|© MLB Advanced Media, L.P. All rights reserved.|
Prospects making good use of Twitter12/24/2012 10:00 AM ET
By Ashley Marshall / Special to MLB.com
With the global rise of social media, personalities from all walks of life are exposed to the public like never before. Minor League Baseball players are not immune to this trend. In fact, many have embraced it one way or another.
Take Twitter, for example.
Hundreds of Minor Leaguers use the social networking site to interact with fans and share their experiences on and off the field. In doing so, these players offer a rare -- and often humorous -- glimpse into their journeys from college and high school standouts to big league hopefuls.
They talk to fans, share photos from restaurants and get vocal about their college football teams. You'll often see them interacting with each other about everything from video games to hunting spots. These two exchanges, between Phillies outfield prospect Jiwan James and Blue Jays first-rounder Justin Jackson and D-backs pitching prospect Archie Bradley and D-backs Major Leaguer Daniel Hudson, are typical of everyday life online.
Though there's no blueprint for Tweeting, each player's newsfeed can be a direct reflection of his individual personality.
Players like A's prospect Jeremy Barfield and Padres farmhand Cody Decker choose to play the role of comedian, favoring witty banter, sharp one-liners and an anything-goes approach to discussing topics.
"If people follow my account, they have a pretty good idea that everything I say, no matter what it is, is said in jest," Decker said. "I try to stay away from profanity even though I occasionally let a word slip in there, and I try to stay away from pretty racy topics, which I often push the envelope on anyway for the sake of a joke."
Others tend to reflect more on the baseball side of things, discussing approaches at the plate and on the mound and offering tips to amateur ballplayers who seek out their advice in 140 characters or fewer. D-backs first-rounder Trevor Bauer -- recently traded to the Indians -- has embraced this approach as much as anyone -- sharing training tips, grips and pitching mechanics in addition to his thoughts on everything from politics to recording his own music.
Then there are players like Red Sox prospect Ryan Westmoreland, the 22-year-old outfielder who has undergone two brain surgeries, who uses Twitter to update fans on his rehabilitation and promote medical awareness groups and charitable causes.
Not all players are active on Twitter, however. Some, like the Tigers' Nick Castellanos, do not even have an account. Here are MLB.com's Top 10 prospects.
Here's a look at what Decker, Westmoreland, Bauer and Barfield have been up to in social media lately.
Cody Decker, @Decker6
Decker has been a regular on Twitter over the last 18 months, often interacting with fans, quoting niche cult movie lines and poking fun at teammates multiple times a day. "I tell jokes and make fun of people and point out hypocrisy as much as I can," he said.
Decker joined the site back in 2009, but he was encouraged to start using it more as a way to build his fan base and get his name out. One way of doing this was by holding contests and competitions, offering fans autographs or game-used gear like batting gloves as prizes. Decker says with a laugh that he's motivated purely out of greed to acquire more followers.
"My old agency actually said to go back on it so I could interact with fans more. Everyone always liked the interviews I did because I would basically say whatever came to my mind as opposed to giving the generic interviews that you see so often, like 'Oh, I love being here,' and all that nonsense. It was a good way to keep myself out there and be myself and not get into too much trouble.
"Any time I think a Tweet is too much, I usually call my mom and ask her, 'Hey, you think I should Tweet this?' Sixty percent of the time I take her advice."
Running fake online contests is nothing new for Decker, who now has more than 2,750 followers. At UCLA, he and Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford teamed up to make fun of teammate Will Penniall, whom he described as the nicest kid in the world. "We used to come up with outlandish reasons why we hated Will. My first contest I had was for whoever had the best reason to hate Will and to Tweet it with #ReasonsIHateWill. It turned out really good, and we got a lot of funny responses."
Now it's good friend and Cardinals outfield prospect Chris Swauger who gets the brunt of Decker's humor, normally in a series of #Tweetwars where each person takes it in turn to ridicule or embarrass the other.
"Chris Swauger is the worst human being in the planet," joked Decker, who maybe unsurprisingly enjoys following comedians such as Seth MacFarlane, Steve Martin and Rob Delaney. "On Twitter, I often destroy him verbally. He says some things that are cute and he has great hair that he likes to point out, but I'm not impressed. I like ruining his days -- it's fun. I feel like a bigger man when I get to stand on top of him.
"But the best interactions are when someone tried to insult me or ask me a bad question that I answer with a real smart response. I have had some great interactions where a parent has told me that I made their kid's day for giving them a signed ball at the game, or if they tell me I'm their kid's favorite player. I usually tell them they need to get them out to more games. I'm not even my mom's favorite player."
Ryan Westmoreland, @RWesty25
Westmoreland has been on Twitter since early June 2010, about three months after undergoing the first of two successful brain surgeries, a five-hour procedure to remove a cancerous malformation. "Another day of rehab, closer to getting on the field again," his first of more than 750 Tweets read.
Since then, the Red Sox prospect has kept family, friends and fans in the loop on his rehab, which has included speech and occupational therapy as well as baseball training activities.
Throughout it all, Westmoreland has kept a positive outlook on life, sprinkling in messages about the Boston Celtics and Bruins, fishing and vacationing. He's also been active retweeting the work of Spaulding Rehabilitation Network, Livestrong and the Barrow Neurological Institute.
Trevor Bauer, @baueroutage
For Bauer, Twitter gives him the chance to give back to the baseball community.
"I have a passion for spreading knowledge about how pitching is taught and about pitching, mechanics and training in general," he said. "People can shoot me a Tweet and ask me a specific question and I can find a way to get back to them with something that may help them. People may not have a pitching coach or the ability to get help or answer their question.
"If I can help someone in their pursuit of playing baseball whatever level they dream of playing baseball at, that's a good feeling for me. I enjoy helping people like that."
For those people he can't help in the short Twitter format, he encourages them to post questions on his Facebook fan page. He also makes use of his YouTube channel to provide video answers and slow-motion demonstrations to questions he receives about grips, mechanics and training ideas.
But for Bauer, who signed up for Twitter in the run-up to the Draft, being accessible to fans doesn't come without a cost.
"It's tough because people who didn't have access to you before might tell you that you suck or that you let their fantasy person down or that you're a terrible person because you had a bad outing," says Bauer, who has more than 16,880 followers.
"You have no real way of defending yourself. You just have to sit there and read it, because in order to read the questions from the real fans you have to sort through the ones about how terrible you are, too. It's a double-edged sword and sometimes I question whether I'm doing enough good to justify all the negative poison I take in reading all the negative stuff."
But it was during the offseason -- weeks after Bauer threw his final competitive pitch of 2012 -- that he received the biggest online backlash.
Bauer sent out what some saw as a political message during the third Presidential debate in October.
"Unfortunately, I knew I would get a reaction to it, but the principle of the matter is that I had an opinion that I wanted to share as an American citizen," said Bauer, who considers himself a person first and an athlete second. "I knew some people would like it and some people wouldn't, but the whole thing kinda made me laugh. Because I'm an athlete or had a 6.00 ERA in the big leagues I shouldn't be able to share my views as a person? Because I have a certain political view, somebody tells me I should break my neck? There's just some intolerance in the world on both sides of the political spectrum.
"It was like a study on human nature, seeing how nasty people got because I said I didn't like the way Obama looked during the debate."
Jeremy Barfield, @baseclogger
Perhaps the most active Minor Leaguer is A's prospect Jeremy Barfield, who could post his 10,000th Tweet by the end of the year.
In fact, Barfield is so in tune with social media that he even got a custom pair of batting gloves made with his handle stitched in big dark letters across the Velcro strap on each glove.
Barfield wasn't in the first wave of athletes to start using Twitter, but once he became hooked he's never looked back. "One of my teammates [Mickey Story] was on there, and one day I saw he wasn't doing it right," he recalled. "It was on some random bus ride when I was up until 5 or 6 o'clock and I had nothing better to do. I just had to show him how to do it. Only problem is he's in the big leagues now and a year later I'm in the same place, so I guess he showed me."
As with Decker, Barfield enjoys the back and forth with fans and other users. "Every week I have some beef going on there with some random idiot that's pretty funny. I'm a pot stirrer. I wouldn't say arguments, but I like starting conversations and seeing how people react.
"I think you're taught to ignore them, but sometimes it's just too good an opportunity to pass up. One time, a woman would respond out of nowhere and all of her s's [in her tweets] were dollar signs, she used a bunch of weird characters and she didn't use the space bar -- she would use periods instead of spaces. I said something to her about it and she told me she was going to get Jose Canseco to find me and slap me. Who says that? It's interesting, I love that. I love the interaction."
But it's not always smooth sailing.
"I actually got into hot water with my bullpen this past season," Barfield said. "I Tweeted at the Rangers at the trade deadline and told them to trade Jurickson Profar and Mike Olt so that we could have a better chance of beating Frisco that night, but the bullpen guys didn't find that funny. They refused to warm up with me for about a month, But they're pitchers, I don't care what they think. If you're a hitter, you don't like any pitcher.
"Some people don't like the interaction -- most guys don't -- but it's been beneficial to me. I got an endorsement deal off of Twitter -- it's been good for me. I think it's a good thing for fans to get to know players better."
Barfield agreed with the need to take a common sense approach to Twitter, and he said he wouldn't do anything which might get him in trouble with the team.
"Teams hate when players are on there, they really do," said Barfield, who recalled a meeting during Spring Training when representatives from the A's and MLB's security team spoke to the players. "They use it the wrong way and they get in trouble for saying stupid stuff. I'm not guarded about the stuff I filter, but I'm not going to say anything that's going to get me in trouble within the organization or upset mass groups of people. You just have to be smart. It's like anything in life. Don't drink and drive, don't Tweet something that is offensive to certain groups of people. Our front office, they see stuff right away."
Not only the front office, but fans from other teams too.
"There was a week left in the season and I said how Miguel Cabrera should be MVP," said Barfield. "I kid you not, it was a backlash. I knew people would vote for Trout because he had an amazing year, but I said Cabrera would win it hands down. They tried to make me feel so stupid about it. Everybody on the Internet is an expert now -- they think they know everything. They started to drop all this sabermetrics stuff.
"I made a mention about sabermetrics and how some stats are useless. Some trolls -- these Internet nerds -- got really upset about it. I'm not going to make that mistake again."