It's not fair what we do to these kids. Sports aren't fair. The poking and prodding of teenagers like cattle at a meat market already feels dirty in a way, and that was before Mike Trout went out and ruined the aging curve for everyone by being an MVP by age 22 (save it, he should be working on his third).
But once we've done all of that, the pressure really begins to mount. When looking at amateur talent, it's all about what a kid can do. As soon as they are affiliated with a team, the script gets flipped and it's all about what they can't do. The minute they've signed, we rank them, analyze them, and chat about them until we're blue in the face. I'm as guilty of it as anybody.
So it's actually a wonder we don't here stories like this more often.
In the article, Mets top prospect Noah Syndergaard discusses the way that his prospect status affected his performance this year. It's understandable. Not only has Syndergaard been hyped as one of the top pitching prospects in all of baseball (and rightfully so), but he's dealt with the added pressure of being traded for a Cy Young award winner and being tabbed as part of the answer to the New York Mets problems and the pressures that come with being followed by the biggest city in the nation.
Syndergaard owns up to the way the pressure effected him, which actually shows more maturity than he gives himself credit for. But in the midst of all of the lists and rankings, we often forget the logistics of putting that kind of microscope on, in this case, a 21-year-old kid. Fans more concerned with their team's record or their long-range fantasy team only care about when a prospect will be in the majors, often forgetting the person behind the name, scouting report and numbers.
Syndergaard admits to falling into that trap, a victim of his own press clippings to a certain extent, but he's likely taking more of the blame then he should. Not only is it difficult not to hear all of the noise going on around you when you get to the level he's achieved, but pitching in Las Vegas is no easy task either.
In addition to the thin desert air and the extremely hitter-friendly parks throughout the Pacific Coast League, of which Vegas may play in the most extreme, sending young kids with lots of money to live in Vegas for the summer isn't exactly the best developmental plan. In a world full of distractions, young, rich kids in Vegas is like a moth to a flame thrower. There's a reason that the last organization standing when they play affiliate musical chairs every few years usually ends up stuck in Vegas.
But it's not like Syndergaard has been out hitting the slots every night, or if he has, we don't know about it. The bigger concern he's dealing with is the spotlight. In the article he says, "With runners on base I’ve had a tendency to throw too many fastballs because I’m most comfortable throwing that pitch." That's understandable, but it may not be all his fault.
The Mets haven't exactly shielded him from these kinds of situations, and instead have basically challenged him publicly with articles like this, accusing him of not being aggressive enough. In pitcher/coaching terminology, not being aggressive enough means not throwing enough fastballs. The Mets challenged Syndergaard to throw more fastballs early this season, but he attributes his struggles to throwing too many with runners on base. The fact that he didn't throw his own organization under the bus there is actually a testament to his maturity and toughness.
Still, it adds to the spotlight. Syndergaard hoped to be in the majors by now, as did millions of Mets fans. Injuries derailed that plan early this season, but inconsistent play upon returning to the field hasn't helped. Still, the pressure mounts. Syndergaard handled the pressure of closing out the Future's Game on Sunday, perhaps a sign of his ability to deal with things in the future, but frankly admitted to not liking it a whole lot. It appears he's a lot different than a guy like his future teammate Matt Harvey, who appears to revel in the spotlight. It's not a right or wrong thing. It's just a personality trait.
But we forget about personality far too often when looking at prospects, instead focusing on the measurables. Yes, Syndergaard can throw 97 miles per hour and yes, he's a perfectly built 6'6" 240 lbs, but he's a person, and everyone handles pressure differently.
None of this means he can't handle pitching in New York, a moniker that gets thrown around far too often. What it means is that he's a kid who hears the noise, something which is perfectly normal. He's blaming that partially for his struggles this season, and he's probably not wrong, although I'd give injuries and pitching in Las Vegas their share of the blame as well. That's not a knock on Syndergaard. It's a knock on us for needing it to be pointed out.
It's important to remember the person behind the names, numbers and scouting reports. Every player handles the developmental process differently, both on and off the field. Every situation is different, and preparing to play in Minnesota and New York are very different things.
There are so many bumps in the developmental road, but we tend to focus on the ones that take place on the field and in between the lines. We ignore the ones that take place in the media, in the maturation process, and in the mind. It's important to remember these potential pitfalls as a part of the process, and remember the human element behind names. Developing the person is just as important as developing the player.