At our Citi Field event a couple weeks ago, I was asked a question about how I started writing about prospects. I had a predictably glib answer at the ready, but the more earnest truth has to do with the two bobbleheads on my desk at work.1
Well, I have nine bobbleheads2 on my desk at work, but this lead is primarily concerned with two of them: a Brooklyn Cyclones Brian Bannister (sponsored by Premio) and a San Francisco Giants Yusmeiro Petit (sponsored by AAA).3
It’s a reasonable question. There are myriad ways to write about baseball that involve less frequent oil changes and fewer Manhattans in hotel bars.4 There is an ever-increasing audience for prospect content, but the supply has also exploded from where it was even five years ago, when there were only three guys you’ve heard of doing this. Yet it’s still a fairly small slice of the baseball writing pie. The prospect-ranking-industrial complex, meanwhile, is now a sprawling mass with all the charming internal politics of a junior-high study hall.
But, you see, in 2004 a 19-year-old Yusmeiro Petit struck out 37 percent of the batters he faced at two A-ball levels. That summer I was in the midst of…well, I suppose over the years I have settled on calling it a “mutual breakup” with Hampshire College. A slightly less-mutual breakup with my college girlfriend followed, and I entered a period of sleeping until the afternoon, getting drive-thru Burger King,5 and then throwing myself back into baseball in the evening.
And there again were my beloved Mets, who I had missed for the last few years due to all those New Australian Cinema classes I wasn’t actually going to. Despite a debuting David Wright there still wasn’t much to see on the major league squad, and we were still a few months away from no one actually telling Art Howe he’d been fired. So my eyes turned to the minors. And they grew wide upon seeing Petit’s 200 strikeouts in 130 innings. He’d be a top 50 prospect after that season, the best on a fallow farm.
He was assigned to Binghamton in 2005, vaguely convenient since I was living at home, 15 minutes from an Eastern League stadium. I had grown up around Beehive Field, back when it housed a Red Sox affiliate, and I spent many an evening parked on its incredibly uncomfortable metal bleachers to watch the likes of Trot Nixon and Jeff Suppan. I sought out the Binghamton series when they were in town, but missed Petit.
This would prepare me well for a life of missing pitchers I want to see by a day.
I did see Brian Bannister in that series. He was in the midst of a breakout season of his own. Okay, he was a twenty-four-year-old in Double-A having the kind of season that people would now annoy me about on Twitter. a shiny ERA, but mediocre underlying peripherals. Too old for the league, with no history of performance anywhere in the minors previously. A standard, run-of-the-mill, mid-round college arm with good bloodlines.
But it looked right. That's what I would say today, at least. Bannister topped out in the upper-80s, but he threw his breaking balls for strikes, mixed up his arsenal multiple times through, and had that vaunted “pitchability.” Perhaps I was being naïve, but it looked right. Bannister made the majors the following season, got Rookie of the Year votes after that, and evolved into a sabermetric darling before accumulated injuries ran him out of baseball. After his career, he started a photo studio, then he joined the Red Sox as an advisor. And all of this happened before Petit finally established himself as a major-league swingman.
Now Petit might just end up with the better career. He is a vital member of the Nationals’ bullpen, and Bannister is an assistant pitching coach in Boston.
How can you not love this stuff? It's a puzzle you never quite figure out (but definitely get told you are doing wrong by everyone watching).
A case study
I don't like Jose Pujols.
I totally get why others do. It's a body to dream on. One of my predecessors would have very explicit dreams about it, in fact. Jarrett Seidler remarked to me, as we sat on a Greensboro-Lakewood series, that if Josh Naylor had Jose Pujols' body he would have gone first overall.
I can buy that.
When Pujols’ swing mechanics are on time he can put on a show in batting practice. Even in our game, he hit a monster shot out of a park designed to contain anything less than the most prodigious displays of power. But that was some junk-high junk from an A-ball lefty with a 30 fastball. It might as well have been batting practice.
The mechanics weren't always on time, though. Too often he looked indifferent in the field and at the plate. He was overmatched by Low-A off-speed stuff. It's a profile I should like, mind you. Physically, there wasn't that much separating Pujols from 2015 Wuilmer Becerra, the only difference being than Pujols was actually tapping into his raw power already. There was a bit more projection left, as well.
And I like Wuilmer Becerra. But Pujols just didn't click for me.
I also like Juan Luis.
I once described Juan Luis as having the physique of Jose Pujols on a hunger strike. Now, I do appreciate the Phillies’ insistence on signing international free agents with my physique. Carlos Tocci filled out some, finally, but Luis legitimately may have skinnier legs than I do. He is also only six months younger than Pujols and still in short-season ball6. He's still there because he’s on his front foot early a lot, and he flails against NYPL-quality off-speed stuff. Like Pujols, he is a fine athlete and über-projectable, though I wonder about how much his pitch recognition improves.
But it looked right.
Well, to be more specific, it sounded right. When Luis got into one, it made a sound you just don't hear very often in short-season ball. A throaty, baritoned thwack!7 Then your head is on a swivel. Then you try to remember if you parked over there.
And again, he is a fine athlete and über-projectable.
I saw both of these dudes for a series. I am supposed to have a take on which will be better. That's part of the job description inside the prospect-ranking-industrial complex.
Neither are making a team top ten list, and once you get past that signifier, the gaps between tiers narrow greatly.
I like Juan Luis. I don't like Jose Pujols. I'll see both a bunch more in the coming years. You never stop chasing those moments where it just looks right.
1) I realize we are not off to a less glib start.
2) In addition: New York Mets Edgardo Alfonzo, New York Mets Tsuyoshi Shinjo, Toronto Blue Jays R.A. Dickey, Savannah Sand Gnats Frank Viola, New Britain Rock Cats Miguel Sano, Milwaukee Brewers Carlos Gomez, and another, different San Francisco Giants Yusmeiro Petit.
3) Yes, I have two Yusmeiro Petit bobbleheads, but the other Giants one makes a hash of his Abe Lincoln beard. I still bought it, because at the time it was the only widely-available Yusmeiro Petit bobblehead. There was also a St. Lucie Mets version produced many years ago. It is impossible to find, and I search for “Yusmeiro Petit bobblehead” on more or less a weekly basis. If you happen to know of one, feel free to use the contact button below. And rest assured that this entire column was not written as merely pretense to try and locate a St. Lucie Mets Yusmeiro Petit bobblehead (although I have had flimsier premises published).
4) I can’t stress this enough: Don’t shake my Manhattan. It's the most common mistake I see in hotel bars. You should stock better vermouth too, but that isn’t your fault.
5) On my death bed, I will never be seized by the common lament of “I wish I had eaten more rodeo cheeseburgers.”
6) And short- to full-season is one of the underrated big developmental jumps in the game.
7) An aside: If I am honest, Luis hit a home run off an equivalent pitch to Pujols'. But I hadhopes. As I noted earlier, you are constantly at the mercy of pitching probables, and Batavia had announced well after I'd booked the trip that 18-year-old Panamanian right-hander Javier Garcia had been called up to make the start (and pitch) in question. Hey, that could be something, maybe. At this level, age matters. For some reason it didn't register with me that he was listed at 6'2”, 230, or roughly the same build as Yusmeiro Petit. He trod out to the mound and started warming up from a tick-above-sidearm slot, and I imagine my face contorted into some sort of involuntary grimace. This was a day before Adonis Medina got pulled after 13 pitches. It's a very nice and walkable downtown in Williamsport, by the way.
Thank you for reading
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