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Big League Debut at Minor League Ball

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Julio Urias was one of several elite prospects new writer Wilson Karaman was fortunate to watch last summer in the California League
Julio Urias was one of several elite prospects new writer Wilson Karaman was fortunate to watch last summer in the California League
Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

Pleasure to meet y’all, my name is Wilson, and I’ll be your new writer here at Minor League Ball. I’ve been reading John’s work regularly pretty much since the dawn of this blog, so it’s quite an understatement to say that I’m excited and honored to be joining the team here.

Suffice to say, I’m a lifelong baseball fan. I grew up on the north shore of Massachusetts, where Red Sox fandom comes home from the hospital with you. I also developed an early and complimentary love of amateur ball thanks to the Cape Cod League. My biggest claim to baseball fame to this day remains attending an infield clinic at Eldredge Park as a seven year old with players from the hometown hero Cardinals and visiting Chatham A’s and learning how to take grounders from Jeff Bagwell, Frank Thomas, and J.T. Snow.

My professional background is in political consulting and fundraising work, but two years ago I traded in that glitzy, glamorous lifestyle for the much more exciting world of diaper changing, vomit mopping, and wit-matching with an irrational and tiny human being. I can say without reservation that never in a million years would I have envisioned myself becoming a stay-at-home dad, but I also can’t envision a more rewarding or fundamentally awesome experience.

Disclaimer out of the way, navigating that world unequivocally requires an adult outlet, and for me that outlet has been baseball. I first started writing about fantasy baseball on a whim for the Dynasty Guru before jumping over to Baseball Prospectus, where in addition to producing more fantasy content I started going to California League games and learning how to scout and evaluate prospects last season.

You’d actually be amazed at how much of the skill set required to do the kind of political management work I used to do translates into prospect evaluation. I certainly was when I embarked on the endeavor. But the process of identifying the campaigns, candidates, and organizations that have the right mix of raw materials, intelligence, and focus to produce the results you want to see is really not much different from the process of identifying the players who possess a similar combination of traits. No campaign is ever run in a vacuum, and understanding the overall environment is a similarly key part of figuring out how to approach your analysis.

Context is key for evaluation, in other words, and that axiom rings one of its louder truths in the California League. Last season’s league-wide .767 OPS was a full 62 points higher than the Carolina League and 72 above the Florida State League among the High-A leagues, and the gap is widening. There are a lot of future home run champions in the cozy confines of the Cal League, and there are a lot of mediocre-looking pitching prospects.

Beyond just the inflated stats and wonky batted ball results, the offensive context can produce some nasty traps for prospects. The temptation to alter hitting mechanics and approach in order to take advantage of the desert winds can be lethal to the developmental process of young hitters. And getting knocked around night after night can have a similarly debilitating effect on the confidence of young pitchers.

The good news for those of us who attempt to evaluate prospects in these extreme conditions is that you can learn a lot about the character and tenacity of young players. Forced into survival mode, the most impressive pitchers stand out not for their results but for their poise in executing a game plan - often in spite of those results. And on the other side of the ball you see over the course of several viewings which players may be more inclined to rest on the laurels of their production and which take notable steps forward in how they approach their at-bats and set themselves up for legitimate growth. As a guy who back in my (extremely brief) playing days was forced to get by more on craftiness and study than raw talent I’ve always valued the mental side of the game, and the Cal League provides a pretty tremendous backdrop for an early sneak peak at a player’s makeup.

I’ll be writing about subjects far and wide over the months to come here at Minor League Ball, but the California League will no doubt feature prominently. I’m excited to share my thoughts and impressions here, and I look forward to starting what I hope will be interesting, challenging, and entertaining conversations about the prospect world on these pages.

You can find me on Twitter @vocaljavelins or by email any time at wilson (dot) karaman (at) gmail (dot) com.