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March 30, 2010

Minor Issues

Following the Farm with Jonathan Mayo

by David Laurila

Jonathan Mayo is a senior writer for MLB.com/MiLB.com and authors the B3: Big, Bald and Beautiful column at the MLBlogs Network. He has covered the minor leagues since 1999.

On covering minor-league baseball: "It’s always interesting to go to minor-league cities, because the teams are so intertwined with the communities and I love that kind of stuff. As for the players, every single one of them is chasing a dream, no matter how miniscule the odds that they’re going to make it. You can talk to anybody, whether it’s the kid who just got a $5 million signing bonus or the guy who is spending his fourth season in Double-A, and they’re both chasing the same thing."

On minor-league journeymen: "A guy who stands out to me a lot is Todd Donovan, who recently retired. This was a guy who played Triple-A for maybe a couple of weeks and could never get ahead. Every time it looked like he was starting to make inroads and make an impression, he got hurt. He was one of these run-through-a-brick-wall kind of players who only played at one speed. The craziest injury that he had—and he came back from it—was in Double-A, at maybe age 26. He ran into the wall, the ball hit him in the eye, and he broke his orbital bone. It was gruesome, to where he thought he wasn’t going to see again. A year later, he was back playing baseball. This was a guy who had a good head on his shoulders and was fairly realistic. When you’re 26 and playing in Double-A, you understand that you’re probably not going to make it to the big leagues, yet there he was, playing another year. As much as I love the top prospects, and I rank them, and I see them in the Fall League, I love the Todd Donovans of the world who just grind it out every year. They come back and it‘s, ‘Why is this guy still playing baseball?’ For me, those are the guys who make the fabric of the minor leagues what it is. The top prospects are fleeting and then they’re in the big leagues. It’s the guys who are there every year—the Todd Donovans and the Adam Hyzdus—who make it so intriguing."

On top prospects and egos: "I think they all have egos. You kind of have to—don’t you?—to be successful at anything, at that level. But in terms of being able to keep your ego in check, or at least not have it be the first thing you notice about a guy, Jason Heyward comes to mind. He’s getting a ton of ink right now, and deservedly so, and is going to be in the big leagues, which means that my days of covering him will be over, but as good as he is, he’s a better person. Sometimes you’ll hear teams say that about a player and you’ll think to yourself, 'No he isn’t.' But Jason Heyward is. He’s polite, he’s respectful, and he’s just ridiculously talented. The ego doesn’t come out with him so much."

On media-friendly players: "Drew Storen has become one of my favorites. He’s just getting started, but he’s not going to be a minor leaguer for very long. He just gets it. His dad was in the media, so he understands how it works. To me, it’s always about who is going to be accommodating and a talker, and who won’t blow you off. That’s one of the things I like about covering the minors—98 percent of the time, not only do you not get 'big leagued' by players, but they’re actually thankful for you to have come over to talk to them. Even the top prospects. Maybe that doesn’t always last, but for the most part it’s true. It makes this job a lot easier when the players want to talk to you."

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Premium Article Spring Conversations (03/29)
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