The Rangers have set their starting rotation, and right-handed Japanese import Yu Darvish will start the team’s fourth game on Monday April 9 at home against the Mariners. Darvish’s credentials are impeccable, and he’s going to do just fine in the majors and against the light-hitting Mariners in particular. In fact, he won’t be a thing like this octet of Rangers past who were hyped in their day but pancaked on takeoff.
David Clyde, LHP, 1973
The first overall pick of the 1973 amateur draft, Texas high schooler David Clyde was rushed directly to the majors by a Rangers team still trying to find its identity—and sell tickets—two seasons after fleeing existence as the Washington Senators.
Clyde had a young southpaw’s typical command problems and struggled with maturity as well—no surprise given that he was just 18. Clyde never developed, falling out of the majors for good at 24.
Jeff Kunkel, SS, 1984
As Clyde suggests, the Rangers long had a fetish for rushing prospects. Kunkel was another who suffered for their haste. The third overall pick in 1983—consider that Kunkel went 16 picks ahead of Roger Clemens—and the son of a major league pitcher, the Rangers had moved Kunkel to Double-A not long after the draft. He hit .286/.309/.508 at two levels, but with a strikeout-walk ratio of 43-5 in 68 games.
That should have been a clue. It wasn’t. When Kunkel hit well at Double-A in 1984, he was rushed up to the majors. He was ready neither offensively nor defensively, the 22-year-old hitting .204/.218/.324 in 50 games, taking just two walks. Kunkel would yo-yo between the majors and minors from then on, and even put together a decent season as a utility player for the 1989 team, but he never did master the strike zone and hit .221/.259/.355 in 357 career games.
Oddibe McDowell, OF, 1985
A real mystery and perhaps another rush job. A 1984 Olympian out of Arizona State University (see Bobby Witt, below), McDowell was the No. 12 overall pick in 1984. He made his professional debut at Triple-A and hit .400/.486/.632 in 31 games, showing off tools that suggested he would be a five-tool threat.
He hit .239/.304/.431 with 18 home runs as a rookie and placed fourth in the Rookie of the Year balloting. The 23-year-old seemed to take a step forward in 1986, improving to .266/.341/.427…and that was it. He not only failed to develop further, he fell off a cliff.
The Rangers sent him down at midseason in 1988 and gave up on him that December, swapping him to Cleveland. The Indians needed just half a season to decide they didn’t want him either and dealt him to the Braves. He would fall out of the majors for three years after 1990 before briefly returning to the Rangers in 1994.
Pete Incaviglia, OF, 1986
After setting NCAA home run records, Oklahoma State University outfielder Pete Incaviglia was one of the most coveted players in the 1985 draft. The Montreal Expos snagged him with the eighth overall pick, grabbing him after B.J. Surhoff, Will Clark, Bobby Witt, Barry Larkin and Barry Bonds went off the board.
The problem was that Incaviglia felt he was good enough to skip the minor leagues. The Expos didn’t want to let him dictate terms, so a sign-and-trade was arranged, with the Rangers sending utility infielder Jim Anderson and pitcher Bob Sebra north of the border for the rights to the young slugger.
Incaviglia hit 30 home runs as a rookie in 1986, but also led the league in strikeouts (185) and was a terrible defender. Essentially, his game lacked refinement. He never got a bit better than he was when he first appeared, and finished with .246/.310/.448 rates and 206 home runs.
Bobby Witt, RHP, 1986
Baseball was a demonstration sport at the 1984 Olympics, and scouting directors fell in love with virtually everyone on the team. Some of them proved to be quite good, including Surhoff, Clark, Larkin and Mark McGwire. Others, such as Bill Swift, had their moments.
Witt was one of the aces of the team, and the Rangers made him the third overall pick in the 1985 draft. Witt skipped to Double-A after the draft and pitched terribly, going 0-6 with a 6.43 ERA and walking 11.3 batters per nine. Nonetheless, he debuted with the Rangers in 1986 and never looked back.
Witt threw hard, but it would be years before he developed a semblance of control; in his first two seasons, he walked 283 batters in 300.2 innings. He finally broke through in 1990, cutting his walk rate down to 4.5 per nine on the way to a 3.36 ERA in 222 innings.
Unfortunately, all the pitches Witt had thrown to that point had taken a toll on his arm, and he endured rotator cuff and elbow problems in 191. Although he pitched until 2001, he never did realize his potential, posting an ERA of almost 5.00 over the rest of his career.
Benji Gil, SS, 1993
One more case of a player being rushed. Gil was the Rangers’ first-round pick in 1991, going No. 19 overall. The teenager had only reached the Sally League when an early-season injury at the major-league level prompted the Rangers to say, “What the hell,” and move him up to the bigs in 1993.
Gil proved to be steady enough on defense, but hit only .123 before being sent back. He hit well on his return to the minors, but never did hit in two extended trials as the Rangers’ shortstop, averaging .215/.261/.358 overall.
The Rangers would eventually trade him to the White Sox for two pitchers they barely used. Gil would later have two useful seasons as a utility player for the Angels, batting .292/.322/.462 from 2001-2002, though he never did figure out the whole balls and strikes thing, taking 19 walks in 165 games.
Taylor Teagarden, C, 2008
A relative of the classic jazz trombonist Jack Teagarden, this 2005 third-round pick established himself as a prospect by hitting .310/426/.586 between the California and Texas leagues in 2007. Teagarden has terrific defensive skills, but injuries and the seemingly complete death of his bat have turned him into a journeyman. He showed a bit of life in that department at Triple-A Round Rock last year, and that was enough for the Orioles to swap for him.
With 220/.286/.417 rates, he has shown power but not the slightest ability to recognize major league pitches—and there are still injuries. A back injury will likely prevent him from breaking camp as the Birds’ reserve receiver.
Chris Davis, 1B/3B, 2008
A fifth-round pick in 2006, the left-handed slugger put up some tremendous numbers in the minors, hitting .318/.375/.597 overall. The knock on Davis related to his shaky defense and inability to make contact; in 226 games at Triple-A, he has walked 86 times while striking out 231 times.
Promoted to the majors in 2008, he seemed to assuage fears that major league pitchers would exploit the holes in his swing by hitting .285/.331/.549 with 17 home runs in 80 games. That, though, proved to be a fluke. He hit .238/.284/.442 with 21 home runs in 2009, talking 24 walks against 150 strikeouts in 113 games.
Since then, he has hit just .238/.295/.361 for the Rangers and the Orioles, who acquired him along with Tommy Hunter in return for Koji Uehara.