I’m a huge sports junkie–have been ever since I was 7 years old. One subset of the early years of my fandom was how much I enjoyed reading about prospects and upcoming drafts. I had all the magazines and publications and go-to draft sites–Baseball America Prospect Handbook, nbadraft.net, Phil Steele College Football Preview, Mel Kiper’s ESPN big board–all of that good shit, I ate it up. When I was 13, I would do my own mock drafts and big boards and post them on internet message boards. I had a mini-obsession with who was going to the next big thing.
That’s Edwin Jackson. #1 rated prospect for the Dodgers in 2003. Our ace for the next 10 years. He absolutely crushed it his first full start. 6 innings, 1 earned run, out-pitching four time Cy Young winner Randy Johnson. I KNEW IT. Only 19 years old! He’s gonna be a stud! It’s so obvious, this prospect stuff is so obvious.
Three years later… Edwin Jackson is unceremoniously traded for two mediocre relief pitchers. The most noteworthy factoid about his career was that he played for 14 teams. He made a nice career for himself but was never the ace we all imagined he would be on that fateful day against the D-Backs. I had so much hope.
It’s easy to fall into hype trains. To make excuses. To get too sticky with our initial confirmation biases and hold out hope, no matter what.
Sam Darnold. The savior of USC football in 2016, saving us from the utter incompetence of the Clay Helton administration. He had all the physical tools and an entertaining backyard-ball style of quarterbacking. I LOVED HIM. WE ALL DID. After 2016, he was annointed as the favorite for both the #1 overall pick and the Heisman trophy. The hype was off the charts! Roll the calendar to 2017… and he was… strangely underwhelming. Too many turnovers. Too many stagnant halves of offense. I made all the excuses for him. Terrible coaching staff (true). Bad offensive line (true). He’s still super super young (true). He still gets picked #2 overall to the Jets. Flashes potential here and there but can’t put it together after 3 years and traded to the Panthers. First 3 games there, he’s awesome! I knew he was always good, it was just the shitty Jets and shitty Adam Gase holding him back all along! Then he sucked the rest of the year and gets benched again. Now I’m out at this point. He’s a bust and there aren’t any credible excuses left. I had a blindspot to all his flaws because of sentimental homerism. Sorry Sam, it’s time to let go.
I could triple this entire blog’s current content if I wanted to write about all my wrong prospect opinions. What happened to Edwin and Sam? Why did they never live up to the hype? They had the physical talent. By all accounts they both worked hard and had good positive makeup. I don’t think there’s a more satisfactory answer (in a cosmic sense) other than it’s really hard to be really good the higher you go, and some just don’t get there. That’s just how it is. Nevermind the fact that just getting to the professional level in and of itself is already massive accomplishment.
Prospect junkies love talking about ceilings and floors–a player’s maximum expected outcome and their minimum expected outcome. In the NFL, Justin Fields’ floor seems to be post rookie year RG3 and his ceiling might be Kaepernick. In the NBA, fans are hoping 2021 #1 pick Cade Cunningham’s can hit his ceiling and be the new generation Grant Hill, the do-it-all point forward type. We update our projections periodically. We get bullish and bearish on player trajectories, just like stocks. Tough spell of games? Jump shot not developing after a couple season? Downgrade. Ceiling no longer Grant Hill (Hall of Fame level player), maybe just Khris Middleton (Hall of very good). Fields right now is on a bit of an uptick in his last 4 games.. maybe he can be Russell Wilson (the prime version, not the current)? Who knows.
One thing I find myself doing is being my own scout for my own competitive endeavors. I take certain performance indications as to where my true “ceiling” is. I’ve been super fucking crazy deep into my pool game for the last 15 months–recently I’ve been practicing 2-3 hours a day and often skipping mid-day trading to do so. I’m only “good at pool” in the eyes of someone who doesn’t play pool at all but average to anyone who regularly spends time at a pool hall. In my self-scouting, I’m starting to see signs that my development curve is slowing down. I still struggle with consistency on shots that more gifted players would easily stroke in without much effort and hesitation. Effortlessness is a sign of true talent. I’m still working on basic long straight-in shots when someone with a far higher talent level at my stage is probably spending time on Efren Reyes-style multi-rail kick shots. I see the signs on the wall that I’m going to peak maybe one more handicap level above where I’m at and it’s gonna be a grind to get there and stay there… which is well short of the aspirations I had to be a “credible local $50 tournament player”–not even winning these tournaments but at least advancing in them and looking like I belong. It’s discouraging–all of this “self scouting” and “projection”. I habitually think of th limitations rather than letting the imagination run wild. It’s not how an elite performer thinks but I’m not elite at pool either so why put up the pretense? I’m not sure if it’s real or just the negative way in which I cope with setbacks and frustration over lack of progress. Sometimes after a long, unproductive practice session where I’m just slamming my head against the wall, I think to myself: why not just do anything else at this point? De-vest yourself in this hobby or go find a new one. You’re Sisphyus pushing the boulder right up that cliff right now. Not even fun anymore. There’s too much data at this point that I am who I am. It’s the hope that kills you.
Maybe it’s not in the cards for me to be really good at pool. I was really good at trading (hopefully still am) for ten years and that’s an actual career, not a hobby. That’s plenty to be grateful for and why ask the Gods for more? It’s hard to be really good at multiple things. That said, I’ll keep hacking away regardless. It’s just human nature to keep going, even when it seems foolish.