Bryce Harper and 9 Top MLB Prospects Who Will Let Fans Down This Year

Ash MarshallSenior Analyst IJanuary 17, 2012

Bryce Harper and 9 Top MLB Prospects Who Will Let Fans Down This Year

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    Expectations are high for many of the prospects in the game today, and so they should be. These are the players who will take their respective franchises into the next decade, and many will be called upon to lead their teams to championships.

    But not every player can excel every year.

    Players disappoint for a number of reasons. Some players are hyped so much that they can never live up to expectations, and others face injuries—either one-offs or recurring—that wreck seasons and careers. Elsewhere, players sometimes work their way into ruts and fail to escape, while others work so hard that they're always gasping for air.

    Here are the prospects most likely to disappoint in 2012.

Not Really a Prospect, But...Bryan LaHair, 1B, Chicago Cubs

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    OK, "prospect" may be much too nice of a term for this guy. But how can Bryan LaHair not  disappoint in 2012?

    Think about it. He was unheard of when he was drafted by the Seattle Mariners back in 2002, but he quickly rose to become one of the best young prospects in the organization. He had a chance to shine in the Major Leagues in 2008 but never really took off, and since then he has been putting up big numbers in the Pacific Coast League.

    Last year, he hit .331, led the league with 38 homers, 12 more than his career high, and forced the Chicago Cubs to promote him. How can you not expect big things from him in 2012? He has ridiculous raw power and he has showed that he has little left to prove in the minors. Maybe he's not simply a AAAA player, but rather someone who just took a little longer to mature than others.

    Some fans may have given up on him considering his age (29) and his ability to get out of Triple-A, where he has spent the last five-and-a-half years. But after watching him rip opposing teams to shreds with Iowa last season, you have to be high on him again entering the coming year. Don't you? The problem once again, though, is that it's hard to see a place where you can give him at-bats every single day.

    All this adds up to is one of the best power hitters wasting another season on a bus going between the likes of Nashville, Reno and Tucson.

Anthony Rendon, 3B, Washington Nationals

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    Anthony Rendon was taken sixth overall in June's draft, behind Gerrit Cole, Danny Hultzen, Trevor Bauer, Dylan Bundy and Bubba Starling. Some critics thought he was a steal at No. 6, with some people predicting he would go first or second to Pittsburgh or Seattle.

    Rendon's supporters like to point to his plus power, fine glove and excellent plate discipline. They see him as a key cog in the heart of the Washington lineup for years to come, and they expect to see him mash his way through the Minor Leagues in 2012.

    However, the third baseman has suffered two serious injuries to his ankles and another to his shoulder. His performance dropped in his junior year at Rice as a result of the setbacks and he has yet to even play a professional game.

    It's all well and good penciling him into the Nationals infield, but nobody knows how his skills will translate to the pro game or whether the injuries will have an even greater effect on his performance against better pitchers.

    If he is forced to miss extended periods of time, his stock will decrease even further. With poor speed and injuries that could hinder both his swing and throwing ability, I wouldn't be surprised to see Rendon underperform this season.

    The Nationals are not going to rush him, so there's a possibility he could hit the DL at the first sign of problems. Considering the attention he has drawn over the last couple seasons, he will disappoint in 2012.

Jesus Montero, C, Seattle Mariners

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    Seattle Mariners fans are expecting a lot from Jesus Montero, having parted ways with Michael Pineda to secure his services.

    Montero didn't put up amazing numbers at Triple-A Scranton Wilkes-Barre in 2011 (.288/.348/.467), and I would argue that he showed very little growth from 2010.

    The sample size from his 18 Major League games is too small on its own to suggest that he will be a .300 hitter in Seattle. And unless he tightens up his approach at the plate and improves his discipline, there's a very good chance he will strike out way too often for people's liking.

    Montero doesn't have the pressure of being a Yankee or playing in New York on his shoulders, but not he has to become the face of a franchise on its own. Looking down the line a couple years, he is the hitter in the lineup. That's a tough adjustment to make.

    Montero was the pride of the Yankees Minor League system, and for good reason. He has power, he uses the whole field well and he's virtually Major League ready. He is one of the best catching prospects in the game, and that combination of skill set and positional scarcity makes him a highly sought after acquisition.

    The problem will come if Montero does produce immediately. The Ms gave up a hard-throwing 22-year-old who won nine games and struck out more than a batter an inning in his rookie year. I see no reason why the 6'7" right-hander wouldn't have won 13 or 14 games and posted 200 strikeouts with a sub-3.50 ERA in Seattle in 2012. Fans will be upset that they lost this commodity if Montero stumbles out of the gate. The grass is always greener.

Bryce Harper, OF, Washington Nationals

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    Bryce Harper is so hyped that it's going to be virtually impossible for him to live up to expectations.

    If he has a good-but-not-great spring and fails to make the opening day lineup, people will be disappointed. If he only hits 16 homers instead of, for example, 30 homers, people will say he didn't fulfill his potential.

    Unless Harper breaks camp with the team, tears up Major League pitching at a torrid rate, leads the Washington Nationals to a playoff spot and wins Rookie of the Year honors, critics will ask what all the fuss is about.

    Harper is legitimate and he is elite. But you have to have muted expectations considering this is a young guy who hasn't played above Double-A and didn't exactly set the world alight in the Arizona Fall League.

    Harper deserves the attention he gets, but considering just how highly fans view him, it's going to be impossible to please everybody this early in his career. He will put up good numbers, possibly even great numbers. Just don't be surprised if he is only average over 120 games.

Trevor Bauer, SP, Arizona Diamondbacks

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    I love Trevor Bauer, I really do. He's an interesting kid with a ton of potential and the skills to match. I've spoken with him a couple of times, and I like everything about the way he approaches the game and handles himself on the mound.

    But casual fans just know him as this quirky pitcher who shuns traditional training methods and does things his own way. They see the size of the contract and the comparisons with Tim Lincecum and expect an automatic Cy Young Award winner.

    Bauer's future is bright, but he's not there yet. He has only appeared in seven pro games, and none above the Southern League. With just 25.2 innings under his belt, it's impossible to say with any certainty that the 6'1" right-hander out of UCLA is a can't miss type of guy.

    He's high on the Diamondbacks' prospect depth chart, and some people expect him to make the big leagues out of camp. I'd prefer to see him get stretched out back in Mobile and then log some Triple-A innings before a promotion to the majors.

    As with many of the players on this list, expectations are almost unnaturally high for Bauer. He will be an ace and he will blow hitters away, but just not immediately. It's unreasonable to think that a 20-year-old with almost zero pro experience will shine straight away, but that's what Bauer is dealing with right now.

    Considering the expectations, Bauer will disappoint in 2012.

Tim Wheeler, OF, Colorado Rockies

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    Is Tim Wheeler for real? The former first-rounder had a monster 2011 season despite moving up from the hitter-friendly Cal League to Double-A Tulsa of the Texas League.

    He set career highs in homers (33), RBI (86) and runs scored (105), while also batting a personal best .287. He had hit just 17 homers over the previous season-and-a-half since turning pro.

    With power, speed (he swiped 21 bases) and the ability to hit for a solid average, the 23-year-old lefty might be just entering his prime.

    But after such an explosive year, how does he expect to maintain these kinds of numbers? His slugging percentage rose from .384 to .535, and his OPS numbers jumped to a robust .900 despite a decrease in walks and an increase in strikeouts.

    He had an up-and-down 2010 season, but put himself directly back on the Colorado Rockies prospect radar last year.

    Listen, Wheeler has raw power, just not in the quantity that he saw in 2011. He will have a mighty fall when he moves up another level, and I wouldn't be even a little bit surprised if he failed to crack the big league club at all in 2012. He needs time before he's ready for the show. This coming season will be a disappointment considering all the hopes he raised with the bat.

Ryan Lavarnway, C, Boston Red Sox

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    Like Tim Wheeler, there's little to suggest Ryan Lavarnway will show the kind of bat he did at Double-A and Triple-A in the majors.

    He hit a career-best 32 homers across two levels in 2011, plating 93 runs and batting .290. He's not going to hit .275 in the big leagues, and I doubt he'll ever hit more than 15 homers.

    He's good, I'm not disputing that, but the problem is that he's set the bar so high that expectations are unreasonably high for a guy that has just 39 Major League at-bats.

    If Lavarnway doesn't make the team out of spring training, people will say it's because the Red Sox want to give him more at-bats in the International League and ensure he plays every day. If he doesn't improve on his numbers at Pawtucket, people will think he's regressing slightly. If he doesn't excel in Boston when he gets a call-up, that will also be a disappointment.

Matt Dominguez, 3B, Miami Marlins

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    Matt Dominguez made it to the Major Leagues in 2011, and even though he only hit .244 with 17 brief appearances, fans gave him a pass because 1) it was his first time in "the show" and 2) he's still young.

    The third base prospect is still 22, so he's not quite hit his prime in terms of when he's likely to peak. Fans can either get on a player's case because they expect more from the organization's top prospects, or they can bite their tongue knowing there's no need to rush the future starts of the team.

    Dominguez is the No. 1 guy in that Miami system, but fans shouldn't expect anything from him in 2012. He hasn't hit better than .252 over a full season since 2008, and the last time he really dominated the opposition came back in the Class A Advanced Sally League four years ago.

    Dominguez has decent plate discipline and good gap-to-gap power, but there are still holes in his game. His glove and arm are what will get him back to the majors, but I'm not convinced his bat will keep him there.

Jarrod Parker, SP, Oakland A's

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    After missing all of 2010 with an elbow injury, Jarrod Parker responded well from the Tommy John surgery to post an 11-8 record and 3.79 ERA last year.

    He got his fastball back up to the mid-90s, and he continued to throw both breaking balls and a change will bring decent success.

    But he also threw more than 130 innings—the most of his career—and an even bigger number considering he only logged 97 in '09 before going to the DL.

    Parker is a great pitcher, one of the better right-handed prospects in the minors, but last year took its toll. His strikeouts were down slightly and his walks up, but the fact remains that he spent all the year at Mobile with the exception of one late-season call-up and he has yet to advance past the Double-A level.

    If you consider the jump to Triple-A, the previous season's workload, the expectations of a new team and fan base and the possibility of hurting his surgically repaired arm, it's likely Parker will disappoint in 2012.