They play in front of almost nobody - a couple thousand on a good day. They travel on hours-long bus rides, maybe splurging on a plane ticket every now and then. Nobody knows their names, but a few will become celebrities in the not too distant future.
They are minor league baseball players. Some are young prospects destined to be stars. Others are washed up has-beens trying desperately to get a cup of coffee (or a final cup of coffee) in the big leagues.
There's little I love more than tracking these players, although I'll admit I could care less about the Ruben Gotays and Luis Durangos of the world trying to claim pinch hitting roles. I love spotting the future stars before the majority of baseball fans know their names.
I'm not going to rattle off a list of prospects for you guys. You can go to Baseball America for that (Seriously, buy their prospect handbook. It's great.). Instead, I am going to speculate on what I feel are the biggest storylines at this point of the early season. Because I like lists, I've made one. They aren't ranked in any particular order. Deal with it.
1. Will Bryce Harper be able to make friends in the major leagues?
By now, you're probably aware of the sensation that is Bryce Harper. I first heard of him in a 2009 Sports Illustrated article. Basically, the kid is brilliant -- a baseball prodigy. He throws 96 mph, he hits the ball 500 feet and he has decent speed. He's everything the Washington Nationals, who just called him up, could ask for.
Except nobody else likes him.
This is where I go hyperlink to the max on everybody. It's online journalism so I can do that.
Before I can describe why nobody likes him, let me give the cliff notes version on his backstory.
Bryce Harper is currently 19 years old. He's from Vegas. He dropped out of high school -- with his parents' blessing -- after his sophomore year so he could get a GED and enroll in a juco (in this case the College of Southern Nevada) for a year, all with the sole purpose of being able to enter the MLB Amateur Draft a year early.
But he couldn't do that quietly. In his last game as an amateur athlete, Harper got ejected and suspended for going ballistic on what was an obviously horrible call by the home plate umpire. Go watch that video right now. There's yelling at an umpire, then there's doing what Bryce Harper did.
Also at CSN, Harper developed his obsession with eye black. Just what he is trying to accomplish by wearing a whole tube of the stuff nobody knows, but it looks annoying.
Anyway, Harper then got drafted by the Washington Nationals first overall in the 2010 draft and signed a five-year major league contract (a rarity for a new draftee, even rarer for one so young) worth a cool $9.9 million.
For those that don't know, here is pretty much the deal when you get drafted by a professional team. They give you millions of dollars and you don't profess loyalty to any other team in that sport until after your contract runs out. Harper didn't get the memo.
Anyway, that's relatively minor. Here's what happened on a home run he hit against the Greensboro Grasshoppers last year. Not exactly the best way to make friends in opposing dugouts.
He finally got called up last week and decided to make his debut with this haircut, which many are terming a "brohawk."
He should be a star. And Bryce Harper finally will be. But the question is: at what cost? My opinion: a lot of pain and suffering. Pitchers will tire of his act rather quickly and teach him a lesson the way pitchers have taught hitters a lesson for over a century. He'll be hit by a ton pitches.
2. Will the Phillies wake up?
The Philadelphia Phillies have a problem. They can't hit. 25th in the major leagues in runs scored, slugging percentage and OBP, 26th in home runs.
It's a small sample size and they're definitely missing the impact injured stars Ryan Howard and Chase Utley provide a lineup. But they're also being extremely irresponsible in their handling of Domonic Brown.
Brown is their best hitting prospect, plain and simple. He should be featured everyday in Charlie Manuel's starting lineup.
But he isn't. He got called up last year and played only sparingly. This is detrimental to both parties. It hurts Brown's development and it could make him become frustrated with the organization when it's time to renew his contract. They should have either let him play every day or sent him down to Triple-A.
They eventually sent him down to Triple-A. Stupid. Wrong answer. The correct answer was play him everyday and watch him develop to become a star in the middle of your lineup. Instead, his spot in Philadelphia's right field is occupied by Juan Pierre. Yes, this slap-hitting, 35-year-old, allergic to walks and extra base hits Juan Pierre.
Pierre's gotten off to a good start this year. Brown's struggled down in Lehigh Valley. Neither will last, and smart Phillies fans know this. The question is: Does management?
3. Will the Orioles quit babying Dylan Bundy?
Bundy, the No. 4 pick by the Baltimore Orioles in last year's MLB Draft, has burst upon the professional scene. He was the first high school pitcher selected last year for good reason: He could be a star.
His first 17 professional innings have beared that out. He's allowed just one hit, struck out 25 and walked two.
But I have two problems with this.
First, he's playing at Class-A Delmarva, when he's clearly shown that he's ready to face tougher hitters. Secondly, these 17 innings have taken place over five starts.
Listen, despite what Keith Law thinks, I think there is some merit to limiting Bundy's pitch count. The last thing the Baltimore Orioles want is Bundy blowing out his arm. But there's putting Bundy on a reasonable pitch limit and then there is not letting him face a full lineup two times through the order. They need to build his arm up, not turn him into a reliever who starts ballgames.
4. Will Trevor Bauer stay healthy?
Trevor Bauer, whom the Arizona Diamondbacks selected third overall in last year's draft, is the reverse Dylan Bundy. Before he even got drafted, he insisted that he was going to keep his long toss regimen that has made him a pitcher scouts obsess over.
It's a fun sight seeing Bauer's workout regimen on game days and thinking that he's going to go deep into a ballgame later that same night.
His routine obviously creates a lot of stress on an arm. But if he gets hurt, the first thing people are going to question is his workload.
On the mound, Bauer's been absolutely filthy this year, to the tune of a 1.26 ERA and 37 strikeouts in 28.2 innings pitched for Double-A Mobile. He's going to get called up to Arizona soon, probably by next month. The problem is he hasn't been able to get hitters out very quickly, though. Those 28.2 innings have taken place over five starts.
He's walked 17, which doesn't help matters. Of course, the 37 strikeouts suggest his stuff is dominant. Is he just effectively wild? Whatever he is, he'll have to reign it in a little bit and learn to make quicker outs if he wants to live up to the potential we all think he has.