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March 13, 2012

Prospects Will Break Your Heart

Spring Training Diary, Days 15 and 16

by Jason Parks

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Day 15, 4:40 PM
My roommate (who you are about to meet) is behind the wheel of a 2006 Ford F150 King Ranch Edition, with comfortable leather bucket seats in the front, a spacious leather bench in the back, and enough headroom to support humans of above-average size who have a propensity to wear cowboy hats when they travel. My roommate is not wearing a cowboy hat, nor have I ever seen him wear a cowboy hat, but he is quite tall, standing 6’4’’ with a Texas build and a Texas-sized pinch of smokeless tobacco between his cheek and gum.

My roommate is also named Jason, and aside from the first name, the passion for baseball, the Texas roots, and the love of FIFA on the PlayStation3, one would think we share little else in common; our age gap creates a plane of separation that even baseball struggles to bridge, as he’s almost ten years my junior and didn’t grow up watching classics like Real Genius or Fletch in his formative years. Oh, Patricia, how I love talking about the movies of my youth. I spend most of my time and money trying to recapture feelings that have long escaped me. We all do this, Patricia; even you. I hope you don’t take that the wrong way. Even if you had poor taste in movies and denied yourself the benefits of psychological rediscovery, I’d still like you. This is probably the sweetest thing I’ve ever said and I hope it makes you love me.

Based on the above information, you might assume that the relationship Roommate Jason and I share is strictly symbiotic, with minor league notes and observations bouncing back and forth, growing in confidence, vetted by four eyes rather than two. Reality finds that the opposites-attract relationship works because Roommate Jason–prospect writer for LoneStarDugout and my roommate on this trip and numerous others before it–happens to be a nice guy who doesn’t ask too many questions about my process, and he doesn’t judge the surface of things just because the surface appears discolored or disoriented. He’s a baseball contemporary and a friend, and when it comes to the Texas Rangers farm system, you aren’t going to find a source as connected, as dedicated, or as comprehensive in their coverage. Roommate Jason will make a fine scout someday, Patricia.

Day 15, 6:00 PM
Roommate Jason is driving along in his oversized truck and I’m riding shotgun, staring out of the passenger side window hoping to spot one of Surprise, Arizona’s finest methamphetamine users. You can spot one of Surprise, Arizona’s finest methamphetamine users [SAFMU] by the make and model of the car they drive, which is usually an American-made sedan like a Buick or a Pontiac. There are an inordinate number of Buicks and Pontiacs on Bell Road at any given time. I’m pretty sure it’s a naturally occurring phenomenon. The exterior of the car is always dirty, which is understandable given the frequency of sandstorms in the area, not to mention the fact that smoking meth doesn’t often prompt someone to wash their Pontiac or Buick with either frequency or skill. The interior of the car is usually lined with the refuse of a fast food feeding. The ashtray is normally agape, with an overflow of butts spilling over onto the gearshift and change-tray, which is also filled with the remains of completed and disregarded cigarettes. The driver’s side window is always down or cracked, and the passenger window seems fortunate to exist at all. Despite the desert climate, it’s a safe bet to assume the air conditioner is either out of commission or being used as a tertiary source of cigarette ash. The skill in which the car is being maneuvered is often a telltale sign of meth usage, including a laissez-faire approach to staying in their lane, or Herculean attempts to make a left-hand turn from the far right lane. 

The face of the person driving the car is a 90% accurate way of determining SAFMU, as they are normally of the Caucasian persuasion, owners of dental damage that borders on Appalachian cartoon, with unkempt and/or unstylish clothing, regrettable haircuts that are aesthetically aligned with multi-colored (perhaps hyper-colored) mid-90s department store retread outfits, facial hair (if male) that refuses to grow with any consistency or pattern, and (if female) either frosted tips that were clearly done by a friend of a friend who once spent three days at a beauty seminar, or perhaps a bangs-heavy and teased hairstyle designed to attract guys who still openly appreciate the band Cinderella and want to have sex on the first date without a bunch of questions or contraceptive nonsense. The number of children in the car vs. the number of car seats in the car is always a factor, and if you can count more car seat-eligible kids than actual car seats, there is a very good chance that a SAFMU is in play. Normally, it doesn’t come down to the number of car seat-eligible children vs. number of car seats for your determination, but it can.

The SAFMU game is my favorite game to play in Surprise, Arizona, and I play it whenever I’m riding shotgun, which is every day because I don’t really like driving and I don’t own a car, and you can’t focus on meth heads in the adjacent lanes when you are trying to operate a vehicle. Patricia, this isn’t a critique on class; it’s just an observation about potential methamphetamine users who are operating a motor vehicle on the same street where I happen to be riding in one. 

Day 15, 8:00PM
Patricia, I forgot to tell you that last Friday I saw the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw face off against one of the top left-handed prospects in the minors, Rangers’ southpaw Martin Perez. It was a battle between the best left-handed pitcher of the present and the best left-handed pitcher of the future, and both happen to be Clayton Kershaw. I’m not just saying that because he’s from Texas and perfect in every way. With his sandy blonde hair, piercing eyes, and aerodynamically superior facial features, Kershaw intimidates the opposition with his physical affect, manipulating their focus before he even throws the ball. Most people don’t realize this, but Clayton Kershaw only throws in the low-80s, with a breaking ball that doesn’t break and a slider that doesn’t slide and a changeup that looks eerily similar to his low-80s fastball. His aesthetic perfection is theater for the eyes, convincing even the best hitters in the world that the stuff emanating from his hand is actually erupting rather than easing. For Halloween last year, Kershaw wore a bag over his head and went as a situational lefty. It was the highlight of the holiday.

Martin Perez remains one of the best young left-handed prospects in the minors, but his developmental ebb and flow can frustrate even the most balanced of perspectives. On a good day, Perez will work his fastball in the 92-95 mph range, and can touch as high as 97, showing decent action on the pitch with a little arm-side run. The changeup can flash beyond plus, with excellent deception created by the arm action and some late fade as it hits the zone. The curveball can feature a tight rotation and intense vertical break, working best at 75-77 mph. When the command is on, Perez can spot the fastball down in the zone and attack with two secondary offerings that he can either throw for strikes or drop out of the zone as chase pitches. On a good day, Perez is a potential number two starter, with three above-average pitches from the left side, strike-throwing ability, and a smile that says, “I’m charming, I like to have a good time, and here is a 95 mph fastball with some life.”

On a bad day, Perez is unbalanced, overthrowing at times and underthrowing at others. When he rushes his mechanical setup, he loses the fluidity of the delivery that allows the fastball to pop and the secondary offerings to play. This also causes his release point to fluctuate, which affects the consistency of his strike-throwing ability. On a bad day, Perez is an underachieving back-of-the-rotation starter that flashes more than fires, frustrates more than finishes, and has a smile that says, “I’m not very charming, I enjoy restaurants with pictures of the food on the menu, and eight out of the ten pitches I’m about to throw will be out of the zone.”

Day 15, 11:00 PM
Sorry for the delay, but I had to run to the local sandwich shop for a sloppily made sandwich stuffed with slightly below-average assortments of meat, cheese, and [assumed] bug parts, a bag of chips, and a large Coke Zero, which I poured onto the concrete in the parking lot after I noticed that it tasted more like a common household chemical than a refreshing Coke substitute. Next to the sandwich shop is a bustling Blockbuster, which is a perfect nametag for the greater Phoenix area, an area so rife with dated trends that I’d place a substantial bet that VHS tapes were still being either rented or sold in that building. I wanted to walk in, rent a copy of the years 1990-2008, and never return it.

Day 15, 11: 45 PM
Oh, Patricia, you are a peach. I just wanted to say that I appreciate your ear. The baseball is starting to pick up and my focus is sharp, mostly thanks to your companionship. Minor league games start on the 15th, and I need to be prepared for the intensity. That’s when the real baseball begins, and my pen will flow exceptional with ink, and my mind will need to be sharp. I’ve started sleeping less and reading more, because too much sleep can dull the mind. I have to stay sharp. I just finished a book on cognitive psychology and I feel better about things. It’s important to feel better about things, Patricia. I need to wash away my thoughts in a slightly above tepid waterfall, so I’ll leave you with this poem I wrote you:

“Heavy-set moments just like this
I wear it well she said, I guess
Make it last, headsets used as hands
A second glance and then no chance

Sneaking around
The boy getting buffaloed over you
No promise of rings
I think we feel the same things
Such physical figures

Hey girl, when you think you’re in love
When you think there’s a spark
Get noticed while walking hot
Signature moves that mark the spot
Find the drugs that take us up
Our moment on top
I started thinking maybe we’re drinking too much
La, la la, la, la”

Day 16, 11:58 AM
The moments are heavy-set, not you, Patricia. Just wanted to clear that up. I also sent this poem to Clayton Kershaw. I hope you understand.

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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