While it's one of the most rewarding and fun things to do on Earth, following prospects is the ultimate display of embarrassment, frustration, and humility in all of sports writing. Every day we make assessments about players that are still growing, physically changing, emotionally developing, and adapting to one of the most elite professions in all of the world. We might possess all of the scouting information present and available, all of the video attainable, and we still, honestly, are just speculating. We aren't evaluators, we are gossip queens and kings. We are prisoners of the moment. We are often (more than anything) the bringers of false excitement.
And we are at our absolute worst when it comes to teen-aged prospects.
The Cardinals' 19 year old prospect Delvin Perez has become a divisive prospect these days. That division isn't limited to local evaluators. It extends to national evaluators, as well. Perez is one and one-half of a season removed from being selected 23 overall in the 2016 draft. In that time span he's seen his stock plummet. A former top 5 prospect in the organization and top 100 league-wide, Delvin has fallen off of nearly every organizational top 10 list that's been published.
Perez had a very bad 2017 season, but the question remains: how does a kid who is that young go from being compared to Carlos Correa to being cast off in less than two seasons? The easy answer is "because we prospect guru's are morons", but before we dive deep into the answer, let's talk about another teenager short stop, Kevin Maitan.
Kevin Maitan and the Hype Machine
On July 2nd, 2016, the Atlanta Braves signed 16 year old Kevin Maitan. A switch hitting short stop, Maitan was the loudest name on the international market and he signed with the Braves for a hefty $4.25 Million bonus; the largest bonus that the Braves had ever given to an amateur at the time.
The hysteria around the 16 year old Venezuelan was at a deafening pitch. This is what a braves scout, Gordon Blakeley, had to say at the time (via ajc.com):
"My comparison when I talked to our people was Chipper Jones," said Blakeley, and by “our people” he meant Braves officials whom he quickly convinced..."
There's nothing like comparing a 16 year old to a future Hall of Famer. At the time, some of the smartest minds that write and comment on prospects were comparing Maitan to former MVP Miguel Cabrera. That's the very definition of irresponsibly over-hyping and creating pressured-excitement and expectations.
The best thing about Kevin Maitan, thanks to shady activities by The Braves which you can read about HERE via CBSSports, is that we have an entirely new dollar value and scouting report to go off of with Maitan.
In a matter of 17 short months the now 17 year old Maitan was allowed to sign with the Los Angeles Angels for $2.2 million, almost half of what his initial price was. That's one helluva drop! "Why?", you might be asking. Well, Let's go to Baseball America and THIS terrific article for that:
"A year and a half later, scouts are much more in agreement that he will not be a big league shortstop. Maitan's lower half has thickened up significantly as he's gone from the 185-pound amateur to a 210-pound 17-year-old. He has excellent hands and a shortstop's arm, but he lacks the quickness and twitchiness teams look for at shortstop. He's now seen as a future third baseman. And it’s not that hard to find scouts who say they believe he could eventually end up at first base if he doesn't stay on top of his conditioning. "
In 17 month's time, via the most advanced and respected published scouting service in baseball, Maitan fell from the 77th best prospect in baseball and 7th in the Braves organization as a 16 year old to outside of the top 100 and 9th in the Braves organization prior to receiving his free agency. That's a pretty steep fall for a kid that's barely played, deserved or not.
Was everyone wrong when they initially scouted Maitan? Where is Maitan in his development? Is he even a solid investment at this point for the Angels? Sorry, no answers YET, but that does bring us to the Cardinals top short stop prospect...
The Delvin Perez Situation
In June of 2016 the Cardinals drafted a 17 year old Delvin Perez. Perez fell to them at 23 because some type of steroid or human growth hormone was detected in his system right before the draft. Prior to that point, it looked like Perez might have been a top 5 picks in the draft.
Perez had a solid debut in 2016 for the Cardinals and he was immediately added to every top 100 list at the end of 2016. Sticking with the fine folks at Baseball America (because they truly are the best), Perez was the 86th best prospect in baseball and the Cardinals 3rd best in the organization. That's lofty praise for a teenager with so many questions, but the skill was there.
Yet, here we are one year later and Perez is nowhere to be found on any of the top 100 list. He's even fallen off of the Cardinals top 10 list, via Baseball America (Subscribe to their service. It's worth it). Now, Delvin did have a 2017 season in which he was terrible. He was demoted from Johnson City to the GCL mid-way through his 2017 campaign because he was slashing 140/275/186 with 8 strike outs in 43 at-bats. He was benched by the team for a few games after he threw a temper tantrum following a strike out. His defense was bad. His body was skinnier. People were even throwing around allegations that all of his success was a product of the PED's that were detected in his system pre-2016 draft. Whether those claims are fair or not (I'd argue that they aren't because of how solid his 2016 season was after being drafted and clean), he brought those claims upon himself by taking PED's in the first place and by not performing well in 2017.
This is what Baseball America had to say about Perez pre-2017:
"Perez draws comparisons to fellow Puerto Ricans Carlos Correa and Francisco Lindor with a lithe, quick-twitch lope that comes from high-functioning athleticism. He has 70 speed on a 20-80 scouting scale and movement in the field that match that quickness."
To go from that to this, via the Baseball America prospect chat, in 17 months is sobering:
"The guy looked one way and showed a certain ability to impact the ball, then got popped for PEDs, and came back looking like a stick with zero strength. He can barely get the ball out of the infield right now, and when it does get to the outfield it's a lame duck."
I want to remind you that it wasn't just Baseball America that said this about Delvin. Everyone did. So, what happened? Should we jump overboard from the Perez ship? Is all hope lost? Sorry, still no answers yet. Before we get to that, let's take a second to talk about a player with ties to the Cardinals organization that gives us another feel for how the hype machine works...
The Cult of Magneuris Sierra
In July of 2012 the Cardinals gave 16 year old Magneuris Sierra, a small outfielder with a ton of speed and a good arm, a modest bonus of $105,000 to be a part of their organization. Sierra didn't make his debut until 2013. He had a solid debut with the Cardinals DSL team, but it wasn't anything to spend too much time highlighting.
Then, 2014 happened. Sierra bust on to the scene in the GCL. He slashed .386/434/505, won the GCL batting title, ranked 3rd in the GCL in on base percentage, and, at the age of 18, became the youngest player to win the Cardinals hitting prospect of the year award. At that point, Sierra entered every top 10 list associated with the Cardinals and he even found his way on to a top 100 list or two.
At that point, the hysteria level of the hype machine was working overtime, and people were starting to compare the sub-six foot, sub 160 pound (at the time) Sierra to major league mashers such as Carlos Gonzalez (I would link to those comps, but it'd just be me beating up on some of, what might be considered, our rivals here at Birds On The Black. It's an easy google search to find the culprits).
As he progressed through the system, Sierra struggled to show the promise that he displayed while lighting up the GCL. It was never easy to get a gauge on where Sierra was in his development. He was playing against talent that was at least 2 years older than him on average and the Cardinals were being aggressive in promoting him. The one thing that was certain was that the power was never going to come for him. That didn't stop the advanced and crazy comps from sticking with him as he advanced.
He was never going to be that hitter and the hope that it would happen is what kept him in the top 10 of Cardinals prospects even as his short supply of power evaporated and his patience at the plate went missing. Even to this day, it's believed by some that he'll be that hitter. Those expectations are built solely around his successful 2014 season, not any type of real world evaluation. Did Sierra stunt in his development? What went wrong? What could have been done differently that would have allowed him to become Carlos Gonzalez 2.0?
What I'm Saying Is...
All of the questions that I posed above have the same answer: baseball at the minor league level is so volatile and we should never ever, as a fan base or evaluator or scout or organizational talking head, invest so heavily into what is going on with teenage prospects. Even the elite prospects. They're kids! Never forget that, especially as the name of Jonatan Machado starts to creep into your sight. Let them develop before we tell you that a teenager is going to make a major league impact. That is, unless they are already playing at a full season affiliate, but that's a topic for a different day.
If you read that "so and so 16 year old is the next Bryce Harper" you should laugh and run in the other direction. Those kids are too far away. Those expectations are unrealistic and unfair, and they are an insult to people who invest emotionally into their favorite organization. It is something that I have done myself (see my twitter account in regards to Luis Robert), and I'm going to try my hardest to not do it again. Speaking of Harper, remember that 16 year old on the cover of SI?
He's had a great career, but even the hype train ran off of it's reality-rails with him!
A HUGE thanks to the folks at Baseball America (who you should definitely subscribe to) for their contribution to this article, as well as SI, CBSSports, Atlanta Journal Constitution, cardinalsgifs, and other blogs that I haven't named as well as an extra thanks to myself for being one of the knobs that over-hypes prospects.
Thanks For Reading!