Q: Looking ahead to prospects in 2012, which pitcher's progress are you most interested in? Is there a pitcher that you think needs to have a breakout year in the minors? Share your thoughts in the Comments section.
TCU looks to be a top player in the MLB Draft this year.
In 2011 the Washington Nationals drafted pitcher Matt Purke out of Texas Christian University, in the third round (96th overall). As June gets closer and draft talk heats up, TCU is in the conversation again. And catcher/outfielder Josh Elander could very well be selected first round.
Elander was drafted by the Nationals also, in 2009, but opted to attend college instead. He's hit .335 over two seasons for the Horned Frogs, and in 2011 he finished with 57 hits and 38 RBI and a .505 SLG percentage in 171 at-bats.
In the cleanup spot this year he's continued a strong campaign with a recent nine-game hitting streak that ended Saturday against New Mexico. He also leads the team in stolen bases.
TCU head coach James Schlossnagle went on record about Elander this morning. Here's what he had to say:
On why he's excelling:
Josh has a balanced approach at the plate and uses the entire field well.
On how he deals with the attention:
He handles that stuff pretty well. Having played for Team USA and played successfully for the Cape Cod League. He's used to that.
On what makes him so special:
Beyond the physical aspects of the game, he has an even temperament. He's an outstanding leader. And he has the ultimate respect of his teammates.
On his strengths and weaknesses:
His catching and throwing ability has improved, but he can continue to better those areas.
Guidance and advice he gives to Josh:
Just to try and trust his true ability to play. Josh is a pleaser. He wants to do really well for the team and himself and sometimes he tries too hard.
You can follow the team on Twitter @tcu_baseball and listen to Coach Schlossnagle's weekly radio show on KTCU 88.7.
The minor leagues are no guarantee.
Brian Gump, a minor league Phillies outfielder, understood that as well as any of the guys fighting to get noticed everyday they take the field.
Over the weekend the 25-year old was not one of the cuts out of spring training. He was released. The Phillies selected him in the 26th round of the 2009 First-Year Player Draft.
But there were many factors over the years that would create concern for any young player trying to make it to the bigs. Injuries and system depth were issues he knew could affect him.
"When I initially broke my arm I was very concerned. But as it healed, I realized it was just a bump in the road and not something that would affect me in the long term scheme of things," he said Sunday. "Admittedly the effects lasted a little longer than I had anticipated because my wrist/arm would still get sore and a bit swollen last year, although I didn't say much about it nor am I blaming my performance on that. But after working hard on continuing to strengthen it this off season it was no longer a bother."
Then there was the talent around him and coming up behind him, making his chances tougher. He could see the writing on the wall, but also felt assured by the team's faith in him.
"I was a bit caught off guard [being released], but I know the nature of the business and I was well aware of the surplus of talent we have in the outfield so it was a realistic possibility that I knew existed. The amount of positive feedback prior to did make it a bit more of a surprise though. In the end, they did me a favor by letting me go early to give me a chance to find a better situation with more opportunity to move up if I am so lucky to find one and I appreciate that they had my best interest in mind, that speaks volumes about how we felt about each other even in parting ways."
This spring had been no different according to him. He was doing as he'd always done.
"If I had gotten a hit or two more that would have been nice, but I think I only got about 10 game at bats and walked 3 or 4 times, so I'm not sure the game at bats really factored into the decision making process, especially since I felt each game I was getting more and more comfortable and locked in which is the whole purpose of spring training, to ramp up for season and get yourself ready."
Gump's career in the Phillies organization has been fruitful and marked by celebrations.
Last year he won a championship with the GCL Phillies (where he rehabbed) and played in 86 games for the Clearwater Threshers, hitting .217 with 22 RBI.
The Phillies system has produced some of baseball's top talent, not to mention many homegrown guys that won a world championship in 2008. There's been much success in the minors as well, due in large part to the men that are guiding the players toward the ultimate goal.
"I learned at every level," Gump said. "Specifically at Lakewood, Greg Legg is a great hitting coach and gave me a lot of mechanical advice that was helpful and that I integrated into my swing. John Mizerock and Dave Henderson were also extremely helpful and are extremely skilled hitting coaches. They all have an incredible eye for hitting and understanding of it. It was a privilege to get to learn from them on a daily basis."
So what now? The end of spring training is near, but Gump ‘s eyes are firmly ahead. And he might make a big change.
“My plan is to get in touch with contacts from other teams, scouts I know and consult the wisdom of the mentors that I am lucky enough to have in my corner and see what leads we can come up with,” he said. “There is a very real possibility that I will try my hand at pitching. In my experience in pro ball, there is always a market for hard throwing lefties – I’m primarily a right fielder so arm strength has always been there. I was recruited to college to be a pitcher so it's something I grew up doing and feel comfortable and at home doing.”
He goes on to point out his results when he did pitch.
“If my two innings on the bump in pro [ball] are indicative of anything, I think it's worth a try! 2 IP 0 hits 0 walks 1 K.”
The minors are also a family, extending to the big club and all the people involved in a developing career.
“My experience was nothing short of awesome. I can't say enough about the class of the organization and the quality of each and every person within it. I will miss my teammates the most, but know I made many life-long friends and that our paths will cross on and off the field many more times.”
Phillies fans impressed him every step of the way.
“I want to say the most genuine of thank you's to each and every fan that I had the privilege of interacting with and playing in front of. Throughout my career I was constantly re blown away by the dedication, compassion, baseball intelligence and interest that the fans have shown me and the rest of the organization. The fact that they pay so much attention to our minor league levels on top of the big league team says a lot about how invested the fan base is in their organization.”
The minor leagues are no guarantee, no, but there’s work to be done and he’ll continue to do it, and with inspiration from a well-known sports figure.
“I don't have any regrets. I take care of my body and prepared myself for each day properly and attentively. That is one thing I always keep in mind, that whatever I do, I will do and prepare myself to the best of my ability so that whatever happens, I can hold my head high knowing I gave it my best effort,” he said, then adds. “I was raised on John Wooden ideals if you can't tell.”
MLB has put more effort into new guidelines for those in baseball to follow (see http://highheelsonthefield.typepad.com/my_weblog/2011/12/mlb-dress-code-has-positives-but-suiting-up-isnt-only-issue-in-press-box.html). And while that sounds stringent & maybe a little unfair, they've got good reason with the newly implemented Social Media Policy.
The new policy gives players common sense rules - no racist content - but the specifity in other areas stands out. Sexually explicit content, while not an overwhelming issue, has come up and there's been times a player seemed to forget he had the eyes of the world on him. Or, maybe more accurately, he didn't care. The policy clarifies players should and will have to.
The policy is especially helpful for minor league players that are literally growing up as they're learning to be professional ballplayers. And, today, they don't do that behind very high walls. There's far more media focus on prospects and social media has given them a platform to not only socialize, but share their journey. The fun and value of that is not lost on MLB, as the policy encourages, even celebrates interaction with fans.
What the policy gives young players is a dose of discipline. While baseball is a kid's game, it's also a business. Reminding them they are professionals is important.
The more interesting part of watching a young player develop is how he takes in the lessons he needs to succeed. When a player really applies that 'stay within myself' mentality to all aspects of the game and life, the difference usually shows on the field.
MLB's new Social Media Policy seems to be trying to encourage players to simply stay within themselves a bit more off the field.
Ask a minor league player if they'd like to stay there forever, they'd likely laugh or have a puzzled expression.
Ask a minor league reporter if they'd like to stay there forever, they will laugh. And possibly curse at you. Then they'll go to their seat in the tiny press box, eat their horrible food, and log into their Twitter account to retweet Jayson Stark, silently praying for release from the dirt of the bus leagues. There is no big time attention or glory.
The difference is, women are increasingly represented at the major league level. In the minors, there is less of a female presence on the beat.
There's a high number of women in front office positions, creating an enviroment that can only inspire more respect for women at that level. But women's voices in the daily reporting at the ground level, if you will, matters as well.
Prospect analysis and press attention has increased, with outlets dedicated to the minor leagues constantly multiplying. Minor league baseball coverage is dominated by men and when a woman enters that part of the conversation, I can tell you that they're not quickly welcomed or respected. If sports are still perceived as a man's language, prospects and talk about ceilings, projections, and ETA are perceived as distinctly male oriented.
But if you ask most women in baseball, if they're reporting about the minor leagues, you'll find, as I have, that most aren't interested in remaining there. Understandably, the majority want to get to the big leagues.
Why don't more women feel a connection to reporting on the minors? Truthfully, the people covering minor league baseball tend to have a special passion for it. You have to really love it, because you can't expect to be really famous or highly paid. Exposure isn't the motivation.
There's a definite desire to be sideline reporters. You'll find plenty of women interested in being on camera. While this is no less respectable and meaningful, the lure of fame seems to play a part. Sideline reporting IS reporting. But rarely do women mention others less famous sideliners.The motivation seems pretty clear. Again, there's nothing wrong with that pursuit. But a more versatile, less typical pursuit would be great. This is a cringe-worthy statement, but 'sideline reporter' has become 'the chick job'. And that's unfair to the women that work hard at that job, and also to women that want other less glossy jobs in the industry.
Perhaps it's naive to hope for a more well-rounded population of women reporting in the minors. Why wouldn't you want to be famous for what you do? Is there a solution?
It might come down to the truth mentioned earlier. The passion must be there. If it isn't, there's no seduction good enough to interest women in being part of the minor league media.
But there's an important message young women that ARE interested need to hear. And they're not exactly hearing it loud and clear. They need to know that their voices in the complex and fascinating world of player development are more than welcome.
Get your heels on the field and join in. Or wear your flats. You'll be part of something fascinating and have a way better back than I do.
When Nationals superstar prospect Bryce Harper quit Twitter last week, fans questioned his motivation. But when the story broke that the Nationals gave stern warnings to a few players using social media, the reason seemed clear.
That might not have gone over so great with Nationals fans that feel disconnected from the player due to lack of media access, but there's a lot to like about it.
In the age of easy accessibility there's an old fashioned quality to a player just playing and talking to reporters when the game is done. We've become so accustomed to too much sharing and plugging in, we don't appreciate pulling that back.
Harper never overshared or said anything shocking. But he was himself and sometimes that didn't fly with fans. His openness about his favorite football team (NOT the Redskins) was endearing and harmless. But possessive and rabid fans can't seem to handle some information psychologically. While Harper has every right to be who he is and voice his opinion, teams are uneasy with that level of sharing. They want restraint, but social media doesn't provide many barriers. Restraint isn't celebrated on Twitter.
With Harper, this falls in line with the Nationals protective approach with the player. And that's understandable.
While fans and teams should be able to find a happy medium, these issues can force players to bow to the nail-biting front office and back away from hysterical fans.
Harper's decision isn't much fun, but it's commendable. He announced that he just wanted to focus on the game. What more could fans ask for?
Click, click, click. Here I am!
HHOTF was on a short break, but that's over now. I'm back to writing about the bus leagues and am now gearing up to start a season that includes some new projects. I'll announce some things in the next few days on my Twitter account @heelsonthefield. Be aware the new address here is highheelsonthefield.net.
Thank you for reading my work here and at all of the places I've regularly written, including Baseball Digest and Project Prospect. Baseball Digest in particular has been a big part of my life the past year and while the site is moving forward in a different direction, that doesn't mean an ending. It signfies a fresh start and sometimes those challenges are what we need.
There are a couple of new changes to the blog since last season, which include the sub-blog 'On The Other Foot.' You can find it here: http://www.highheelsonthefield.net/high_heels_on_the_field_t/ That will be used for a bit of fun, including a featured photo and a quote. I'll also use it for game stories and notes. I wanted the main blog to be about features, opinion pieces, and profiles, so I thought that the companion blog would be a fun way to keep up the silliness and also do the game stuff that I think has it's own place in sportswriting.
One other change is that I've added a donation button to the site. I did this after A LOT of thought and with worry that readers would be turned off. I hope not. As a professional writer, doing this blog on the side has been a huge experience: fun, frustrating, and a teaching tool. Keeping it going is important to me. If you feel compelled please hit that button. If you don't, thank you for reading and I hope you'll stay with HHOTF.
Thank you again. Back for more dirt under my fingernails...unless I'm typing from my living room.