Trevor Bauer is up with the Arizona Diamondbacks, and he's going to make his major-league debut on Thursday. You might have your pet prospects, your Bryce Harpers or Jurickson Profars, the minor leaguers you identified early on as players to watch, and about whom you couldn't get enough information. Bauer is mine.
Maybe it's because he partly modeled his windup and delivery after Tim Lincecum. Maybe it's because he's a social-media hound, who absolutely loves dissecting his mechanics in front of an Internet audience. Maybe it's because he appeals to the subset of baseball fans who also have pocket protectors:
"It's 330 feet down both lines, so it's 330 times root 2,'' he said, pulling out his smartphone. He called up the calculator accessory and punched in 330 times the square root of two. "That's 466.69 feet.''
In that same article, Jim Caple gets a quote from Miguel Montero about Bauer's between-innings warmup routine:
"It scares me -- he's going to kill somebody"
You don't need context for that one, really. That's a quote from a catcher about something a young pitcher does between innings. It's all fascinating. Everything Bauer does is fascinating to me.
Alas, though, this is as good as prospect fascination gets. Because now we actually have to watch the guy pitch in the majors. The progression:
This is where the prospect can do anything because he hasn't not done it before. His ceiling is that of a straight-edge Dwight Gooden with Wolverine's powers of regeneration. Trevor Bauer carved up the minors. He could carve up the majors in the same way, for years. Because he hasn't not done it already.
He does good things. Then he's established, and we're used to him. We'll feign amazement. Heck, it'll be genuine appreciation. But it will probably be something that a few other pitchers are doing, at least. He might be an ace, but he probably isn't an alpha-ace -- a guy who would pick his teeth with Justin Verlander. An All-Star, maybe, even a Cy Young winner, but not quite the a rock-opera-in-a-can we were expecting. Not Pedro Martinez, circa '99, every single season.
People start debating his worth on the trade market or in free agency. His real value is measured against his large arbitration awards. He has ups and downs like every other pitchers. He's just a really, really good pitcher. Like, say, Jered Weaver. If you're not an Angels fan, when's the last time you got really, really excited about Jered Weaver? As in, "Hey, sorry, but I can't go out to dinner because Jered Weaver is throwing tonight"?
Jered Weaver is an excellent pitcher. One of the best. The odds are still overwhelmingly against Bauer being as successful as Weaver, just because the odds are overwhelmingly against any prospect being as good as Jered Weaver. The odds are against this because Weaver is fantastic, and he has been for a while. But you don't care about Jered Weaver.
Could be a quick burn out. Somewhere between Noah Lowry and Sandy Koufax. Could be a slow fade. Something between Livan Hernandez and Steve Carlton. And this is all if Bauer is good and everything works out to some extent. There could still be a Homer Bailey thing where we're not sure for five to 10 years.
Oh, this is potentially over a couple of decades, so it's not as if I'm imploring you to get all Reb Tevye and sing "Prospect, Veteran." We should still get to enjoy a nice career. Hundreds of career starts, if everything goes right. I don't want this to seem like this is a eulogy for Trevor Bauer. I'm genuinely excited to watch his career progress.
What I'm shooting for is an appreciation of that fleeting moment between prospect and major leaguer. For a prospect hound, it's the perfect synergy of admiration and anticipation, where a pitcher's ceiling is limited to your imagination, not to what you've picked up from the first-hand evidence you're about to gather.
Aw, heck. I'm getting all maudlin here. This is a happy day. Trevor Bauer makes his debut. We get to see his wacky breaking ball. We get to see those YouTube mechanics in real time, against real major-league hitters. We get to see what these stats …
… translate to. There will be walks. Oh, there will be walks. But there will also be strikeouts. So many. Strikeouts that break down major-league hitters. Strikeouts that make hitters crumple like one of those plastic giraffe toys.
Yeah, one of those. And it will be fun to watch. But I still like this in-between part. The prologue is so good for your favorite prospects, it's hard to see how the rest of the story can keep up the same pace.