A good friend of mine recently sent her only child, a son, off to college. I remember those times as heart wrenching moments when each of my three children left the nest. To occupy my mind, I would usually wrap myself around some kind of project. That may have been my friend’s strategy, too.
Knowing that I love reading about baseball, especially autobiographies, she appeared with a stack of sports books that she and her son had read over the years. Cleaning out the house is sometimes a good mind occupying project.
I got the chance to read “The Life You Imagine, Life Lessons For Achieving Your Dreams.” That’s a tome from the pen of Derek Jeter written in 2000 during the earlier years of his career.
As a Met fan and a contributor to Metsmerized and MetsMinors.net, I have read several threads over the last two years on many a Mets site, where people almost bayonet the Met front office for their first round draft selections of Brandon Nimmo and Gavin Cecchini. When both logged rather modest statistics during their first full season of baseball with identical .248 batting averages the howls were harsh and loud.
Imagine what the reaction may have been had either Met prospect brought home Derek Jeter’s stats during his first professional year. Moving directly from high school in Kalamazoo, Michigan, as a 17-year old kid, Jeter was overwhelmed by his start in professional baseball. Jeter laughs at his naivety when he remembers his request to the Yankees to delay his professional baseball start for a week so he could spend July 4th at home with his parents and girlfriend, a request the Yankees politely nixed.
Jeter was miserable that first summer. USA’s top high school baseball player in the country and the Yankees number one draft pick had batted .557 in his senior year at Kalamazoo High with 7 HR’s and had struck out only 1 time the entire season. Jeter’s professional baseball debut came during a doubleheader where he went 0-7 and struck out 5 times. It took Jeter 15- at bats before he would register his first professional hit. The future Yankee great hit .202 that first year in Class-A for Tampa in the Rookie League.
Jeter was overmatched and depressed. He talks about doubting his lifetime dream of becoming a Yankee for the first time, of crying himself to sleep at night, and running up telephone bills back home to his Mom, Dad and girlfriend, of between $300 and $400 dollars a month. That was tough to do in those days.
Luckily, Jeter had a strong support network. His Dad reminded him over and over again that Chipper Jones had only hit .229 during his first year in the minor leagues. The Yankees didn’t dwell on his statistics, identifying characteristics of his batting approach that they liked and emphasizing those instead.
Jeter’s batting stabilized some during his second minor league season when he batted .295 with 5 HR’s and 71 RBI’s, not quite the mark of Kevin Plawecki, but a huge upgrade indeed. But, during his second campaign, Jeter’s defense was a mess. The future Yankee Hall of Famer made 56 errors for Class-A Greensboro.
Could you imagine the ruckus if Cecchini (who has committed 13 errors in his first two seasons) had comparable shortstop fielding stats. My ears would still be ringing.
Once again, Derek’s Dad was supportive reminding his son that Mickey Mantle totaled over 50 errors as a shortstop during his second minor league year. The Yankees rushed Gene Michael, the “Stick.” to Greensboro to counsel and work with Jeter and signed him up for the summer Instructional League to focus only on defense. Jeter was a designated shortstop who only played defense in games after 3 hours of morning skill drill work, 24/7. The young shortstop received one-to-one tutelage from Brian Butterfield the only student for Butterfield that summer.
Let’s make this perfectly clear. In no way am I suggesting or even hinting that I think Brandon Nimmo or Gavin Cecchini is going to become a Derek Jeter. I’m only pointing out that like it was for Jeter, two years in the minor leagues is not sufficient to determine the value of a baseball prospect.
Like Jeter, as a professional baseball team’s number one draft pick, both Nimmo and Cecchini have played the game at the highest plateaus at the amateur level. That’s still no guarantee of major league baseball success. Only with time and patience will the answer of whether or not the two Met prospects contribute as major leaguers will become more clear.
That said, it often leaves me shaking my head when I read some comments here and elsewhere that almost sound like some Met fans are hoping Nimmo and Cecchini fail just so they can hammer the front office some more. Whether you are happy with a front office draft selection or not, it makes sense that every Met fan should hope these entry level prospects do well. God knows we could use the help.