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February 9, 2012

Prospects Will Break Your Heart

What Could Go Wrong in 2012: Chicago White Sox/Pacific Tech

by Jason Parks

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Prospect #1: C Chris Knight
Background with Player: Video analysis.
Who: Catcher Chris Knight, the former top pick in the draft who many consider the best prospect in recent memory, has let his off-field issues and indiscretions affect his on-field focus. As a result, his overall production hasn’t lived up to his enormous ceiling. His raw tools are so electric that boredom has become an intrinsic byproduct; the developmental staff takes the brunt of Knight’s ennui, which usually forces the former prodigy to seek attention through histrionics. When he’s on point, there isn’t a prospect that can match his combination of tools and feel for the game.

What Could Go Wrong in 2012: Professor Jerry Hathaway, director of player development and de facto mentor to the future star, has been adamant that Chris Knight won’t graduate to the majors until he finishes what he started in the minors. Knight lacks the motivation to achieve for the reductive sake of achievement, so the extra pressure being applied to the promising backstop will either propel the prospect to the heights his tools suggest are possible, or the immature talent will withdraw from the forced responsibility, and instead choose to live in the frenzied moments of his own arrested development.

Prospect #2: SS Mitch Taylor
Background with Player: Video analysis; industry sources.
Who: Taylor was signed as a 15-year-old and tasked with following in Chris Knight’s footsteps as the next great prospect in the Pacific Tech system. He has moments of incandescent brilliance coupled with emotional doubts and insecurities so cavernous that they threaten to derail his genius. His tools are immature, but the flash of promise can be so bright that several talent evaluators I spoke with said Taylor’s ceiling could eclipse all others that came before him.

What Could Go Wrong in 2012: Despite owning an adult’s on-field skill set, Taylor is still very much a child off of it. He is struggling to assimilate into Pacific Tech’s pressure-cooker culture, finding his introverted and solemn personality to be at odds with the majority of his contemporaries. Because of his youth and his status coming into the organization, many find the whiz-kid prospect to be foreign and distant, a talent whose ego is out to kill all others with its quiet gaze and unassuming approach. In an almost unheralded move, Professor Hathaway elected to give Taylor his first professional assignment at that Laser level, the most distinguished assignment at Pacific Tech, putting him amongst the cream of the crop, including Chris Knight, the top prospect in the sport.

Prospect #3: RHP Addison Reed
Background with Player: My eyes; industry sources.
Who: Reed was a third-round selection in the 2010 draft. He’s a big-bodied reliever who made the improbable journey from Low-A to the majors, dominating in short-bursts at every stop along the way. Armed with a plus-plus fastball that can work in the mid- to upper-90s with some life and a slider that unleashes a world of two-plane hurt on opposing hitters, Reed missed 111 bats in only 78 innings in 2011, and allowed only 14 free passes. He is a legit closer candidate at the major-league level, with two plus-plus offerings and sharp command. As a reliever, Reed doesn’t have many weaknesses in his game.

What Could Go Wrong in 2012: Reed can get a little fastball-dependent, which doesn’t usually matter because his fastball is an explosive pitch with near-elite velocity that he can spot on either side of the plate. He could struggle if his command wavers, or if his slider flattens out a bit, which it did at times in 2011. If he loses the slider, even for a sequence, he becomes more of a one-dimensional arm, and major-league hitters can square up velocity when they know that’s all you have in the tank. To find sustainable success, Reed needs to keep that slider sharp and in sequence while maintaining his command. If that happens—and it should—there is very little to worry about in his immediate future. 

Prospect #4: LHP Lazlo Hollyfeld
Background with Player: Video analysis; industry sources.
Who: Once considered the best pitching prospect in the sport, Hollyfeld let the pressures of the game swallow him up, removing himself from the field and allowing his once off-the-chart skills to sour into solipsism. The reclusive southpaw bucked against convention and lost all of his prospect shine by refusing to speak with the media and building a wall (closet) between himself and the developmental staff. While he’s technically still a prospect, Hollyfeld lacks the youth and the sanity for a team to build around. However, the skills that once made him the most talked-about prospect in the game haven’t diminished, so any positive contribution on his part would be welcomed by the organization, albeit with a hesitant hand and a skeptical eye.

What Could Go Wrong in 2012: Hollyfeld is a complete wild card, capable of brilliance one moment and destructive reclusion the next. As with Chris Knight, the organization looks to control Hollyfeld’s influence on the rest of team, hoping the electricity of his skill set will rub off on the younger prospects and that the damaged social approach touches them not. As an older “prospect,” the projection and ceiling that once existed have eroded, with refined skills and a representational form giving scouts a clear picture of who Hollyfeld is and what he can contribute. That’s also the problem, as there are multiple layers to Lazlo; trying to identify and utilize them for professional gain will only result in the peeling and molting of the representational man, with yet another layer of complexity living underneath. You want him on your team, but the price you pay for such a luxury might be more than you are willing to spend.

Prospect #5: OF Kent
Background with Player: Video analysis.
Who: He’s an outfield prospect who has been in the system for several years; he started his career as a promising middle-of-the-diamond talent but later shifted to a corner, where his skills at the plate limit his overall value. Many in the organization question Kent’s roster spot on the Laser team, with whispers that his long-standing relationship with Professor Hathaway is the reason for the preferential assignment. On the field, Kent is sharp but always looking over his shoulder; his skills peaked early and he has since seen his name trend downward in the prospect queue. Off the field, Kent is known to be a tattletale and a troublemaker, taking the ascension of others personally, with a specific scorn toward Mitch Taylor and his relationship with Professor Hathaway.

What Could Go Wrong in 2012: Kent is going to play at the next level, but he isn’t a star and hasn’t accepted that reality yet. He walks to the field like a five-tool center fielder, but he is merely a man wearing the costume of his former self. With such an intense focus on the rise of the youth in the system, Kent’s priorities have turned from skill refinement to sabotage; he looks to discredit Taylor and Knight in the hopes of regaining the singular admiration of his mentor, Professor Hathaway. The zeal to halt his contemporaries’ progress has retarded and exhausted his own forward progress, making his role on the Laser team a casual formality based on his age and experience rather than a position of merit justified by his on-field production. 

Jason Parks is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jason's other articles. You can contact Jason by clicking here

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