Last night, MLB showcased dozens of budding superstars at the Futures Game. The Reds were represented by Taylor Trammell, who got up the sugars of many a baseball fan by stealing home. The umpire called him out, but we all know what really happened.
MacKenzie Gore, one of the top pitching prospects in all of baseball, threw a scoreless frame. He has posted a 1.02 ERA in 15 starts for the Padres’ A+ squad in the Cali League. He is likely to be promoted to AA for the season’s second half.
Brendan McKay of the Tampa Bay Rays was not invited. But that’s only because he made his MLB debut last month, throwing six one-hit innings against the Rangers. He started as their DH a few days later.
Kyle Wright, one of the roughly 4,600 sterling pitching prospects of the Atlanta Braves, made his MLB debut last September, barely a year after being drafted.
And that’s the tie that binds here. Gore, McKay, and Wright were drafted third, fourth, and fifth in the 2017 draft, right after the Reds selected Hunter Greene at #2. Greene has not thrown and will not throw a pitch this season. He sprained his UCL last summer, attempted to rehab it, and ended up needing Tommy John surgery this spring.
You know what they say about pitching prospects, and how there isn’t such a thing? That’s dumb, obviously, but that oversimplified truism is based on a cruel and desperate truth: pitching baseballs is about as hazardous to one’s health as coal mining, gator-baiting, and Tweeting at politicians. And so the practice of evaluating amateur pitchers for the purpose of the draft is best read like a Camus novel. Everyone is flawed and fragile and basically nobody is going to survive to the end, and even if they do, its due more to absurd luck than anything else.
I want to be clear though that I don’t think the Reds made a mistake in choosing Greene over Gore, McKay, or Wright. All four of these fellas are still in their early 20s with basically their entire professional careers ahead of them. And more than that, there are a good number of baseball folks who would still take Greene first of that lot even now. So I guess my point here is that two years after that 2017 draft, things probably could not have gone worse for Greene and the Reds. Of these four young pitchers, they drafted the one who suffered a major injury before any of the others. But for as ruthless as baseball can be, the will of a young pitcher is strong enough (stupid enough?) to keep doing it. Greene will likely be back on the mound next season, and he will likely still have a fastball to turn knees into oatmeal. Gore and McKay and Wright might be pitching for their respective big league teams while Greene refines his stuff against A-ball competition. But the game isn’t about who gets their first.