I fancy myself as a pretty good judge of talent.
But sometimes I miss.
Digging through some old baseball cards, I found certain young players who, at the time, I thought were going to be stars; because they were going to be stars, I felt it was prudent to protect their rookie cards not only in plastic looseleafs, but in an individual plastic sheet before putting it into the plastic looseleaf.
Some of the names now appear ridiculous.
Of course there were a few that were good for awhile like Raul Mondesi.
Then there are the Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Greg Maddux, Cal Ripken that have some legitimate value.
It’s a crapshoot to see if a young prospect is going to live up to the hype or not.
We can also look at the drafts from yesteryear and examine the 1st round picks to get a gauge on how easily a players career can falter.
1992 had Phil Nevin, Jeffrey Hammonds, Paul Shuey and Preston Wilson sandwiching Derek Jeter.
In 1993 Darren Dreifort was selected after Alex Rodriguez; after that there were a series of names you might or might not recognize before Billy Wagner was taken. Three players after Wagner, Chris Carpenter was picked.
There are so many variables in a player’s development that the last thing he needs is to be anointed before he’s physically and emotionally ready.
You would think the lesson of caution would have permeated any fan base by now—especially ones like the Yankees and Braves who have known success and recent failure for big time prospects who simply didn’t make it for one reason or another.
But they’re not.
The Braves haven’t placed any undue pressure of Freddie Freeman, but they did place the entire organization’s fortunes on Jason Heyward last year; Bobby Cox went so far as to compare him to Willie Mays. Heyward was one of the rare few able to withstand the hype; we’ll see with Freeman.
Memories of the Yankees trio of homegrown pitchers who were meant to dominate baseball—two of whom failed—should cause hesitation among the Yankees, the media and fans before raving about Dellin Betances and Manny Banuelos.
We hear the fans go off in borderline orgasmic glee at the mere sight of Banuelos and Betances; David Wells makes idiotic statements to the tune of Banuelos being ready to pitch in the majors now; the media runs with the stories because they know that it can create a critical mass of attention.
Do they not remember Joba Chamberlain and Ian Kennedy? Of the three young pitchers, only Phil Hughes is doing what he was supposed to do; Chamberlain is a nondescript middle-reliever and butt of jokes; Kennedy is in Arizona.
It never stops.
Is Banuelos ready? I doubt it. Physically perhaps he can compete; but emotionally? Do they really want to take that chance now? Especially with the starting rotation questionable at the back end?
Two prospects who did make it were Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry; both had moments of true greatness; both flamed out with drug, alcohol and personal problems before they could be what their abilities suggested. Yes, they had good careers, but they were nowhere near what they were supposed to be; what they should’ve been.
Former Mets GM Frank Cashen always lamented rushing both to the majors and felt partially responsible for their off-field failings. It’s not a remote concept that both Strawberry and Gooden would’ve been better equipped to deal with the spotlight had they spent full seasons in Triple A before coming to the majors.
Is Cashen being too hard on himself? Probably. Both Gooden and Strawberry would’ve found trouble whether they were in the majors at 19 and 21 respectively or 21 and 23.
To their credit, the Yankees are steadfastly refusing to rush Banuelos and Betances despite their tattered starting rotation; but that’s not stopping the lust.
This is one of the reasons it was so important that they get Cliff Lee—so they didn’t have to make that decision so quickly; the decision to try and win now with pitchers who could help that end or leave them in the minors to grow as players and people.
Will they make the same error they did with Chamberlain and let the lofty hopes of a franchise simmer like an unstable volcano, unleash him to the world, then deal with the fallout from scaling back and placing him in a preferable role?
I doubt we’ll see Banuelos or Betances coming up to the big leagues this season other than in September for a look-see at the big leagues. And if that means missing the playoffs, so be it.
The instant gratification from a youngster who’s homegrown and deemed “ready” and simultaneously fills a need is tempting; it’s a siren whose true face and consequences are known only in the aftermath.
Naturally it’s more of a point of pride to say, “these are our players”. That’s why there’s such a bond between Yankees fans and the “core four” of Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera; they weren’t mercenaries; they’re Yankees; they bleed pinstripes and there’s a connection that comes with that.
The Mets of Gooden and Strawberry could say the same thing; regardless of the success the duo had in latter years with the Yankees, they’re still Mets. It was that way with Lenny Dykstra in his star years with the Phillies—he didn’t look right in a uniform other than that of the Mets.
The Braves had that with John Smoltz, Tom Glavine and Chipper Jones. The Phillies have it with Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Cole Hamels.
It’s a comfort to say, “they’re ours”.
What’s missed is how rarely that happens; that young players come up together; bleed, fight, scrap and win. That nostalgia for days gone by and the realization it may not happen again explains why it hit people so hard when Pettitte retired; a piece of that history is gone; it’s a form of baseball mortality and the innate knowledge of the passage of an era.
But they’re trying to force it to happen again with the youngsters the Yankees have accumulated; it’s bad enough to saddle young players with the hopes of a franchise; it’s worse to force it on them.
In fact, it’s a recipe for disaster.
We’ve seen it over-and-over again.