Tuesday, February 1, 2011
COLLEGE to PRO: Competition
The jump from college to pro baseball is ridiculous. Pitchers throw harder, guys hit the ball further, and no one, I mean no one, makes an error. I felt so overwhelmed when I stepped on a professional diamond for the first time- these guys were baseball machines!
Ok, ok- absolutely none of that is true. That may be the conception of most players walking into a professional clubhouse for the first time, but it only takes a few minutes of that first Rookie Ball practice- perhaps when the guy you're throwing with air mails you by 10 feet, or when the pitcher fielding grounders watches the ball go through his legs for the third straight time- for you to realize that the guys around you are all human.
Your new teammates are just like you- they were the best players on their college team, and there's something about them- a tool, a quality, a mindset- that enables them to play at the next level- but they're not perfect.
Every first year player makes mistakes- hell, every Big Leaguer makes mistakes. Baseball is a game made up of errors and miscues, but it's the best players and best teams that are able to minimize those miscues. Consistency is what every player strives for in this imperfect game- it's what separates the best from the rest.
Consistency is also what separates pro-ball from college baseball.
The pitchers didn't throw harder in Rookie Ball than ones I faced at school- but they always threw hard. All the pitchers I'd be seeing from now on were their school's Friday night guy or stud closer- there were no more stat-padding middle relievers, and I could kiss the mid 80's velocity I saw during college mid-week games goodbye. On any given night, I was facing some university's ace. The pitching staff was deeper because every minor league team is essentially a college (plus high school) All-Star team.
I learned that early on as a Rookie. In one of our first three-game series, the starting pitchers we faced sat 97, 98, and 94 MPH, respectively. "What the hell were these kids doing in Rookie Ball?" Getting better, just like everyone else. They weren't complete pitchers- their delivery wasn't smooth and their off-speed was mediocre at best- and so they worked at it, hoping to sustain a level of consistency that would allow them to advance.
Pitchers have said similar things about the consistency of pro hitters- they are less likely to chase pitches out of the zone, and even more likely to make a pitcher pay if he misses his spot. These guys weren't necessarily better than the best college hitters a guy has faced, but they were all just as good. You have to keep in mind that every pro team's ninth hitter was likely his school's leadoff or number 2 hitter- not to mention he likely has wheels to burn.
The best pro-ball players aren't better than the best college players- they were the best college players. But the average talent is far better, and the worst minor leaguer was likely still a great college player. It's that level of consistent competition that will grind you down- no days off, no easy outs, no batting practice type pitchers.
Everyday is a work day because we are are all looking to achieve some type of consistent success. It's why we take 200 swings a day and throw bullpens on days we aren't starting- we've all had moments of brilliance, but you're not the best player you can be until you're the best player you can be every day. And so we work, and we repeat. Consistency.
Anyone can bat .300 for five games, but can you do it for 140 games? Those that can move up. Achieve consistent success there? Move up again. The Minor League system is like a funnel, with only the smallest percentage of guys getting through that little hole into the promise land.
Achieve consistent success in the Bigs? Chances are you were kind of a big deal on campus.