It was probably sometime during the 3rd round of the MLB amateur draft when I recalled a question a young fan sent to our email box not so long ago. The Chicago Cubs are in the midst of a particularly public and open rebuilding process and it has a lot of the fan base asking a variation on the same question.
"How good can this kid be, what's his ceiling?" It's a false question, it's more of a hope built on the same hopes and dreams that are the foundation of any good wish. Most fans ask these types of questions because most fans want to believe in the best outcome regardless of what has occurred in the past.
Ricky is no different. He has a sort of endearing innocence about him that curiously melds with a desire to know more than he already does. He's not afraid to ask for answers either, it's a good quality I think.
On a random Tuesday night we received an email from Ricky asking us what we thought the future Cubs rotation would be. He predicted something like Mark Appel, Pierce Johnson, Jeff Samardzija, Matt Garza and Travis Wood (it was pre-draft and he was assuming the Cubs would take Appel).
It was the prediction of a young man hoping to see the best possible outcomes, a desire to see the reality which lives between his ears realized in the imperfect real world most of us struggle to escape.
I envy his reality.
What I'm about to say doesn't necessarily come from a condescending place. I don't mean to come off as a baseball elitist here, but what I've learned over time from experiencing it myself and talking to a lot of people who are much smarter than I am is this; most of these kids will absolutely break your heart.
The path to a consistent major league contender is paved with the thousands of dead careers of kids who showed flashes of being special and never panned out. They happen for a variety of reasons ranging from health issues to just not being able to handle the toughest competition in the world. The end result is typically the same, however. Fans are left with shattered memories of something they thought was going to be world-changing.
(Side note, I fondly remember the first prospect to break my heart. I thought Bobby Hill was going to be special).
None of this is to say that what the Cubs are doing is wrong or foolhardy. Quite the opposite. I greatly respect this front office from top to bottom and I can appreciate the path they are on. It's important for this franchise to build up a real, sustainable farm system capable of generating the talent that can compete for years. Prospects will fail but good organizations always have more prospects to call upon when the front line fails to pan out.
I do think it is important to remember that it's extraordinarily unlikely the Cubs will have Albert Almora, Javier Baez, Jorge Soler, Kris Bryant, and Dan Vogelbach all pan out and in the starting lineup. Some of these guys will be traded to get a front-line starter. Others will fail along the line and you hope 2 of these guys are big time contributors at the big-league level.
That's the gambit you run, that's how you play the prospect game. You stockpile these guys and hedge your bets.
A funny thing happens along the way, however. You end up falling in love with a few of them and they almost always break your heart in some way.
The payoff is huge though, because when your faith and love is rewarded with something special it's just...
The stuff of dreams.
Update: ...and then of course I write this and Javier Baez hits four home runs and breaks Twitter. (h/t Cubs Den)