It starts with…
That’s all you need to make the majors.
On draft day, there are a lot of “things” to choose from.
An upper-90s fastball.
A high spin breaking pitch with a lot of movement.
An ability to hit either of those pitches a long, long way.
Or, the ability to play shortstop. Like, really play it well, to the point where everyone would inevitably wish you could hit half as good.
We focus on the height and weight of every player.
We focus on speed.
If there are numbers available — and there are more numbers available than ever — we use them as the earliest example to confirm the things we are seeing from the player.
The hope for every drafted player is that one of the “things” that scouts noticed will be the same thing that gets them to the majors one day.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my time around this game over the last decade, there’s only one thing that consistently gets a player to the major leagues.
I tried so hard and got so far
But in the end it doesn’t even matter
I had to fall to lose it all
But in the end it doesn’t even matter
Stats become irrelevant almost as quickly as they are calculated. They tell a story of the past.
Only the future matters with prospects. It’s implied in the name.
Next year at this time, it won’t matter what any 2022 draft pick did in high school or college. We will only use those previous numbers as a weak comparison to their first impression in pro ball. That first impression will become irrelevant by the next level they reach.
If you’re a fan, trying to take comfort in the idea that a young human being will figure out exactly how to maximize their positive attributes, while trying to minimize their negative attributes, then of course you want to see some sort of quantifiable data to show that the player is progressing as expected.
Imagine being the player.
I think we all can imagine entering an unknown job that we know we can do, that we got with previous skills that project to the next level and higher, and then we get there and realized we didn’t know a single thing about anything in life, ever.
The thing about experience is that it’s not about just checking off a daily box on an attendance sheet. Time is a valuable thing, but the players in this game who make the majors and stick are the ones who learn over time that the stats are a byproduct of their routine and approach to the game.
In other words, they know that they create the stats.
That’s why we turn on the TV and watch the best MLB players live.
We know that for some players, the stats don’t matter.
We’re watching artists work live when some players are on the field.
It’s a reminder of all of our potentials in all of our lives, and a reminder that there’s some way to tap into it.
Down in the deepest depths of the minors, it’s a story most people can relate to more closely.
Imagine being a player who doesn’t yet know that he creates the stats. Not every player will trust in themselves to ignore the stats of the past while they’re changing their game moving forward.
Honestly, how could you trust yourself?
Every single player who is drafted and signed this year is currently riding a high that they might have the things that might get them to the majors one day.
In almost every case, over the course of a pro career, those things will either fail, or won’t be enough.
An upper-90s fastball needs a secondary pitch.
A high spin breaking pitch with a lot of movement needs control.
An ability to hit either of those pitches a long, long way needs to come with the ability to also hit those pitches within the fair playing field for a hit.
The players who make the majors are the ones who have resolve. They’re the ones who can adapt, change their game, and become a brand new player on the same path to the same upside as before.
It takes experience to build resolve. No one is born with it.
But what about the players who don’t get enough experience to test their resolve?
What happens when they need to respond to adversity for the first time at the highest level?
Put to rest what you thought of me
While I clean this slate
With the hands of uncertainty
So let mercy come and wash away
Prior to 2015, Ke’Bryan Hayes became a first round talent in part by getting in better shape through a mountain biking routine. Everyone knew this at draft time. It wasn’t the only thing that made Hayes a first rounder.
The defensive ability at third base was a highlight, getting a boost from the fitness, and no doubt a bigger boost from the knowledge of his father — former major league third baseman Charlie Hayes.
Perhaps that “thing” with the mountain biking was the thing that got Hayes to the majors.
At some point during high school, Hayes was honest with himself and knew that he wouldn’t be a first rounder without needing to first change who he was as a player.
Then, he created a plan to change, and change he did.
That is self-awareness and adaptability.
Both are required to stick in the majors and eventually get a long-term contract to be the cornerstone of a proud, but rebuilding franchise.
Some players only display these attributes after they’ve signed.
Mitch Keller really stood out to me when he improved his control and velocity after overhauling his mechanics heading into the 2016 season. Here we are six years later, and Keller is overhauling how he attacks hitters in the majors with a new pitch.
It’s a reminder both of the importance of adaptability, and that the need to improve doesn’t go away once you lose prospect status.
Some prospects, like Oneil Cruz, don’t ever really get challenged in the minors. The first time I saw Cruz, he was 18 years old and hitting effortless bombs. Here we are, five years later, and Cruz is hitting effortless bombs in the majors.
He does have things to work on. No one in the minors was ever good enough to consistently expose those flaws. Cruz is now adjusting at the big league level, which is not something you’re used to seeing.
Most players aren’t like Cruz and will be challenged in the minors. Those with elite tools will only be challenged at an elite level.
The Pirates added Termarr Johnson in the first round this year, and the confidence he projected out in his interview immediately after the draft was unreal.
He knew it was a live, nationally broadcasted event.
He didn’t know what he was going to be asked.
He still hit it out of the park.
Does anyone doubt a mind that can react in the way he can react — both in terms of questions and in terms of his reported elite 70-80 grade contact skills?
The ability to consistently see a ball approaching you at a speed so fast your eyes can’t even comprehend enough to react — yet your brain shifts to auto-pilot, allowing you to take a stick and send that ball in a more desired direction with little effort at all.
Termarr Johnson has contact skills.
There will be a time when Johnson faces more difficult pitchers than he’s ever seen — and more difficult questions when he has to explain what is going wrong for him, rather than what is going right.
As good as he is now — and I’m back to exclusively talking about on-field play — he is like every other player drafted in that he doesn’t know how his game will play at a higher level.
I’m confident that Johnson will have what it takes to adjust his game to pro ball while maintaining a long-term path to the majors.
There’s a reason he was the number four overall pick, and regarded as the best pure hitter in this draft — and the best pure hitter out of the prep ranks in decades.
The players the Pirates took in the later rounds will need to demonstrate the ability to change their games. That’s mostly because a lot of those players don’t have all of the tools of a top five pick.
Most day two and three picks have obvious areas of their game that needs to improve. Some of those players will improve and continue to positively overhaul their game. Most will not.
We can dream on draft day about where all of these players might be headed.
What I like is following what happens after the draft.
That’s when we see who is adaptable in pro ball, and who has self-awareness to know that they need more than just things to make the majors.
Based on my experience, those are the players who usually end up in New York by the end of their long careers.
Though, hopefully Ben Cherington can build an organization in Pittsburgh that would entice some of them to stick around for awhile.
Can I get an encore? Do you want more?
Cookin’ raw with the Brooklyn boy
So for one last time I need y’all to roar
Now, what the hell are you waiting for?
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THIS WEEK ON PIRATES PROSPECTS
Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.