Minor League Baseball kicks off on Thursday -- the Norfolk Tides at Charlotte Knights at 11:15 a.m. ET is the first game on tap -- and with it, scores of prospects will be embarking on a new season. For the 2010 Draft class, this signifies their first full year of professional baseball, from Chris Sale in the big leagues all the way down to Jameson Taillon, who's beginning this season in extended spring training. Some got their feet wet last summer, others will be making their official professional debuts this week.
It began with their first Spring Training experiences. While many played a little bit before the summer months ran out and nearly all got to get a sense of what this would be like in Instructional League play, heading to Florida or Arizona for a couple of months with everyone in the organization was truly the first time they got to see what their team was all about.
"The Phillies did a really good job preparing us. We got this big booklet on what to do in the offseason, and as long as you followed it, you were going to be fine," said No. 27 pick Jesse Biddle in Clearwater, Fla., before Minor League camp broke. "You had to come in shape and in the best shape of your life, because they really push you every single day here. It's what you make it. If you don't want to push yourself, you don't have to. But you're not going to get a lot out of it, and you won't get rewarded the same way as you want."
Biddle was rewarded by getting a full-season assignment out of camp, heading to the Lakewood BlueClaws in the South Atlantic League, just a stone's throw from his Philly-area home. That's the same league that No. 1 overall pick Bryce Harper will be in and Biddle, the left-handed starter, might get a shot at the lefty-swinging Nationals outfield prospect when Lakewood travels to Hagerstown April 15-18.
Where they're at
|Player's name||Org||Starting point|
|Bryce Harper, OF||WAS||Hagerstown (A)|
|Jameson Taillon, RHP||PIT||Extended ST|
|Manny Machado, SS||BAL||Delmarva (A)|
|Christian Colon, SS||KC||NW Arkansas (AA)|
|Drew Pomeranz, LHP||CLE||Kinston (A Adv)|
|Barret Loux, RHP||TEX*||Myrtle Beach (A Adv)|
|Matt Harvey, RHP||NYM||St. Lucie (A Adv)|
|Delino DeShields, 2B||HOU||Lexington (A)|
|Karsten Whitson, RHP||SD||Did not sign|
|Michael Choice, OF||OAK||Stockton (A Adv)|
|Deck McGuire, RHP||TOR||Dunedin (A Adv)|
|Yasmani Grandal, C||CIN||Bakersfield (A Adv)|
|Chris Sale, LHP||CWS||MLB|
|Dylan Covey, RHP||MIL||Did not sign|
|Jake Skole, OF||TEX||Hickory (A)|
|Hayden Simpson, RHP||CHI||Peoria (A)|
|Josh Sale, OF||TB||Extended ST|
|Kaleb Cowart, 3B/RHP||LAA||Cedar Rapids|
|Mike Foltynewicz, RHP||HOU||Lexington (A)|
|Kolbrin Vitek, 2B/OF||BOS||Salem (A Adv)|
|Alex Wimmers, RHP||MIN||Fort Myers (A Adv)|
|Kellin Deglan, C||TEX||Hickory (A)|
|Christian Yelich, OF||FLA||Greensboro (A)|
|Gary Brown, OF||SF||San Jose (A Adv)|
|Zack Cox, 3B||STL||Palm Beach (A Adv)|
|Kyle Parker, OF||COL||Asheville (A)|
|Jesse Biddle, LHP||PHI||Lakewood (A)|
|Zach Lee, RHP||LAD||Great Lakes (A)|
|Cam Bedrosian, RHP||LAA||Extended ST|
|Chevez Clarke, OF||LAA||Extended ST|
|Justin O'Conner, C||TB||Extended ST|
|Cito Culver, SS||NYY||Extended ST|
The South Atlantic League might be the place to be for those interested in scouting last year's first round. In addition to Biddle and Harper, there will be at least seven other first-round picks starting the year in the SAL, including Manny Machado, taken No. 3 overall by the Orioles. After a whirlwind summer, Machado worked hard this offseason to be ready to go when the bell rang, likely a big reason why he got the ticket to Delmarva to kick off the year with the Shorebirds.
"I relaxed for a couple of weeks, maybe a month," Machado said. "Then I just started hitting the weights. I knew myself -- I had to get stronger. I trained with a lot of guys in the offseason, a lot of Major Leaguers. They gave me a lot of advice: It's a long season, you have to be healthy and strong."
That is the key for all of these newcomers. None of them have gone through anything like the season they're about to encounter. Biddle signed early and got a good amount of work in and his innings total up, but it's still not the same as the 140-game marathon that begins on Thursday. Being able to deal with that, to find ways to adjust and play through the inevitable aches and pains, that's what all the work in Spring Training truly was for.
"I feel I'm prepared for it," said Deck McGuire, the Blue Jays' top pick at No. 11 overall. "Shoot, in a 60-game season in college, there were times where I hit a wall. It's just all about how you handle that wall that's going to determine how successful you are. Those [Major League] guys, talking to them, learning what they went through, how they handled it well, how they didn't handle it well, it's given me a big leg up on how to handle this season."
"There's really no way to prepare yourself for that, Biddle said. "It's such a long season and there's so many innings I'm going to have to throw that there's really no way to be able to say whether you're going to be able to handle it until you're in the middle of it. I'm just really excited about it because they're one of the best organizations at keeping you healthy. That's what you need to do to get to the next level. You can't get to the next baseball club if you're hurt."
Not every first-rounder is getting an assignment right off the bat, with some hanging back in extended spring training until getting sent to a short-season or perhaps one of the full-season clubs later on. For Taillon, it was a matter of the Pirates wanting to limit his innings, and deciding they'd rather have the No. 2 overall pick finish the season pitching instead of getting cut off early. For others, it might be a matter of fine-tuning some things before being sent out. Case in point -- Cito Culver, the final selection of the first round.
"The question is: Can he go to Charleston right away or do we want to have some extended spring where we can do some more, in more of a kind of lab atmosphere to try and integrate some of the things he's working on to his game?" Yankees senior vice president of baseball operations Mark Newman said. "If we feel the need to do that, we'll keep him in extended and let him work on those things out of the public view, so to speak."
"I'm here to work hard and get better," said Culver, the high school shortstop out of upstate New York, who got to work out and learn from Derek Jeter at times during the winter and Spring Training. "Whatever they think is in the best interests for me, they've been doing this longer than I have. If I stay here, then I'm going to stay here and I'm going to try and get better every day."
All of these players, from Harper down to Culver, do have a spotlight on them. Perhaps during Spring Training, it's been easier to be just "one of the guys" among the scores of Minor Leaguers in camp. Many of them said there was some good-natured ribbing this spring about their first-round status, but as much as they've blended in, they are likely to stand out once the regular season starts. Opponents, fans, media, and perhaps even teammates will be taking notice of their performances more so than with other players.
The trick is to not internalize that external pressure. Most seem to be ready for that test, though there has been many a first-rounder who hasn't lived up to expectations. That might not be something these young players are too concerned with right now. More than anything, they just want to play ball.
"With me last year, getting to experience about four starts I had ... you get a little taste of it, but not as much," said Alex Wimmers, the Twins' top pick at No. 21. "With this being my first full year, I'm definitely excited and ready to get things started."
"It's been a lifelong goal. It's been for everybody in that clubhouse," McGuire said. "I'm blessed that it worked out, all the hard work paid off. Right now, I'm really looking forward to my first pro season."
"I'm super excited," said Machado, then contemplating life as a top professional prospect. "I'm the same Manny Machado from high school -- just play hard and give it my all."