Developmentally Disoriented

Media, Players, Spring Training

You need only look at Mets camp with Jason Isringhausen or Yankees camp with Mark Prior to see the pitfalls of prospects carting the yoke of hype and expectations encumbering their careers.

Isringhausen was able to overcome his failures as a part of Generation K—the Mets trio of young pitchers that were meant to challenge the Braves in the mid-to-late 1990s—and become an All Star closer. Prior’s trying hang on somehow, some way after injuries tore apart his body and robbed him of his swagger; it’s made him something of a punchline.

There are other examples of failed expectations that were the fault of the organizations that were supposed to nurture said talents; the media that needed “stuff” to write about in the lazy days of spring training; and the players themselves. Joba Chamberlain, Stephen Strasburg, Matt Anderson and Phil Nevin—all recognizable names at one time or another who have been hurt, watered down or bounced from place-to-place trying to make good on their promise.

Pirates manager Clint Hurdle, himself a Sports Illustrated coverboy, can testify to the landmines of irrational hopes and dreams. His career with the Royals came undone after he was an important part of their 1980 pennant winner and he had to return to the minor leagues to learn to be a utilityman before squeezing a few extra years out of his playing career.

It’s a cycle.

Now all we’re hearing about is the Royals crop of young players who are on the horizon promising of better days for one of the more moribund and hapless franchises in baseball over the past 20 years.

Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas are two of the Royals prize players who are in spring camp with the big club, but are ticketed for more minor league seasoning. The club’s hopes to emerge from laughingstock to legitimate contender are riding on these players.

The same excitement is evident for the Yankees with Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances. Lusty reports of how impressive they are—in FEBRUARY!!!—are indicative of the same mistakes being made again.

Was it so long ago that Chamberlain, Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy were meant to replicate the Red Sox developmental apparatus with Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz?

How’d that work out?

The Royals aren’t exactly state-of-the-art in developing players. Billy Butler is becoming a top-tier basher, but Alex Gordon has stagnated; Luke Hochevar is still finding his way; and GM Dayton Moore, for all the credit he’s receiving for rebuilding the farm system (credit he deserves), doesn’t exactly have a history of being Branch Rickey in his maneuverings at the big league level.

The weak defense regarding Gordon is that Moore didn’t draft him, but Gordon was the 2nd pick in the entire 2005 draft; for a pick that high, Gordon was going to go within the top 10 players either way.

And he didn’t draft Butler either.

Do you trust Moore to make the correct decisions once these young players are deemed “ready” for the big leagues? Considering the lackluster return he got for Zack Greinke in a deal that was totally unnecessary at the time and appeared to be done with needless panic in mind; the signings of Jeff Francoeur and Melky Cabrera with the intention of playing them regularly; and his prior deals since taking over, I have zero faith in him as the head of an organization. He came from the Braves as an assistant to John Schuerholz and was respected for his skills at building a fertile farm system, but has been an abject failure at the big league level with the Royals—there’s no other way to put it.

Hanging one’s hopes on the “future” while indulging in the myth-making is another mistake in development that clubs repeatedly make. Rather than building of a consistent pipeline of productive players, it’s a foundation for failure due to overwhelming expectations that most young players can never reach. The media and fan reactions don’t help, but the fault lies within the club hierarchy for refusing to temper the enthusiasm and sometimes playing into the propaganda for the sake of ticket sales.

They’re responsible because they’re in charge. They can put a stop to it, but don’t.

Is it selfishness? A hard-headed stubbornness? Or are they looking for a reason to keep their jobs?

Perhaps it’s all three.

In the grand scheme, it’s a big mistake.

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