The kid was nearly 7 foot tall and all arms and legs. While his potential was amazing, the chances that he could get al his parts in order and consistent was merely a dream. The thought of him ending up as an upper tier starter was far outweighed by his chances of becoming an insurance salesman. Brackman was jettisoned from NY and has yet to break in to the big leagues. Betances is quite similar to the former, in that he also sports a big fastball that has plus potential and an excellent breaking ball to complement it. Dellin also sports a fairly enormous frame, standing 6’8″ and in excess of 250 lbs., which is also a concern when it comes to harnessing and repeating mechanics. With such a large frame and some incredible stuff Dellin’s ceiling is immense, but with an injury history and the struggles that pitchers his size go through, that ceiling was going to be quite difficult to realize. While a top of the rotation spot was considered possible, a middle to late inning relief role was a likelier landing point. Right now Betances is trying to prove he can stick in a rotation, but a bullpen spot may very well be his landing point. He did have a slight adjustment to his delivery that showed up in ST, but it remains to be seen if it will contribute to his consistency issues from inning to inning. Banuleos is basically the antithesis of the former, as a slight framed lefty with a good mix of pitches that relies more on command and poise than raw power. Manny possesses one of the systems best changeups, and his fastball rode up a couple of ticks to reach 96. Before adding a fourth pitch, Banuelos was seen as a guy with the potential of a #2 or 3 starter, although his modest size was under scrutiny for being suspect to injury. Late in 2012 it was determined that rehab from an early season trip to the DL was to result in Tommy John surgery. There’s still a lot of hope for Manny, who was the youngest player in AAA, and has a free and easy delivery that doesn’t look to put too much stress on his frame. Tommy John isn’t uncommon nor the end of the world these days, so the concern is there but on a minor level. In the end, none of the three thus far are very far off the initial reports; one off the team, one looking more suited to a BP role and the other still in play to be a quality starting pitcher. Where it gets convoluted is when people read about a players potential and run with just that as it’s the most likely scenario. It’s not. As much as we would love for all our players to reach their utmost, that stuff just doesn’t happen but in a blue moon. Expecting it is going to leave you disappointed, and quite often at that.
Enter Jose Ramirez. The shiny new toy. The next in line to be devoured by the hype machine. Someone shoot me. Ramirez caught my interest last season when he finally harnessed a breaking pitch that felt comfortable to him and after a rough start pitched very well to finish the season. He rocks a fastball/changeup combo that has plus-plus potential. His velocity climbs as he goes along, climbing into the high 90’s and his change features good depth and fade to it. He does have a bit of an injury history, and has had some issues commanding the zone on a consistent basis, but his stuff is big league. Adding a third pitch that flashes above average to plus potential and you have a big league starter in the making. Key word ladies and gentlemen….potential. I wrote Jose up last year with a mind on keeping a close eye on him in 2013, and boy did he make me look smart. He started off spring training with three appearances, pitching 9 innings striking out 5 and walking none. He showed tremendous command, excellent arm side run on his fastball, a swing and miss changeup and his slider that had finally come to him last season. He was outstanding, and for those of which had yet to see him pitch or knew little about him, he was the next big thing. Before you knew it, fans had a guy who has yet to pitch above A+ ball and exceed 115 innings as making a play for the Bronx in 2013. Fire up the hype machine. Someone shoot me. Somewhat luckily enough, the wheels came off the machine yesterday as Ramirez couldn’t find the zone to save his life and he recorded just one out before getting yanked. In his previous outing he was looked at for a blister that was forming on his pitching hand, so it looks to be something minor, but it did help quench some of the rattling among the fanbase. Whew. I like Ramirez as much as the next guy, but let’s pump the breaks a little here people. I get it, the announcers like him, the coaches and managers like him and of course the fans are along for the ride, but let’s all take a deep breath and relax. I’d like to see him for one stay on the field this year, and for two stay consistent like he did in 2012 after his shaky start. We’ll see him soon enough if he’s for real, in the meantime temper the expectations and relax a little.
There’s plenty of complaints about the Yankees and their overhyped prospects, but is it exclusive to just the Yanks, or do prospects all over baseball fall into the hype machine? I hardly think that this is solely a problem in NY; try following some of the other teams and their youngsters and see if all of their top guys pan out to be all that they could be. When you consider that only 30% of the top ten draftees end up as major leaguers, and the fact that NY hasn’t seen a top ten pick in a long long time, it’s pretty obvious that failure is commonplace, and the hype machine chews then up and spits them out from coast to coast. So who’s to blame? I tend to think it’s a bit of a snowball effect. It starts with the organization talking up their guys but what else do you expect? They’re trying to generate some interest amongst their farm clubs and for good reason…those ballparks need to draw fans too. Then we move on to publications like Baseball America, ESPN, Baseball Prospectus or one of the other numerous publications that talk about prospects. It’s not about touting one teams players over another, and the ML clubs certainly have no control over what gets published, but there is certainly a level of excitement generated by the various prospect lists and rankings that abound. Now we move to the fans, who take all of this and run with it, and sometimes too far as in the early case of Ramirez. I’ll be the first to admit that it’s fun to dream on what some of these guys can become, but in the end we have to realize just how difficult it is to reach that potential and how rarely it happens. The good news is that for every player that breaks your heart, there’s a handful more ready to try and take their place.