Thinking back a few years ago, and watching Bryce Harper struggle; he was a 21 year old slugger. There were whispers that he could never fulfill the prophecy that was stowed upon him. Murmurs of a bust. This is a 21 year old player. How did we get to this point to expect so much out of such a young man?
It’s a mixture of the media and fantasy sports. Over hype, expecting the player to become the franchise’s savior. Years back it was common for an early draft pick to play in the minors for the first five or six years of his pro career. Gain his stripes and come up seasoned. Ready to produce at the pro level. The ages and expectations have become ridiculous.
Baseball is the rare sport where you generally can’t come straight out of your draft year and begin to produce. The NBA has draft picks that have the ability to carry a team to a playoff position. The NHL have instant producers. We don’t generally see first round picks carry the team, but we do see them produce from day one. In the NFL they throw the 1st round picks directly into the fire. I am positive that the NFL has wrecked multiple quarterback’s by just dropping them off of a cliff and seeing if they could fly. Teams are so desperate to find the next Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, or Russell Wilson.
MLB hasn’t quite become the same as the previous three, but you do see the odd player come straight to the major leagues without any seasoning. Mike Leake didn’t play one minor league ball game. Was Bryce Harper ready 3 years ago when he came up? I don’t think he was. He was arrogant and cocky, and was getting thrown out of ball games when things didn’t go his way. Harper not only had the pressure that he put on himself, but had the pressure of the entire city. The media and fans made him out to be the chosen one. The one that would bring championships to Washington. This could have wrecked him. Harper seems to be thriving now, but you see many superstars come into situations and fail to produce. They just can’t handle the pressure. They are not ready for that type of burden. They are only 20 years old.
I relate a lot of this to the movie Bull Durham. Arrogant and cocky pitcher is sent down to the minors to be taught by the veteran catcher to play the right way. Ends up coming back up into the pro level and thrives. I am not sure how much this happens now. So much money is wrapped up in this player that they need him producing right away. There is no question that a lot of players are ready to contribute much sooner than in years past. But how good would Harper have been if he had some time to grow up a bit? You play with fire when you put a world of pressure onto a kid of that age. Generally they are pretty well equipped to handle it. Being brought up from a young age knowing that they were going to be a star. You do see it backfire from time to time. Brett Lawrie came into Toronto as a fire cracker. Canadian boy that had a world of talent. His face was all over Toronto. Injuries and the constant pressure got to him. He was dealt to Oakland in the Josh Donaldson trade, and is still trying to figure things out. Jason Heyward was the next big thing for Atlanta. Brought up to the majors at the age of 19. He has scuffled, and was dealt in the Shelby Miller deal. Heyward is now struggling at the bottom of the order in St. Louis. Some players will thrive in this type of atmosphere and some will be buried. Why not see what you have for a few years? Allow them to develop in every way. They will generally produce straight out of the gate. Not having those years that they are doubting themselves. This is the way that it’s always been done. Impatience can cost you. Just ask all of those former first round QB’s that are just thrown into the recycle bin.