Last week Jesse got a lot of press. You’ll find some of the choice coverage at the video links and article archives sections of this website. In part it was a slow sports week in Philly. But it was also a special time for eight young Phillies’ farm system players on the edge of possibly breaking through very soon. They were taking part in a weeklong set of activities called the Phillies Prospect Education Seminar. They learned a lot about what goes into being a major leaguer behind the scenes. The main focus of the week, though, was media relations training.
So you will find a bunch of stories and videos here and online from last week featuring Jesse. The theme of most of this coverage is that Jesse wants to make amends in 2014 for last year’s less than stellar season. There is no doubt that he needs to do better than he did last year. But not a single one of these stories pointed out that he didn’t really have a “bad” season. He was just inconsistent. Most of the stories completely missed the opportunity to point out that he was an Eastern League All-Star and that he was the winning pitcher in the 2014 All-Star Futures Game at CitiField in New York. Nor did they point out that he led the league in strikeouts and had the lowest “batting average against” in the league right up to the end of the season when he just ran out of gas.
If there’s a single metaphor outing to describe Jesse’s 2013 season, it’s probably the night he faced Alex Rodriguez in Trenton. You can read about that night here. He walked A-Rod in the first at-bat, gave up a monstrous home run in the second at-bat, and then struck out the most notorious slugger in baseball the last time he faced him. It was truly a trial by fire night.
All of the weirdness of 2013 is now behind Jesse. He learned a lot, no doubt. And he’s been working hard in the off-season both physically and mentally. Three weeks ago he got invited the Big-League camp. He understands the Phillies want him to come so that he can get a taste of what it means to be in a major league clubhouse and stand on the mound against the best of the best. They’ll probably only have him in camp through the first three weeks or so before he heads to the back fields to work with his minor league teammates. He knows that at the end of March they will assign him most likely to either AA or AAA.
More than anything, though, he knows that when the season begins in the first week of April, wherever he is he will be pitching every five days and inching closer to being the best he can possibly be in the world of baseball. It’s not about what happened last year. It’s about what is going to happen this year.
And that’s true of every minor leaguer in the Phillies’ organization. There are some very talented gamers moving up the ladder. The reason following minor league baseball is such fun is because so many of these guys are working their young butts off trying to get better, trying to make it all the way. Guys like Aaron Altherr, Kelly Dugan, David Buchanan, Maikel Franco, Tyson Gillies, Tyler Knigge, Austin Wright, and Brody Colvin — to name just a very few — have all shown flashes of brilliance. Can they harness their potential? Only time will tell. Follow them this year and you’ll find out.
To close, let’s point out Cody Asche. Everyone was going on and on about how terrible the Phillies minor league pickings were last year and the year before. Cody wasn’t on many top prospect lists for the team when he showed up in 2011. But about two-thirds of the way through last year he got called up from AAA to play 3b for the big club and performed beyond anyone’s expectations. When he was playing with Jesse in high A Clearwater two years ago, Jesse said Cody was the smartest hitter he’d ever talked to and was definitely going to be a major leaguer. As anyone who watched him last year will tell you, he’s also a pretty damned good fielder. Cody hit .235 in his first year with the Phils. Chase Utley hit .239 in his first year (2003). September is a super cruel month for first year call-ups.
All of which is to say, pay attention to what’s going on at minor league ballparks. Don’t read the prospect lists and think you know what’s up with your team’s farm system. One thing Jesse tries to be clear about is that being a top prospect really doesn’t mean anything to him. What matters is how well he plays day in and day out. Maybe a guy had a good season last year. Maybe he sucked. Maybe he was inconsistent. Performance is a funny thing. It’s always in the past.
2014 starts on April 3rd. Let’s see how well these guys do then…and how well they’re doing in August, or even October. Go Phillies (and Cross-Cutters, BlueClaws, Threshers, Fightin’ Phils, and Iron Pigs). You gotta believe!
See you out there.