Who is the next Jose Briceno?
By Josh Jackson
There are many things to love about Minor League Baseball. If you didn’t agree with that claim, you probably wouldn’t be reading this blog. Maybe the best, though, is the element of surprise.
We all like to believe we know everything, and we do know a lot. Take a look at any top prospects list from the beginning of the season. I bet between half and two-thirds of the guys on there are living up to or above projections. That’s pretty darn impressive, when you consider all the variables in baseball (and all the variables in human life and personalities – don’t forget these guys are young men or teenagers.)
But for all the scouting and evaluation that goes into all the top players from around the world, for all the reporting and ranking and speculating from the media and fans, it’s still possible for a guy most of us know nothing about to suddenly and dramatically prove himself deserving of our attention, however fleetingly. Therein lays a little piece of MiLB magic.
Jose Briceno is such a player.
Coming into the season, Briceno had three pro seasons under his belt. (He turns 21 on Sept. 19.) The Venezuelan-born catcher played two years in the Dominican Summer League and had his first two career homers in a seven-game stint last year with Grand Junction, where he currently plays. In short, there was no reason any of us should have heard of him before Friday night.
Then, that evening, he hit three home runs and collected seven RBIs. In his next game, he settled for an RBI single. Monday, though, he homered and doubled three times, and he was back at it Tuesday, swatting yet another homer and two more doubles.
When we talked to his manager, Anthony Sanders, the other night, Sanders said Briceno was performing exactly as expected. Even if you and I and everyone we know never saw his name on a top prospects list, people who’ve worked with him obviously anticipate big things from him. Sanders obviously rates him very highly.
“He just has to continue as a young catcher to develop relationships with the pitching staff. His communication is good — he speaks English really well,” he said. “He’s still working at blocking balls and receiving, and the little things. But he has extremely good raw tools, and a good leadership quality.
“It’s nice to see him be in control and be a leader like he is. He can play a couple positions — he takes ground balls in the infield, and this is a really talented athlete we’re talking about here.”
I don’t mean to imply we should all now consider Jose Briceno baseball’s top prospect because of a nice (OK, freakin’ incredible!) four-game stretch. Far from it. In fact, my point is that even if he remains utterly anonymous, Briceno is the kind of player that makes following seasons in the Minors thrilling.
And, you know what? I bet every manager of every team in every circuit believes he has at least one or two Bricenos — guys nobody else knows about but he believes in absolutely — playing for him every day.