Around this time of year, the term “prospect” becomes the sexiest word to baseball insiders and the most mysterious to the casual fan. I mean, aren’t they all prospects at some point? The typical pro is probably significantly better than any guy you’ve ever played with. Hell, you were a legend in Connecticut if you could get this creepy guy who always wore a Pirates hat to one of your games, and none of us ever found out if he was actually a scout.
Scouts are for the All Staters, the record setters, the guys who can “touch” 90 MPH off a mound or hit 400 foot homeruns. Those are the guys who make it to the pros. But if you consider the fact that only a small fraction of the players with that much talent will ever make it to the big leagues, much less become a mainstay on any roster, why is it that prospects seem to always get in the way of a blockbuster trade?
This all hit me on Saturday night when I took my little league team to see a Triple-A game between the Pawtucket Red Sox and Columbus Clippers. I found myself familiar with only a few of the guys playing. Andy Marte and Josh Barfield were considered number one prospects by Baseball America only a few seasons ago. And Matt LaPorta was a key piece in the C.C. Sabathia trade last summer. But I was also willing to bet that just about every guy on the field had once been considered an elite player, whether it was in high school, college or internationally.
So I did a little research. On Saturday at McCoy Stadium, there was at least a half dozen players who were probably considered future Hall of Famers when they were kids. Seven former All Americans were on the field. Four were state players of the year. Three were first round picks. Virtually all of them had set either school or state records for homeruns or strikeouts. Marte was rich before ever stepping foot on American soil and LaPorta is considered one of the greatest college hitters in history.
Then there are guys like Wes Hodges, the Clippers third basemen. Hodges was so talented that after suffering an injury before his senior year in high school, the guy switched to batting left handed, hit .430, and lead his team to the state finals. Or how about Chris Duncan, a new addition to Paw Sox, who was considered the best player on a high school team that featured six future Major Leaguers, including Ian Kinsler?
All that talent, all those top prospects, and you know what? Of all the guys playing on Saturday night, none are considered as valuable as they once were. Zero. Not even LaPorta, who showed very little ability to drive the ball in his first stint in the majors.
But teams refuse to get the message. The defending World Champions are letting prospects get in the way of acquiring Roy Halladay, arguably the game’s best pitcher. Word is the Red Sox, a team with what can only be considered an anemic offense, won’t trade Clay Bucholz to the Indians for Victor Martinez. Everyone is terrified of dealing away potential All Star, even if it means getting a proven one.
Someone needs to tell these general managers to take a look at their own minor league rosters. All of those guys were considered prospects by someone, somewhere, at some point in time. And virtually none will ever play in the big leagues. If you look at it that way, doesn’t it make it easier to deal the unknown commodities?
Doesn’t it just make sense?