First of, thanks so much for reading this week. I hope it’s been as fun for you to read as it has been for us to write. With Prospect Week here at TYA coming to a close, we thought we’d end at the beginning and tell you all how we got into the notion and practice of following prospects. I’ll lead off with mine, and the others will be after the jump.
Matt Imbrogno: Like many Yankee fans my age, 24, the first prospect I really remember hearing about a lot was Phil Hughes. He was drafted while I was in high school and was developing over my first few years of college, and even if you didn’t have an eye on the minors, you were hearing about this guy. The first I ever really remember thinking about minor league prospects, though, as probably in 1995. I was 8 at the time and went to my first Yankee game. My dad bought me a program, which was (and still is) an issue of Yankees Magazine with a scorecard in the middle. Somewhere towards the back of that magazine, they had a section devoted to the minor leagues. Back then, I was lucky to go to one Yankee game a year and whenever I bought a program (every time), I would always check that section, curious as to how the unsung players of professional baseball were doing. The minors and prospects, though, weren’t something I followed closely until 2006, though. My friend Mike Rogers alerted me to just how much Joba Chamberlain was dominating the Hawaiian Winter League. Joba, along with Hughes, was the first prospect I started tracking. That, of course, grew to Austin Jackson, Brett Gardner, etc. We’re definitely lucky to live in a time when information abounds and access is pretty widespread because it makes following prospects much easier and much more fun.
Mike Eder: I suppose it all starts with the Phil Hughes hype. Back in those days my main source for Yankee news was straight from the Yankees’ website itself, and I recall reading a puff piece in 2005 about our future ace. It feels like yesterday, but the last seven years has been a growing whirlwind of research. Pending Pinstripes use to be my bible, and I followed EJ and Mike Axisa’s work as they moved around the blogosphere. Eventually, I decided to invest in milb.tv and started listening to Trenton games. From the preliminary prospect articles of Yankees.com to collecting my own game footage and logs, my strengths have certainly evolved, but most important around the more readily available statistics. Whenever I see something impressive in numbers, I check out what’s available on YouTube, but my goal this season is to get down-and-dirty in firsthand amateur scouting experience.
Eric Schultz: My initial interest in prospects was stoked at a young age by the major league debuts of two heralded prospects: Derek Jeter and Ruben Rivera. Jeter was supposed to be the next great Yankee shortstop, and did not disappoint throughout his illustrious career. Rivera, a toolsy power-hitting outfielder, was supposed to be the next Micky Mantle, at least according to the cover of Baseball America. Obviously, he did not live up to the hype, instead becoming more famous for being Mariano Rivera‘s cousin and stealing Derek Jeter’s glove. I wanted to know how to predict whether a young player would end up becoming a bust like Rivera or a stud like Jeter. At that time, and still today, prospects represent infinite possibility and excitement for the future.
The late 90′s and early 2000′s saw the Yankees show virtually no interest in the farm system, with an embarrassing string of 1st-round busts. The drafting of Eric Duncan and Phil Hughes in successive years in the 1st round got me excited about the possibility of two more homegrown impact players, and I began to track their progress throughout the minors. As EJ mentioned, there was very little minor league coverage at that time. I was eventually able to scratch my prospect itch at Mike Axisa’s In George We Trust (I got hooked when he compared then 17-year old Jose Tabata‘s performance in the GCL to Carlos Beltran) and EJ’s Pinstripe Potentials, two of the first places to focus on the Yankee farm (and later working with EJ at Pending Pinstripes). In the years of reading and writing about prospects, the level of coverage and knowledge on the internet has gotten better and better, allowing even the casual fan to keep up with their team’s top prospects.
E.J. Fagan: Way back in 2006, I was blogging at my first blog, called Fire Joe Torre (I look back at that blog in horror. I was a terrible writer when I started). After a season of writing about how much I disliked Torre, I ran out of bad things to say about him around mid-October. I started looking around for things to write about, and decided to rank the Top-30 Yankee prospects, with short profiles of each one. I previously had no real interest in baseball prospects, but did love to follow hockey prospects. I took my knowledge from hockey prospects and some post-Moneyball statistical hubris and started writing. Very few people on the internet (basically just Mike Axisa’s old blog, In George We Trust, and a few subscription sites) were writing about prospects at the time, so it really caught on. Toward the end of the top-30 rankings, each post started getting 40 or 50 comments, which was insane for a rookie blogger like myself back in the day.
I realized that I had found a niche that was no adequately filled, so I started reading up on everything-prospects, and started writing almost exclusively about prospects at a new blog. The blog really caught on, enough that the old network MVN caught wind of it and asked me to fill Axisa’s shoes at the now-defunct Pending Pinstripes blog, My fate was pretty much locked into prospects at that point.
There’s something exciting about following a team’s young players. Sabremetrics has eliminated a lot of the mystery from the game at the major league level, but a cloud of uncertainty still exists over players down deep in the minor leagues. I love the intellectual exercise of trying to interpret bits and pieces of information and predict the future. On top of that, there are few things out there less satisfying than watching a player that you’ve followed since they are 16 or 18 years and hit a home run in the major leagues. Even if they are traded to Seattle four months later.
Brad Vietrogoski: When I was in my teens and I became smart enough to be a baseball fan as well as a Yankee fan, the first thing I wanted to do was become more knowledgeable about was statistics. I was never a big believer in the Tim McCarver or Joe Morgan intangibles/grit/heart school of thought when it came to baseball, so I figured I was going to need to know my stuff when it came to statistics to really be able to understand and appreciate the game. I jumped on the sabermetric bandwagon when that started to kick and I’m still learning more about that today. The way I see it, if you want to be able to intelligently talk about the game of baseball you have to know and understand the numbers of the game.
That same logic applies to prospects. It’s one thing to know the 25-man roster inside and out, and to have a firm statistical grasp of the players’ strengths and weaknesses. But to truly know and understand and be able to intelligently talk about a team and its strengths and weaknesses and what they can/should do to address them, you have to know more than just the Major League roster. You have to know what kind of talent and depth is in the Minor League system and how it can be used to help the team, be it through internal call-ups or trades. The last thing I wanted to sound like was the steady stream of people calling into WFAN proposing idiotic “Gardner and B-Level Prospect and D-Level Prospect for Albert Pujols” trades, so I made a point to follow the goings on of each Minor League team and read as many scouting reports and profiles on individual prospects as I could. Then when I started my blog in ’09, I started following more closely to incorporate prospect talk into my writing.
If you want to be a real fan for your team, the best thing you can be is well informed. And what better way to be well informed than to know about the players at every level of the organization?
Domenic Lanza: I wish that I could offer some sort of defining moment in my life that lead me towards prospecting, or offer some musings on the je ne sais quoi of the unknown, or a childlike wonderment with the hopes and dreams affixed to my favorite team’s prospects … and I hope that you, the reader, will imagine that I said something awe inspiring in that regard. My love for all things prospects mostly boils down to my natural want to read and research and learn about the most subjective of ideas. Such desire has lead me into film criticism and my current legal profession, as I strive to absorb as much knowledge as possible. I realize that that sounds all kinds of conceited … or crazy … or nonsensical – it sounds that way as I’m attempting to transcribe it, for what it’s worth. I love to learn. I love to sift through varied opinions and transmogrify them into something I can call my own. I love to ask questions and raise doubts. With baseball in general, it seems as if there’s almost always a safe, black letter answer to these questions. When it comes to prospects, thought…
Well, in the end I suppose it does come down to all of those ephemeral ideals that I alluded to in my opening sentence.