Debating the prospects at Spring Training

Jesse Goldberg-Strassler
March 1, 2012

Look, I respect you. You’re smart, you know your baseball and you know what you’re talking about. Just hear me out on this one.

When’s the best time of year to talk prospects?

It’s not the middle of May. Nor is it when approaching the June draft. It’s not even entering the September call-ups. And it’s most definitely not in the heart of the hot-stove season.

It’s right now. March 1st.

Sure, it’s nice to hear about the 19-year-old carving up the Florida State League. It’s great to fantasize about the prep pitcher who slipped to you in the third round and signed at the deadline. It’s fun to see rookies get a cup of coffee at the end of the season, and it’s downright tantalizing to see how the top experts and analysts rank your team’s best prospects entering as winter rolls along.

But as a baseball fan, you’re in this for one crucial reason. You want to see those golden boys, the ones with the scrapbooks full of rave reviews, help your team win. Not at the minor league level, either.

You want a World Series Championship, and your anticipation starts now. 

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This is the time when everyone, even the folk in cold weather country, gets that hop back in their step, knowing that the warmer days are on their way.

This is the time when a kid can unpack his bags, assert himself among the men, impress the staff, keep the writers on their toes, and send fans into a mad hunt for his Twitter feed (which may or may not exist).

More importantly, this is the time when everyone’s still tied for first. No games have been lost yet. A hot prospect can make a difference.

So show us what you’ve got, Manny Banuelos. Prove yourself, Nate Eovaldi. Step up, Drew Pomeranz. Make your pitch to head up north.

Midway through spring play, you can really begin to cue the prospect debates:

“Is it worth starting his clock a little early?”

“Does he need regular at-bats?”

“Do the early match-ups favor him?”

“Hey, what’ve they got to lose?”

“Let him tear up Triple-A for a bit and then call him up in May.”

Heck, it’s already begun with Mike Trout.

The best part of it all is that the fans aren’t alone in their optimism. The coaches, scouts and team executives are all amped for their young guns. Yes, their praise might be more tempered publicly, but the men with the stopwatches and laptops are looking forward to Shelby Miller’s arrival just as much as anyone leaning over the railing, ball and sharpie in hand.

Each organization has the same archetypes in spring training: the baby-faced farmhand brought in one day from the minor league barracks who opens eyes with skills beyond his years; the injury-hampered disappointment of yesteryear who comes to camp with fresh legs and a fresh attitude; the regular who struggles terribly, laughs it all off, and proves a week into the season that any worries were for naught; and the unknown non-roster invitee who fights his way onto the Opening Day roster.

But in the end, always, the young game-changing superstar owns the headlines.

Who is that player?

Every team has at least one in March, even the lowliest clubs and the most pessimistic fanbase, and they get to rave about him all month long.

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The Author:

Jesse Goldberg-Strassler