Telling die-hard baseball fans not to believe the hype—especially when the hype is about their own team—is like telling religious zealots their faith is completely made up. You're going to get backlash no matter how sound or practical your reasoning is, simply because you are going against what people want to believe, no matter how ridiculous or mathematically improbable.
That's fine. That's cool. That's what fans are supposed to do: have hope beyond what the numbers and projections say. It's the essence of the phrase, "We'll get 'em next year!" even when, at the very best, next year's odds are still one in 30.
But what if those beliefs actually hurt the team's chances?
In the case of the Toronto Blue Jays' Marcus Stroman, the 22nd pick in this year's amateur player draft, that might actually be possible.
A few big names and third-party scouts touted Stroman, a talented 21-year-old pitcher out of Duke, as a player capable of making an impact in the big leagues this year. He's polished, powerful and a solid first-round choice.
But is he really the type of player that can burst onto the big stage in his first season? Probably not.
Lets debunk the hype. Forget about silly things like: the arbitration clock, a full college season, option burning, bargaining power, logistics, super-twos, contract incentives, 40-man space, Alex Anthopoulos and team needs.
Let's just look at the first round of the draft. All first-round talents have stratospheric upsides or tools so polished they induce direct big-league comparison. They posses the type of ability that makes scouts feel losing millions to retain their talent is a risk worth taking. However, history has shown that there are many players who come into their first season with similar billings to Stroman—equally hyped, gushed over and talented—and virtually none of them go directly from college to the bigs.
In fact, the odds are greatly against this happening.
There are, dare I say, better odds that Stroman won't make it to the big leagues at all.
Whoa! Put down those pitchforks and torches. I'm not saying he won't make the majors, just that there is a history to consider before we rush out to buy Stroman jerseys.
Yes, Stroman is a first-rounder in every sense of the word. But, right now, with millions being spent to secure him, the market value of hype, a hot franchise to think of, fans to keep happy and scouts who have to justify their choices at the risk of losing their jobs, it's fine to think that Stroman has nothing but upside. Frankly, that's all you're going to hear about because it's in everyone's best interest to think that way.
Everyone but Stroman's, that is.
Unchecked hype is dangerous for a young player because he often doesn't yet understand how large a role "the industry of the game" plays in his life. He doesn't know what kind of expectations are really on his shoulders, or what it would mean to either meet them or not. He can try to figure it out from the outside looking in, from analyzing current events and contract dollars, but there is no substitute for experience.
Stroman has realized a childhood dream he believes will define his entire life. With it, he's in position to receive large amounts of money, media hype, buzz, expectation and piercing exposure. And he hasn't even thrown a pro pitch yet!
Sure, he wants to be in the bigs his first year. What player doesn't? But is he really ready for the exposure? Can he shoulder it? How can you predict what his reaction will be to something a fraction of a fraction of earthlings have ever known? Being a first-round pick is a tremendous amount of pressure, most of which has nothing to do with the level of competition on the field.
Media is a more invasive part of a player's life now than ever before, and I'm sure Stroman has heard what's being said about him. But is that what Stroman needs to hear?
Or would it be better for him—and for Jays fans in it for the long haul—to know that there isn't some timer counting down on this season? That there is no reason for him to believe he needs to be in the bigs this year? That there is no logic in paying attention to the hype, all of which is out of his control?
What Stroman can control is how hard he works and what pitches he chooses next. Trust me, those jobs are hard enough for a rookie in the pros. Stroman doesn't need to make it harder by forgetting how young he is, his lack of experience and his physical limitations in a futile attempt at trying to live up to the ethereal buzz.
And we certainly don't need to exhaust ourselves with concern by willfully forgetting that Stroman is young, green and deserving of some room to fail.
I'm not anti-prospect. And I do think Stroman's going to be a big leaguer. I am, however, anti-hype. Especially now, when a young man is still learning where the game ends and he begins.