It’s neither tangible nor distinctly quantifiable. It’s not always manifested in results and it’s not always apparent in physical attributes. Yet, it’s somehow always obvious. Swagger. There really isn’t a more articulate and accessible word for “it” in current parlance. It is one of the most fun attributes to reference when discussing prospects and player development. It is fun as hell to see some of these kids who know they are good, and they know the other team knows they are good, and they know you know they are good. Make sense? Well, I guess it’s a little like internet porn- you’ll know it when you see it. Let’s discuss.
I got a heapin’ helpin’ of swagger recently at a Frisco Rough Riders game. Maybe it was because I was looking for it, but it was in ridiculous abundance that night. I mean, even the national anthem had swagger. Usually the minor league baseball national anthem is the territory of a local church singer or a teenaged progeny whose inner circle has mistakenly convinced her of an uncanny vocal likeness to Kelly Clarkson, but that night, Frisco had some out-of-towners from the touring cast of the musical Jersey Boys. Needless to say with a couple of Tony nominations tucked securely in their back pockets, they nailed it. So much so that even the crankiest of scouts- I’m talking about you, Mr. AL East Guy- raised both eyebrows in tacit approval and pleasant surprise. It was actually, really kind of breathtaking to hear it sung like that in a small, sparsely attended stadium. And I won’t soon forget the look on the cast member’s face as he strolled out to the area behind home plate. He knew he was about to, sort of, melt our faces with a flawless rendition of a song so close to our hearts. He’s probably done that dozens of times before and he knew how we were going to react before we did. Swagger.
Long before the national anthem, I wandered down the third base side of the field to watch the pitchers warm up. It was a rather unique night in that Frisco was to feature two starters. Justin Grimm had just been sent down from his brief foray into MLB and he needed to get in some live game work before leaving for his slightly more permanent home in Round Rock. And it was Cody Buckel’s regular turn in the rotation, so the word was that Grimm would go 3 innings then hand it over to Buckel. I was properly excited by this scenario. So I watched intently as Grimm began his warm-ups on the flat outfield grass. The other players begin to trickle out of the clubhouse for their stretches and it was clear they had already said “hello” to him as they just casually walked past, toward that spot on the grass behind 3rd base where all baseball players lay down and “stretch”(read: bullshit with each other). I’ve seen Grimm rather extensively this season and, well, frankly, this was a different guy. It was an absolute pleasure to watch him. He had been given a taste. He’d seen the Promised Land. He had pitched on a Saturday night in a huge stadium, in front of a sellout crowd for a first place team. He wants to do it again, and again, and again. You could see it on his face. You know how some people juxtapose being laid-back and intense? That’s Grimm. But not this night. It was a business trip. I stood literally 5 feet from him during his bullpen session and apart from some quick reminders and exchanges regarding mechanics with the pitching coach, he was as intense as I’ve ever seen him. He was there to get his work in and move on. Swagger.
While Grimm was finishing his flat ground work, a few feet away was 20 year old Cody Buckel. If you have yet to see Cody, he goes ‘bout 6’1” 180lbs. About 4 or 5 of those pounds appear to be hair, which is straight and, though recently cut(which he announced on Twitter following a trip to minor league diet staple, Chipotle), still protrudes out from under his prohibitively flat-billed hat. He’s not a big fella. You’re probably already aware that Cody is part of a new group of pitchers. They are interesting. They have interesting philosophies, interesting warm-ups, interesting pitches and they are bright, cerebral young slingers. Cody is a close friend of Trevor Bauer, a pitcher whose been called a lot of things but “wanting for confidence” has never been one of them. Frankly, these guys do their own thing, and they know they’re good. Cody is no different. Double earbuds in, he does a series of somewhat odd-looking stretches up and down the left field line. In his own world, but focused. Then the warm-up tosses begin. Using Val Majewski as a throwing partner, he begins in left field with Val on the warning track essentially under the foul pole. A few tosses, then Buckel scoots back. A few more tosses, scoots back, now he’s standing exactly where the center fielder would when the #4 hitter is up. A few tosses, scoots back. At this point there is tremendous arc in the tosses and they begin to resemble pop flys. Also at this point, Majewski begins short hopping the return, so catcher Zach Zaneski steps in as his cutoff man. Buckel doesn’t need a cutoff man. He just keeps scooting back. The last few tosses are literally almost foul pole to foul pole. The stadium is not highly populated, but all eyes including to those belonging to all the players on both teams are on the small, 20 year old with the shaggy hair and his highly unorthodox warmup routine. Swagger.
“It’s their first game back from the All Star game”, I told a couple of polite, baseball savvy 12 year olds who noticed me taking pictures of Jurickson Profar and Mike Olt. I filled in the gaps the kids had about the Futures Game, JP and MO’s respective paths to being on the Rangers, and some positional questions the tweens had about the two phenoms . After using YouTube to dismiss the boys’ incredulous belief that a guy Profar’s size could hit home runs in big stadiums, one of the boys asked me something pertinent. He said, “Is that why they look like they’re goofing off right now?” “No” I said, “that’s just they way they are”. It’s true. I hope many of you reading this have had a chance to go see these two guys. Especially Profar. He plays with a joy that only comes when the game is easy. Don’t misread that. He’s known to be one of the hardest working, most coachable kids in the system. He’s just very good and the act of playing clearly brings him joy. He’s loose. He’s confident. He was stretching and greeting teammates he hadn’t seen in a few days. He jogged out behind second base and exchanged a quasi-hug with Futures teammate, Jean Segura. Then as the players began to make their way into the dugout, both Profar and Olt were the only ones, who took a quick moment and jogged over to the railing to sign 3 or 4 autographs with some folks they’d made eye contact with. Just easily going about their job. Swagger.
It’s been around forever. It is crazy fun to watch. It is nothing if not compelling. It’s a legitmate component to a prospect’s makeup.
Oh,yeah, about midway through the top half of the first inning, Coach Don Welke came and sat down with all the scouts behind home plate. Swagger, personified.
I now present photographic, non-playing field evidence of swagger in motion. It’s a shot of one of baseball’s most charismatic cats, Satchel Paige, leading a cavalcade of kiddos down a street in Harlem. Swagger.
As always, be well and enjoy baseball.