Even after covering the MLB debuts of two highly touted Orioles first-round draft picks in 2009 (Matt Wieters and Brian Matusz), the amount of hype surrounding young talent never ceases to amaze me.
Friday night, I attended my first minor league game since covering what used to be the Yankees' Triple-A affiliate, the Columbus Clippers, in 2004. I headed down to Woodbridge, VA to catch Stephen Strasburg in his second rehab start at Single-A Potomac.
8,000 people showed to a park that fits just over 6,000 to see Strasburg pitch three innings. I kept thinking, 'What if his arm isn't OK?' So much is riding on it.
For the record, Strasburg's fastball hit 99 miles per hour that night, so at least his velocity has returned early on.
I know first-round pitchers don't want for anything and they are handsomely compensated out of the draft, but I still feel for them. All of the scouting reports and projections in the world don't mean these players will have successful careers.
Ask Ben MacDonald. Sure, he had a respectable nine-year big league career, but it's safe to say he was the Stephen Strasburg of 1989. MacDonald fell miles short of the ridiculously high bar that was placed on him.
This Tuesday in Oakland, we could see Matusz's return to the Orioles rotation. He will travel with the team to the West Coast. Matusz wasn't as highly publicized as Strasburg, but a lot was expected of the Orioles' 2008 first-round draft pick.
Matusz cruised through his rookie season which spanned 2009-10. He put an exclamation point on the 2010 season with an impressive September, but in 2011 the wheels fell off. After an oblique injury in spring training, the 24-year-old lost his velocity. All of the sudden, there are mumblings around the league that Matusz might not have as much upside as originally believed.
Really? After a few rocky months?
Matusz is hoping to prove those critics wrong. He sent a message that he was ready to be back in the big leagues when he threw a complete game shutout for Triple-A Norfolk August 11th.
In Washington, Nationals manager Davey Johnson said Strasburg could be back in the Nationals' rotation after just four minor league rehab starts.
There has been criticism that the Nationals are rushing their prize pitcher back just to put fans in the seats in September. I don't buy that. I choose to believe no organization would put the health of a player in jeopardy for marketing purposes. The amount of money a ballclub might make in ticket sales pales in comparison to the loss of a multi-million dollar investment like Strasburg.
Still, the way young pitchers like Strasburg are used as publicity machines, I can understand where that criticism might come from.
I really have trouble with the hype placed on young draft picks these days - especially the pitchers. It's hard being a member of the media who is expected to participate in and feed the hype. I've never been comfortable with that.
Most of the kids are 18 years old, yet based on high school scouting reports we can predict they'll win a Cy Young Award?
Does anybody realize how many factors go into winning a Cy Young? It's way more than just talent. How does that pitcher respond to failure? Will he stay healthy? How talented is the team behind him? How coachable is he? How committed to conditioning is he?
There are so many wild cards in predicting how pitching talent will develop in the big leagues. I wish the hype would cease and we'd just let these young guys pitch. Once they begin to put together a season that is Cy Young-worthy, then let's start the hype.