7/21/23 : The Path to Progress
A wise baseball man once told me “It’s easy to encourage a player who’s doing well, the real work is helping one who is struggling continue to progress.” In the years I’ve been watching the player development process those words have been reflected upon and come to fruition over and again both in success and failure.
From this spectator’s view it’s a great feeling to see players blossom, especially those who overcome downfalls and disappointment. Whether that be the daily push of a fella coming back from injury to return to game action or one who’s been seemingly lost in a prolonged uphill effort to finally break thru and have the “numbers” reflective of success. The ultimate success of course is reaching the major leagues and the prolonged success is being able to contribute there over multiple years.
Current Reading 1B/OF Carlos De La Cruz is one who comes to mind, for the first three years of his career he battled to earn recognition. In his first season on the backfield we saw a powerful swing and the ability to drive the baseball well beyond the fences. He had decent success in his first summer in the then Gulf Coast League and earned a promotion to the Low A level the following spring where the numbers weren’t so great. 2020 was a lost season for all minor leaguers but for some like Carlos it had even more impact. He came to 2021 camp behind others and that year’s stats didn’t reflect his capabilities. The first half of 2022 was more of the same but then a reduction in the length of his swing and change in approach blossomed into consistent hits and home runs and “good numbers”. That was followed by a promotion to the double A level in the second half along with a stint in the Arizona Fall League. This season he’s continued to learn a new defensive position and produce at Reading. While some may still not be convinced of his capabilities we’ve seen tremendous growth and the potential to even play at the highest level. It took perseverance, the belief in himself as well as from the organization to get to his current standing along with support by family, friends and coaches who helped to find the path to progress.
On the flip side we’ve seen others who’ve not overcome “bad” numbers and ultimately be released. In either regard I choose to acknowledge and respect the person rather than dehumanizing the process. Too often folks lose consciousness of respectfulness in how they remark about others, I won’t fall into that mix.
There’s no mistaking the fact that the pro baseball life can be a rewarding one but it’s equally true that the majority of players who are fortunate to have the skillset to participate never reach the pinnacle of their profession. We’ve witnessed numerous dreams end due to a variety of reasons only to be replaced with the same dreams from newly signed players arriving with the eagerness and wide eyed expectations akin to those who came before them. It’s a process that makes being an athlete in the developmental stages of professional baseball a grind yet most often done without pause of desire. To those who experience it I’m sure there are no regrets, many of us only wish that we were talented enough to be in their shoes. From my perspective it’s intriguing to watch the process unfold.
This week the most recent set of draft picks and un-drafted free agents have embarked upon their baseball playing professions by signing their initial contracts and have already taken to the practice fields at Carpenter Complex or will do so shortly. It’s an energetic time in the development process as coordinators and scouts congregate for knowledge sharing of the new arrivals and to guide the initial practices. For observers like myself it’s a time of initial impression and introduction. I remember many from years past, perhaps my favorite was meeting Logan O’Hoppe who sought me out as the fella who wrote the kind words about him on a Phillies page. Doesn’t cost a dime to be cordial - just sayin.
We will forge ahead with our observations and notations for both the experienced and new arrivals. There will be both good and not so good numbers recorded in their future play reflective of the peaks and valleys of the process. And all the while regardless of whether a player is doing well or struggling the administration, coaches and staff and families and friends and yes even the fans will encourage the players to find the path to continue to progress. As my young friend Cord Sandberg used to say “It’s all part of it” and included in the mix of it all will be the lessons of life learned - that’s the most valuable part.
Happy Day, Happy Baseball ⚾️
Note : I've partnered with Fanatics on Phillies Merchandise - if you would like to help support my website and articles here's a link to order merchandise - I get a small commission on any sales - thanks for the support.