|Voted college baseball's Player of the Year, Nebraska's Alex Gordon was a sure thing...|
These guys can be found at all levels of competitive baseball. Their talent is undeniable - they have tools that every other guy in that dugout could only dream of. Some guys may have blazing speed, a couple have light tower power, and a few can throw a baseball harder than you thought humanly possible. So, why aren't these guys any good?
Sure these guys have talent, but they're not quality baseball players - not yet, at least. They have all the ingredients to be a perennial All-Star, but something's off. Whether it's a better understanding of the game, an adjustment to a higher level, or simply learning how to deal with failure, there is a change that needs to be made - and until they overcome this obstacle, they will always remain a project.
In college, a project is that top recruit that has a tough time making the jump from high school to college ball. He comes to campus highly touted, and before he's even laced up his fall-ball spikes, the head coach has him penciled into February's opening day lineup. But as the Fall progresses, he doesn't deliver. He has trouble making the adjustment to better competition - he looks overmatched. What's going on? This was our top recruit, he's a great player - what's wrong with him?
It is at this moment when the special attention kicks in. Suddenly, there's personal BP with the hitting coach before and after practice; personal bullpen sessions with the pitching coach dissecting every release; one-on-one filming sessions, private meetings, practice plans based around this individual player's needs - the coaching staff goes into full panic mode and the project has become the program's main focus.
The coaches recruited this kid to be an immediate impact player. When they saw him play in high school, their expert analysis indicated he would be ready - there's no way they could be wrong, right? I mean, scouting is part of their job, they're professionals - they couldn't have messed this one up. And just like that, it's all about them. This kid will represent their ability to analyze talent for years to come. Their reputations and egos are on the line, and they will do everything in their power to make sure this recruit becomes the great player they projected him to be.
You see the same situation in professional baseball all the time. The high draft pick that just isn't developing on schedule. The organization invested a lot of money in him, and they're going to do everything possible to make their scouts and evaluators look like geniuses. This kid will get every opportunity imaginable - he'll play every day, he'll get extra attention from the coaching staff, he'll get promoted undeservedly, and in a world where job security comes and goes with every at-bat, he'll be in a starting lineup for at least four years regardless of his productivity.
And what do these projects all have in common? Potential. All of these coaches are trying to find the next big thing - that undervalued stock that skyrockets, making them look like a mastermind in the process. All of these kids could possibly become baseball's next superstar - they have 'great upside,' a 'high ceiling' - but until they begin to fulfill that potential, they're just another project.
So attention all projects: make the most of your abilities. It may seem like the weight of your entire organization is on your shoulders, but realize how many of your teammates would kill to be in your shoes. When the extra attention becomes too much, take a look at the transactions page on MiLB.com and see how many guys got released today. Then check their stats - how many were putting up better numbers than you? Not everyone gets second chances, and for the majority of minor leaguers, it's simply a numbers game.
You have the privilege of wiggle room - you've been granted the gift of a long leash. Use it. Learn the game. Work harder than anyone else in that clubhouse. Because the path won't always be as easy as your team is making it for you right now. You're given every opportunity along the way, but at the end of the road, a project can become one of two things: a success, or a "bust." You've got the talent, so the way I see it, the choice is yours.
Big League Version: Daisuke Matsuzaka, Alex Gordon, Delmon Young
Movie Shout Out: Ebby Calvin 'Nuke' Laloosh
PLAYER MOLD Series