I have probably been as guilty as anyone on this.
I've been a prospect hound since I discovered this little baseball rag called Baseball America in the early 80s. I've been regularly attending minor league games since I was an undergrad in Peoria. We watched players like Jerome Walton and Frank Castillo make their way through the Cubs system. Prospect love has increased tremendously since then and the reporting of minor league games, scouting reports, prospect rankings, etc. have grown steadily over the past 3 decades.
It has exploded the past two seasons for Cubs fans. We shouldn't be surprised. With the big league team not providing much excitement, it's only natural that you would gravitate toward the young prospects and the future. That is what moves the needle right now.
There were some who covered prospects before I started blogging, AZ Phil of The Cub Reporter, Josh Timmers of BCB, and Tom of Chicago Cubs Online, leap to mind. No doubt that those guys helped pave the way for a relatively new blogger like me. But even back then, about 4 years ago, I felt like I would do my Daily Cubs Minors Recaps and there was a smaller niche audience who followed it. Cubs Den was even referred to as a "minor league blog" by some in the early days.
Well prospects and minor league baseball have definitely gone mainstream.
We have all surely reaped benefit from the boom, but for me it's kind of bittersweet. I relish digging up the Willson Contreras and the Marcus Hatleys of the world. I enjoy talking about good minor league players who, frankly, are MLB longshots -- guys like Michael Heesch, Ben Carhart or Pin-Chieh Chen or guys who may just be utility infielders like Daniel Lockhart.
But the scene has changed.
Now it's all about Bryant, Schwarber, Baez, and all the big name guys. I can't blame anyone for this. The Cubs need impact players. Who cares about backup catchers, middle relievers, and utility infielders? Who even cares about average big league regulars?
I think that's part of the fun in all of this. Not everyone is going to make it. Even fewer are going to be MLB regulars, and even fewer of them are going to be impact talents. You need role players too.
Every once in a while I will spot a scout or talent evaluator at a minor league game or an amateur showcase/exhibition and just talk baseball.
I always introduce myself simply as John. Not John Arguello the Cubs blogger. Not John from Cubs Den. Just John. You might be surprised just how friendly people are in the baseball industry. And the cool thing about it is they are more than happy to just talk baseball. I'm not looking for anyone to spill secrets. I'm just trying to absorb as much baseball knowledge as I can. One thing I was told early on by one of the brightest minds in the game is that no matter how long you do this, you will never learn it all. There will always be players that surprise you and you will never get to the point where you have it all figured out. That doesn't scare me -- that is exactly I love baseball so much.
I've told stories in the past of being impressed by players I didn't know much about beforehand, players like Lockhart, Gioskar Amaya, or Marco Hernandez -- or how I was surprised to see Michael Heesch come bearing down with intimidating plane and running two-seamers in on hitters, once breaking 4 bats in two innings. Even this year I was surprised that Zach Godley, a guy who signed for 35K as a college senior last year, actually had quality stuff that has the potential to play in the big leagues.
It's why I enjoy the instructional league most of all. It's just baseball. No frills, no hype. And sometimes when you remove all the bright lights, you really begin to see things in ballplayers that you may not otherwise catch, especially when you get to see multiple players in succession. Some of you may remember when I wrote about watching catcher drills and witnessing one catcher stand out in athleticism, intensity, quickness, and arm strength.
"Who is that guy?", I asked the scout next to me.
"Willson Contreras", was his response.
"Holy moly, that guy is explosive", I said as a smile crept across his face.
I would ask about him over the next year and found I was not alone. The kid is raw and still has a long, long way to go in terms of development, but he has some talent, both at the plate and in the field, and while nobody would go so far as to say he was a top prospect, all agreed he had the ability to make the big leagues if he put in the work and continued to mature as a ballplayer.
I think with prospect love going mainstream, I miss those kinds of things. They get buried now in the hype. Such is the case when you are in a big market starved for stardom and the winning environment we all hope it will bring.
I certainly get it. Finding impact talent is ultimately why so much emphasis is put on scouting and we will absolutely continue to focus on the big name players. I certainly wouldn't want to impose my prospect nerddom on anyone.
But if any of you ever want to ask me about guys like Danny Lockhart, Michael Heesch, Pin-Chieh Chen, or Willson Contreras once in a while, that would be cool too.