This is Pittsburgh Pirates season 14 for Pirates Prospects!
That’s a long time. It’s a lot of accumulated knowledge about the game. It’s a lot of coverage about a very niche aspect of this game. It’s attached to one of the worst franchises in the game, with one of the most hardcore and loyal fanbases in the game.
I’m not a reporter. But sometimes when I do report, I leave every other reporter in the ever-revolving door of Pirates reporters in this town chasing my story. I don’t want to be a reporter.
I’m not a scout. I think I could have pursued and excelled in that job, and even more-so now, I believe I’d be a great amateur talent scout. I just couldn’t do the grind that is their lifestyles, and I tremendously respect what every scout in any organization does.
I’m more of an artist or a producer. I don’t specialize in any one thing, but I try to produce an entire thing from a vertical integration dream, and objectively it’s been very successful and very stressful.
In this capitalist hellscape we live in, this site has been read by millions of people, with over ten thousand paying customers, and even after tearing this site down a bit, rebuilding it, and focusing very little on social media and advertising, we still have more people visiting us each month than the Pirates could hope to fit inside PNC Park across multiple games.
We’ve had General Managers and scouting directors buy the Prospect Guide books. Those sales are no more special than Bob in Monroeville who found me on a Reddit link in 2010 and bought every book I released over the next decade. That knowledge kind of fucks with your head. “If I’m being read at this level, how am I supposed to do it?” The answer is, just as you had before. I had to learn that with experience. Ultimately, I don’t see the difference between that GM and Bob. To me, it’s one book sold, one subscription purchased. I appreciate each person for their equal support to keep this working.
In order for this to work, I need thousands of paying subscribers, or millions of free readers.
To get there on both sides, which is an ambitious dream, I need to create a product that thousands will pay for, while trying to preserve some free content on a site that millions have read in the past.
This is a story about how I’ll be doing that going forward.
Back to the Future of the Past
The press box at LECOM Park, which I will always think of as McKechnie Field, exists in a different dimension of space. In the summer, it’s always ten degrees hotter in the press box. During Spring Training, it’s always ten degrees colder.
In the spring, if you’re sensitive to thunderstorms that come through prior to each evening in Florida, you might find yourself sitting in the humid, but empty High-A Luxury suite, holding your head to block out the pain in your brain while you listen to the game and pray for no more rain.
The air smells like burnt oranges often when the winds start coming in from the Tropicana Plant a few miles away, and I can’t drink their orange juice because I can taste that smell with every sip, if my jumbled sense recognition makes any sense.
One summer night, I found myself waiting to do interviews after the game, not really focusing on what was happening on the field that given night. I’ve always had migraines, but I think this one was less from the rain and atmospheric pressure shifts, and more from overworking myself in a toxic way.
The Marauders had just lost. This was a team that I had described as “The weakest team in the Pirates’ system” in 2018 on a site that exists as part of a larger industry that treats human beings like individual stocks.
My approach, and I think it has worked well for years, is to tell you about those humans. Who they are, what they’re working on, and why you should hope they make it. Ultimately, I sell stories of hope.
Yet, I also sell stories of fact. Stories of realism.
Blending hope and realism is never an easy thing.
On this night, after a long 2018 Marauders loss, and dealing with a migraine just to grab a few interviews to get ahead before I went out of town to cover other teams, I had an even bigger headache brewing.
Looking back, that article had no issues with content and reporting. In fact, we nailed that list in terms of scouting. Four players from that top ten made the majors after that article, although none of them have thus far exceeded what we call a 30-grade player in scouting speak, aka, someone who is mostly Triple-A depth. The Pirates currently have a few more players from that group who I think are current 30-grade options, who just haven’t had their chance in the majors yet.
Once you get that chance, it’s up to you to turn a 30 into a 40, a 40 into a 50, and so on.
There’s nothing that I, or anyone else, can say that would ever remove the power of a pitch or the reaction of a bat or glove.
Or is there?
On that night, minutes after making the final out, former Super Bowl champion and then-returning minor league prospect Tyler Gaffney made a stand as the leader of the clubhouse. As I approached him for an interview, he informed me that he wouldn’t be talking to me that season, and no one else in the clubhouse would either.
Gaffney was someone I had talked to for a week or two. There were players in that clubhouse that I had talked to and traveled to cover for a few years. The loud display and recruitment put on led me to wonder if what he was saying was true. Was everyone really not talking to me? Was Gaffney just talking out of his ass and maybe I should have waited a few weeks to talk to him, rather than grabbing him after the last out? I had been in the clubhouse already multiple times between publishing the article and that moment, so I’m not sure when it was shared.
He just said I said the whole team sucked, and a few people agreed with his summary, which was different from my message.
By that summer, I stepped back from reporting on Pirates Prospects, and posted a note about the future of the site, which had people questioning whether the site would still be around, and even made an appearance on Awful Announcing. Almost four years later, here we still are.
In the interim, I did some work behind the scenes, first to pay all of my writers what they were owed, and second to try and create a new system that would never run into that particular problem again. I believe I’ve successfully done that as I’m launching Pirates Prospects version probably 72 by now.
What never was settled for me from that instance was the legitimate point that every player in that clubhouse had, and some expressed in their own ways.
I run a business and report on a niche topic of baseball that ultimately tries to introduce you to the MLB players of tomorrow, but unfortunately reduces those players to sub-human levels.
A number grade.
A ranking on a list.
A specific outcome prediction among a spectrum of possibility.
But I have the capability to do what I want in this industry. I don’t need to abide by the larger system. I’m part of it, and can change it from within, on this site I’ve built.
The last four years, I’ve been working on those changes, and whether they’d even be something that people would pay to read and support.
The Previous Future of Pirates Prospects
Almost seven years ago, I switched this site over to a subscription site. Some people were livid.
I had created a highly-read site that I wasn’t making enough money on for the effort I was putting in. I started charging an annual fee for everything to solve that.
Subscription Thanos snapped his fingers and half of our readers disappeared. The other half slowly faded away as all of our content went behind a paywall, and out of sight equals out of mind in today’s media world where there’s so much content available.
We still have a good reader base, and brand recognition, as cliché as that sounds. It doesn’t help that I actually shut this site down for a full year at PiratesProspects.com and transferred all of my Pirates writing over to PittsburghBaseball.com during this site transition.
My focus isn’t on Pittsburgh Baseball at the moment. It’s on Pirates Prospects. I have the full vision of what it’s going to be next, and if you’ve followed along for the previous 13 seasons, you know things might get a little crazy, but I’m going to set out to extract that vision from my head to the real world with as much quality as I can to give you the best coverage we can. I might even include a post or two with a ton of information, revealing a highly detailed look behind the curtain of this process that is my life.
This current vision started at the end of 2019. At that point, I turned off the paywall here to new subscriptions. That’s fucking crazy. I wanted to fix some things on the site over the years, and didn’t want to charge new or returning customers when I didn’t know exactly what they would be paying for, or how long I’d still be doing this if the Pirates didn’t find a better direction.
Due to the pandemic, and my life being in total chaos in the years since, I haven’t felt comfortable putting that paywall back up.
The existing subscribers we had were on the honor system, with existing auto-renewals. There were no new subscribers. But, we had enough to keep operations afloat during a rebuild, as I modeled my approach after what I preached for MLB teams: Scale down resources when you’re rebuilding, and go all-in when it’s time.
Last week I flipped the paywall back on, and conveniently a day later Major League Baseball returned. I spent the weekend on a pre-planned trip to Tampa Bay Beer Week, which has become my annual preparation for the season grind.
It’s time to go all-in.
The Future of Pirates Prospects
Since the start of 2022, I’ve been doing weekly article drops on the site. Each week, you get seven articles on Tuesday, typically uploaded before 3 AM EST that morning. This Tuesday will be week eleven.
I’ve been building up the daily coverage as well. We’re actively deciding how that will go with the upcoming season, but we already know that P2Daily and a daily feature are the minimum of what we will have. There could be three more daily features added to that mix, along with five more weekly features added in-season.
I can envision a situation with up to 15 articles released in the article drop on Tuesday, plus 35 daily features during the week. That’s 50 articles a week during the season.
Here’s how this will work.
Let’s call the weekly article drops, aka This Week on Pirates Prospects, something simple: P2Weekly.
Each week, we release what amounts to a digital magazine. These are the best articles we produce, based on how much time and thought and production is put into them. They are available for subscribers, and a subscription to Pirates Prospects costs $40 a year. For how many originally, independently sourced articles you get each week, that’s a bargain.
Some of that money will go to pay our writers. Some will go to the upkeep and cost of running the site. Some will go to future expansions. Some will go to the banks as fees for handling the money exchange. A lot will go to me to make sure I can produce this long-term and have the stability to only have to concentrate on work.
You’ll be paying for the weekly article drops.
Our daily coverage will all be free. That’s to attract new readers to the site, and to provide something for those who can’t be a paying customer continuously, but don’t want to just leave the site behind when they’re cutting back on bills.
We have over 10,000 paying customers. We’ve never had 10,000 active subscribers at once. Some subscribe for life, some subscribe only for a few months a year, and some subscribe for a bit of time and never return for various reasons. Right now, our subscriber count is very low, due to the rebuilding, the pandemic, and everything else. I’m extremely grateful that I’ve had the luxury to not need to focus my efforts for a bit on actively selling my work. I’m extreme grateful that there are so many people who will automatically buy whatever I’m trying to produce in this field.
My goal this year is to get the equivalent of 3,500 annual subscriptions prior to next year’s Spring Training from our current readers.
The Ambitious Schedule
I just turned the paywall on, silently, for the first extended duration in years.
There are always issues with this process, and I’ll be handling those all by Wednesday of this week. That’s my weekly schedule, to have all customer issues handled by Wednesday.
A huge challenge with this site is the fact that I’m not any one job, but I’m about eight different roles here. Time management is a key factor.
Monday is the day I go live. I rest over the weekend, and you get the freshest version of me, with the clearest headspace, ready to go with the best articles I’ve been preparing for up to that point. What I write Monday, you read Tuesday.
Tuesday, I’m usually recovering from Monday. It’s a writing day to get ahead to at least Thursday on my daily work. It’s mostly my site maintenance day, as I want to make sure everyone can read the latest article drop. If you’ve emailed me with an issue, I’ll get to it by the upcoming Tuesday.
Wednesday is my day off, which I usually spend buying comic books, making sure I’m well hydrated, rested, stretched, and enjoying life outside of baseball.
Thursday I return, do some writing, and just free style based on how I’m feeling that day, and what project I want to work on.
Friday, I finish anything I need to write for the weekend, and ideally Monday’s articles.
Saturday, I’m off again. This day is 100% about getting my body to 100%, no matter what it takes and no matter what I need.
Sunday is a build up for the work week. If I relaxed a bit at the end of the week, I’ll use Sunday to make up for those days. The second half of my week is typically more long-term writing projects, which right now are The 2022 Prospect Guide and the perfectionist slow editing approach to John Dreker’s history book.
The cool thing about the books is that they all align with the rest of the site, in that everything I’m writing now will all be published in the next month, in preparation for the 2022 season.
There will be some different rankings processes, which I’ll detail later.
It’s all short-term writing right now.
With long-term lessons learned.
Maybe this doesn’t mean anything.
In the days after Tyler Gaffney made his final stand, two players approached me to let me know that no one else spoke for them, and to assure me they would be there to answer any questions as I try to do my job.
Both of those players made the majors.
There’s something to that.
A person who was on an NFL Super Bowl winning team’s roster — not someone who played, due in part to injuries — and who had experience working with Tom Brady, had stepped up as the vocal clubhouse guy for a group of prospects all 3-4 years younger than him.
Some verbally joined in.
“I hate that fucking guy,” one said to another as I was standing my ground with the former Patriots running back.
Maybe he wasn’t talking about me. Maybe he was talking about Gaffney. Maybe he was talking about a player on the opposing team. But I think he was talking about me. I didn’t even know who said it. It doesn’t matter.
It’s not my job to be liked by the players.
It is my job to try and always be cognizant that they are human beings.
Human beings can’t be predicted, no matter how hard we try.
Human beings can always change who they are, and come back a brand new person.
The dude that most likely hated me — but may have hated Gaffney or a player on the other team I just don’t know for certain — rang in my head because what had I done in my thousands of words written per week about baseball as I’m trying to make a living to get someone to hate me?
After a few years of therapy — not related to that incident, but applicable in large life scope — I realized that when you commit to being your true authentic Self, you will inevitably have some people who hate you, for a variety of reasons. They don’t actually hate you, per se, as much as the lack of understanding of you, and the lack of understanding on why so many other people understand that person.
Meanwhile, when you are your true authentic Self, you will inevitably have people who absolutely love you, for a variety of reasons. They don’t actually love you like you’d love a daily figure in your life, but they love what you represent and the message you bring and whatever combination of that sparks dopamine in their brains.
I believe this is true across all journeys, whether a producer of a baseball scouting site, a minor league player being scouted, or whatever you guys all do out in the real world.
My authentic Self believes that we humans are all the same, and all of us are capable of whatever we wish to accomplish, as long as we have a clear path and the right motivation and dedication.
My goal in five years, when the next CBA negotiation nightmare comes up, is to have this site built to a point where it’s a large outlet again, with someone who actually wants to only be a full-time writer in the lead role, as I continue to produce the expanding product line — which is aiming by that point to have a monthly magazine on Pittsburgh Baseball. But that’s a different variation of a different plan. And who knows what I’ll actually accomplish in those five years.
I just know I’ll be around and so will this site.
My authentic Self can achieve these goals, while running an outlet that works to try and build up players, while maintaining respectable realism about the realities of reaching the highest rung of professional baseball. I can deliver stories that give you hope that you may have found your newest favorite player to cheer for, or hope that the Pirates are headed in the right direction, or hope that you’ve got an escape from your normal life to look forward to at least a few times a day, and one key day per week: Tuesday.
This is a new Pirates Prospects.
This is a new Tim Williams.
This is a new overall mindful approach.
Using everything I’ve learned along the way.
Learning from every mistake I’ve made.
With a mindset that I can do anything, from being an amazing big league reporter, to an editor for Marvel Comics here in my current city, to a professional scout or a future front office member for one of the 30 MLB teams. I’d give the Pirates the first shot.
I’m not a free agent right now, though. My focus is on Pirates Prospects. I value my independence, and my ability to embrace my creative side.
I want to be right where I am today. I want to be where this site is taking me tomorrow.
I value that I’ve been able to share my platform with other aspiring writers, or people who also obsess over the small niche details of baseball. I hope to make it easier for them than it was for me.
Your support is what has made this project possible from the beginning.
You’ve made me a better person, as I’ve grown from a 25-year-old kid in the real world, into the version of a 38-year-old man I’m comfortable being as I work toward the next outer marker of my own human development goals.
This site, every historical writer on it, these readers, this community have made me more centered with my Self.
And in my experience of watching minor league baseball players go through largely the same human struggle that we all go through, I’ve realized the only thing that really matters is mindset.
How much can mindset be impacted by support, and what levels of support lead to lasting change in a person?
That’s one of the many esoteric topics I hope to explore on Pirates Prospects in 2022, along with at least one feature on every player in the system.
I hope you will join us with your support!