Mood Music: Don't Believe The Hype by Public Enemy
It's probably bad form to start off with a nonsensical oxymoron, but not everything that means something has meaning. The only way to attempt making sense of that nonsense is using prospects as an example. A player's call-up or first hit probably means something to them, their family or a lunatic follower, but large scale it doesn't have to mean anything. It might just be a thing that happens. Nothing more, nothing less.
When Brandon Laird was called up last season I remember being really excited about having him on the team. No real reason for it other than he's a home-grown player, but still excited. When he collected his first hit against the A's that excitement returned, but it got ramped up much higher. It doesn't matter if it's a dribbling ground ball or broken bat flare; it's pretty damn cool to see one of our own get that first hit. With the corner infield positions locked up for a baseball eternity and his bench spot only temporarily vacated, we knew Laird's time with the team wouldn't mean much. It didn't have to. Those firsts don't have to.
The factors that led to Laird's call-up were the same factors that would render his time with the Yankees in 2011 mostly meaningless. Alex Rodriguez, and to a lesser extent, Mark Teixeira, weren't going anywhere and Eric Chavez would eventually make it back. He's fragile as can be, but he somehow finds a way back. Laird could have played like any of those three players and it wouldn't have mattered. That's kind of the life a Yankees prospect must resign themselves to. Most of the time you're a placeholder, so just do what you can.
If you take away those factors and put things in a vacuum, Laird would suffocate. We shouldn't put living things in a vacuum, even if it is just a figure of speech. Even with the uncontrollable factors taken away, it's still hard to think Laird would have stuck around. Nearly impossible to think of, really. The level jumps in the minors can be rough for almost any player, but what it did to Laird is borderline bullying.
Like most players with even a reasonable amount of talent, Laird posted quality stats in his first few seasons in the minors. A ~.750-.800 OPS in Low or High-A is nothing that jumps out at you, which is why he was a bit of an afterthought until he reached Trenton. Laird liked it there. Maybe he didn't like it too much considering he was clearly on a mission not to return with a .291/.355/.523 slash and 23 homers in just 103 games. There's a joke to be made there, but it's too easy.
He flashed that sort of ability in rookie ball, but to do that in Double-A is slightly more important. That's tough to ignore, and it wasn't. With Laird set to move up to Scranton Wilkes-Barre full-time off that big season, Baseball America moved him into the top-10 in the Yankees system for 2011. A list is a list is a list, and Laird is a perfect example of why they should be treated as such. Since the jump to Triple-A he has seemingly lost the map to the majors and driven straight off a cliff.
A drop in production one step from the majors is nothing too startling, but when it happens at this level it's nothing short of bizarre. In just under two full seasons with SWB, Laird has only mustered a .246/.284./.383 line with fewer home runs than his partial season in Trenton. It's like he has completely forgotten how to hit. Not even like; he has basically forgotten how to hit the ball. A completely amateur view of his at-bats give the impression that he never learned how to hit off-speed pitches. Maybe he was playing over his head through the lower levels, but it's hard to imagine this being the case. A drop-off this severe is just strange.
It would be nice, or depressing, not sure which, to say we were promised better from Laird, but we weren't. We never are. He rose fast through the system, produced at every level, projected to possibly be a serviceable option to fill a major need in the future, then fell flat. It's not unique in any way, but it's a stark reminder of the trouble with investing in early stats.
Get excited about the young prospects. We almost have to in some cases. They're supposed to be the future of the team, so if you can't be excited about them, what's the point of looking ahead? But like anything else, they're lottery tickets. The gamble is half the fun of following the farm system. When it pays off it's pretty great. It's like watching a child grow up, assuming that child was born freakishly large and athletic. That poor imaginary woman. When they fail, well, they fail. Prospects usually don't pan out the way they should. It's sort of what they do. It's tough to be overly disappointed when a blocked player like Laird doesn't pan out, but it isn't a good feeling either. From top-10 to sub-.300 OBP to possibly being on the 40-man roster chopping block; that's disappointing regardless of the situation.
Who knows what becomes of Brandon Laird from here on. Maybe he finds a way to sneak on to the roster at some point. Maybe he's a chip-in piece in a deadline trade. Maybe he completely flames out, is cut from the 40 and serves as organizational depth somewhere. Whatever happens, it probably won't mean much to the Yankees. At least we'll always have those firsts. Damn, that was exciting stuff. It would have been nice for it to mean more, but I guess didn't really have to.