When a player is selected in the first round of the draft there are a lot of expectations for him. From the time he's drafted, a first round pick's potential is talked about, and usually even casual fans know his name. Everyone knows the top prospects, especially when they are nearing the majors.
Last year this was Matt Harvey. Harvey made enough of a splash in spring training that everyone knew who he was, and his debut on July 26 was met with much excitement. That his 11-strikeout performance while averaging 95 mph with his fastball was record-setting and invoked the names of Tom Seaver and Dwight Gooden only raised the expectations. He finished his rookie season with a 2.73 ERA and a 10.62 K/9 rate and even outhit Jason Bay in the process.
Harvey is off to a great start, but when you add it up — the hype surrounding him being a first round draft pick and the expectations of him helping to cement the Mets rotation as an excellent ones for years and years to come — there's a mountain of expectation piled on a guy who's been in the majors for only a little over two months. Matt served us a great opening appetizer, and now we're expecting the meal to be the best thing we've eaten in a long long time.
Whether or not he can handle that pressure, it's unfair. It's unfair to expect draft picks to equal, or even approach, the potential that the front office dreamed of when they were drafted. There is always extreme potential in a first round draft pick, but it's a long hard road to consistent major league success, and an even harder one to dominating major league success. That road does not end at the major league debut, and Harvey has taken little more than a stride down it. Harvey will start the year with the Mets, which means opposing teams will put in the extra effort to develop a complete scouting report on him. He'll have to overcome that additional level of scrutiny to continue to succeed.
Mike Pelfrey was subject to similar hype and expectation even when he'd established himself as merely a reliable, but not particularly special, starting pitcher. Philip Humber was the third overall pick and is entering his age-30 season without much sustained success besides last year's perfect game. He's now on his fifth team and is an excellent example of a very talented prospect that just never managed to put it all together. The avalanche of hype and expectation that was placed on the Generation K pitchers of the late 90s was so immense that their failure still resonates across the years.
No other player on the roster has the mountain of expectation that Harvey does. David Wright has been good enough for long enough that a somewhat lesser year is not a disaster. He's expected to lead this team, so what's expected of the team is expected of him.Much like a manager, Wright will get credit or blame for how the team is measured against its expectations, but since few think the Mets are doing anything this year, the pressure for Wright is not great either.
Ike Davis had such a miserable start last year that the bar is so low he can't help but exceed it. John Buck is a placeholder, and Ruben Tejada and Daniel Murphy have now been around long enough that you wouldn't expect any major deviations from what you usually get from them.
The rotation outside of Harvey isn't as loaded, either. Perhaps we expect Jon Niese not to backslide too much from his breakout year last season, but the expectations on Dillon Gee have always been minimal, no one seems to even expect more than fifteen starts from Johan Santana.
Matt Harvey features in almost every permutation of the Mets' plan towards continued success. He's expected to be a very good, or perhaps great, pitcher for many years to come. The Mets pitchers, and their prospects, are expected to be one of the driving forces behind a consistently competitive future. How fast we get there appears to depend a great deal on Matt Harvey. Hopefully he can continue to live up to the hype.