Once a player becomes a star, a prospect begins to realize his upside or a team finds itself in the playoffs, high expectations become the norm.
If a player has a bad year, he falls short of expectations. If a top prospect encounters some pitfalls during his development, he drops off top-10 lists. A team that goes from first to worst one year to the next is a disappointment.
Anytime expectations are met, hey, that’s what was supposed to happen. But having to live up to high expectations is better than to have none at all.
Such is the life of Cole Hamels, the Texas Rangers, and the best players in their top-heavy farm system. Their goal is to ignore the outside buzz and meet their own expectations, and if they achieve that, the expectations become that much easier to meet.
“My expectations are pretty high,” Hamels said. “I know others are going to have certain expectations that perceive me to be whatever they want me to be. But I expect the most out of myself, and in order to do so I’ve got to work very diligently.”
Hamels allowed two runs in three innings Thursday of a mid-morning game against San Diego Padres minor leaguers. He allowed a home run in his first inning and a leadoff triple in his third, but he got in 44 pitches in his second spring outing and benefited from the aggressiveness shown by the Padres’ prospects.
He might not have gotten the same feedback had he faced big-league hitters with a more refined approach.
“I enjoy being able to go against guys that are really coming out swinging the bat,” Hamels said. “It gives you a lot better perspective with what you’ve got to do with pitch selection.”
Hamels said that he also was pleased to build his pitch count and to get his arm accustomed to breaks between innings — normal spring training objectives to get him in position to live up to regular-season expectations.
Hamels is expected to be the Rangers’ Opening Day starter and help pitch them to a second consecutive American League West title. Once Yu Darvish returns from Tommy John surgery, he and Hamels will form one of the game’s top 1-2 rotation duos.
Don’t expect to hear Hamels complain. High expectations help motivate him to do the work required to be the best of the best.
“I like the competition,” Hamels said. “In order to be the best and be at that high level, you’re going to have that and I just take it for what it’s worth. It’s going to drive you.
“When I’m here early and here working out, I’m making sure everything counts. I don’t want to take it for granted. I don’t want to waste anything. I want to make sure everything is perfected. With that kind of limelight that will be cast upon you, you can’t make mistakes.”
All pitchers experience hiccups during the course of 33 starts a season. Hamels allowed 14 runs in 6 2/3 innings over two July starts last season, and took a few extra days between starts to sharpen his mechanics.
With the trade deadline hovering and the daily speculation about his stock rising or falling, he stayed on task. He tossed a no-hitter in his next start.
“You want to make all 33 great, but unfortunately it doesn’t happen that way,” Hamels said.
Nomar Mazara is one of the Rangers’ Big Three prospects and is considered one of the top 25 prospects in the game. His spring performance has done nothing to diminish the expectation that he will be a star player.
Baseball is what he loves most, and even when things aren’t going as well as many expect, he doesn’t put any extra pressure on himself. Early last season, he was playing well at Double A Frisco but went the first 32 games without hitting a home run.
“It was the best start to a season I’ve had,” Mazara said. “I was doing everything I could to help the team. I told them, ‘Hey, when the first one comes, they’re going to start coming in bunches.’ I told them to not worry about it.”
Manager Jeff Banister doesn’t necessarily tell Rangers players to not worry about the expectations that many have placed on the team this season, but he and the coaching staff remind players to not get distracted by the hype.
The players have a common goal and can’t let their minds wander or be lulled into a false sense of security.
“We communicate that to all of our guys,” Banister said. “The challenge is to continue to keep them focused on what their job is, and their job is to continue to go out and compete and work on their skill set and go compete.”
Such is the life of dealing with high expectations.