Prospects find new outlet in social media

I admit it: I feed the monster by following 19- and 20-year-old prospects on Twitter. I follow top talents like the Manny Machado of the Orioles and the Nationals' Bryce Harper because it's my job. In doing so, I've gotten a quick lesson in how genuine, and at times ill-advised, these kids' comments can be.

Smart prospects use social media to connect to fans, who can follow them throughout their baseball careers. Not-so-smart ones use it for cocky boasting. Either way, social media has become a major part of marketing oneself and nobody is doing it more than the next generation of baseball stars.

On Friday, Machado tweeted "I hate how MLB keeps ranking my Orioles in last place again. Man I can't wait till we shut them up and become AL East Division champs."

I like his fire. Maybe a bit premature, but it's nice to see a prospects tweeting about their organizations and not themselves.

Machado has the right idea. It's a different approach to tweeting than Nationals top prospect Harper. Some of his tweets are borderline cocky. Some are immature, like when he was blatantly rooting for the Yankees in the postseason last fall. Some are just odd.

Harper could benefit from a public relations lesson. He's expected to be one of the best outfield talents the Nats have ever seen, but in the media, he keeps striking out.

Last week, Harper told MLB.com he wanted to be an athlete like Joe Namath.

"He went out, he played, but he had fun. He had a night life, he had his own place. I believe it was called Bachelors III," Harper told MLB.com. "I'm not your typical, 'Hey I'm going to be Johnny Good.' You're a baseball player. I'm going to have fun off the field, too."

Before making that statement, Harper should've done a little more research on Namath's life. The cocky playboy of the 1960s ended up in rehab for alcoholism at the age of 61. The one-time sex symbol became a sad caricature of himself in 2003, when he appeared drunk on national television.

Not exactly the road someone with Harper's talent wants to start going down. Maybe he should sit down with Josh Hamilton.

Not to imply Harper will take that path, but focusing on establishing a nightlife like Namath shouldn't be priority No. 1 right now. Harper has a chance to make the Nationals' opening day roster. His time would be better spent learning to hit big league breaking balls.

That would be a great thing to tweet from Viera, Fla.: "Wow, these curv balls are a bit different than Double-A Harrisburg". Stick to baseball kid.

Prospects have way too much of an audience. We all feed into it.

Before the social media age, prospects' first-time media encounters were usually humble and somewhat awkward. They often began confused as why reporters wanted to talk to them.

Fast-forward to the age of overexposure and - oh yes - avatars.

Exorbitant signing bonuses make prospects huge investments for ballclubs. If a kid sneezes in the Arizona Fall League, his box score is on Twitter by the fourth inning. He's on Twitter by the end of the ninth inning, evaluating his performance.

It's no wonder why some prospects feel fans hang on their every word. For the most part, we do. Check the number of followers some of these minor league players have.

Perhaps the silver lining is that baseball is still baseball. Regardless of what a young talent tweets or predicts will happen in his career, he still has to step in that big league batter's box for the first time at some point.

Last time I checked, you can't send your avatar to the plate.