Breaking Down the 10 Most Underachieving MLB Prospects of 2012
Enduring and overcoming struggles is a defining process for a young, up-and-coming prospect, as a player’s ability to make adjustments in all facets of the game offers important insight about their overall potential.
Massive regression, on the other hand, is an entirely different story, especially for those players on the cusp of reaching the major leagues. While slumps and inconsistency can be attributed to a player’s natural development, struggling to the point of a full-level demotion is always disconcerting and a worst case scenario for everyone involved.
So, here is a look at 10 prospects that grossly underachieved during the 2012 minor league regular season.
Mike Montgomery, LHP, Kansas City Royals
2012 Stats (AAA, AA): 5-12, 149.2 IP, 6.07 ERA, 1.62 WHIP, 24 HR, 111 K/64 BB (27 GS)
Prior to the 2011 season, had you told me that Mike Montgomery would finish the 2012 regular season at Double-A (without having even reached the major leagues), I probably would have laughed in your face, maybe even cast a loogy in your general direction.
However, the 6’4” left-hander has struggled mightily with his command over the last two seasons, issuing too many walks while often missing over the heart of the plate—something that never bodes well in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League (Triple-A).
Montgomery was eventually demoted to Double-A in July where his performance was even more underwhelming: 2-6, 58 IP, 6.67 ERA, 1.55 WHIP, 44 K/22 BB in 10 starts.
Brett Jackson, OF, Chicago Cubs
2012 Stats (AAA): .256/.338/.479, 49 XBH (15 HR), 27 SB, 158 K/47 BB (106 G)
MLB: .182/.296/.384, 11 XBH (4 HR), 50 K/16 BB (33 G)
Jackson enjoyed his best minor league season in 2011, batting .274/.379/.490 with 48 extra-base hits (20 home runs), 21 stolen bases, 73 walks and 138 strikeouts between Double-A and Triple-A.
In his first full season at Triple-A in 2012, the athletic outfielder posted equally impressive power and speed totals, but his strikeout and walk rates deteriorated. Furthermore, his extreme swing-and-miss tendency has only been exploited since reaching the major leagues in early August.
Joe Benson, OF, Minnesota Twins
2012 Stats (AAA, Rk, A+, AA): .202/.288/.336, 22 XBH (6 HR), 13 SB, 81 K/30 BB (76 G)
Despite reaching the big leagues with the Twins last season as a September call-up, Benson failed to make the team out of Spring Training and was subsequently assigned to Triple-A. And after batting .179 through the first 28 games of the season, the toolsy outfielder was then demoted to Double-A.
His already problematic lack of contact was only intensified by a broken hamate bone, which required surgery and six weeks of rehabilitation. He eventually worked his way back to Double-A in July, but the season was already a wash for the 24-year-old.
Dellin Betances, RHP, New York Yankees
2012 Stats (AAA, AA): 6-9, 131.1 IP, 6.44 ERA, 1.85 WHIP, 124 K/99 BB (27 G; 26 GS)
After an impressive 2011 campaign in which he posted a 3.70 ERA and a 10.1 K/9, (eventually making his major league debut in September), Betances’ fall from grace this season was extreme.
Beginning the year at Triple-A, the 24-year-old right-hander registered an 8.3 BB/9 before receiving a demotion to Double-A where, unfortunately, things only worsened.
At 6’8”, 260 pounds, it’s not surprising that Betances has so much trouble repeating his mechanics. It’s gotten to the point where relegating him to a bullpen role may be the only option.
Jed Bradley, LHP, Milwaukee Brewers
2012 Stats (A+): 5-10, 107.1 IP, 5.53 ERA, 1.67 WHIP, 60 K/43 BB (20 GS)
Along with Taylor Jungmann, the Brewers selected Jed Bradley, a 6’4”, 225-pound left-hander, in the first round of the 2011 draft. With advanced command of a four-pitch mix, Bradley was expected to move through their system quickly. However, that never happened.
He was extremely hittable all year in the Florida State League, and repeatedly struggled to retire hitters when ahead in the count. The southpaw spent some time on the disabled list in May with a groin injury, and was ultimately shut down for the rest of the season in August with a tired arm.
Zack Cox, 3B, St. Louis Cardinals/Miami Marlins
2012 Stats (AAA, AA): .254/.301/.409, 40 XBH (10 HR), 43 RBI, 90 K/22 BB (108 G)
Regarded as one of the top college bats in the 2010 draft class, Cox batted .306/.363/.434 and reached the Cardinals’ Double-A affiliate last year in his first full season. Aggressively promoted to Triple-A to open the 2012 season, the left-handed hitter struggled at the plate, posting a .716 OPS with only 12 walks in 84 games before a midseason trade for Edward Mujica sent him to the Marlins.
Gary Brown, OF, San Francisco Giants
2012 Stats (AA): .279/.347/.385, 41 XBH (7 HR), 42 RBI, 33 SB, 87 K/40 BB (134 G)
After posting a .925 OPS with 53 stolen bases last season at High-A San Jose in the hitter-friendly California League, it was conceivable that Brown could finish the 2012 season in San Francisco following similar production at Double-A—especially considering his reputation as an excellent defensive center field with great speed.
However, the right-handed hitter struggled out of the gate, batting .227 in April and .258 in May before finding a semblance of rhythm at the plate. But even after enjoying his best month of the season in July—.355/.389/.573 with 18 extra-base hits and eight stolen bases in 29 games—Brown finished his 2012 campaign just as it began, batting .247 in August and .125 in September.
Julio Teheran, RHP, Atlanta Braves
2012 Stats (AAA): 7-9, 131 IP, 5.08 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, 97 K/43 BB (26 GS)
MLB: 4.1 IP, 8.31 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 5 K/1 BB (1 G)
Regarded as one of baseball’s elite minor league pitchers headed into the 2012 season, Teheran’s massive regression at Triple-A this season was both unexpected and disappointing.
The right-hander’s lack of fastball command resulted in him being overly-hittable, while his strikeout rates rapidly tapered off. More importantly, without a quality breaking ball, Teheran has repeatedly struggled to make the improvements necessary for another crack at the Braves' big league rotation.
Tim Wheeler, OF, Colorado Rockies
2012 Stats (AAA): .303/.357/.412, 33 XBH (2 HR), 37 RBI, 7 SB, 69 K/29 BB (92 G)
Wheeler enjoyed a breakout season in 2011 at Double-A Tulsa, batting .287/.365/.535 with 33 home runs and 21 stolen bases—his home run total was second best in all the minors.
However, the left-handed hitter’s 2012 season has been an entirely different story as he amassed only two long balls and seven stolen bases in nearly 100 games. Wheeler missed a-month-and-a-half after suffering a broken hamate bone in his right hand, so it’s possible that the injury made him more tentative at the plate and limited his power.
Still, I’m surprised that his season totals were so low considering he spent the year in the Pacific Coast League.
Brandon Drury, 3B, Atlanta Braves
2012 Stats (A-): .229/.270/.333, 31 XBH (6 HR), 51 RBI, 73 K/20 BB (123 G)
After destroying Appalachian League pitching last season and claiming the league batting title (.347), Drury, at 19 years of age, turned in an unexpectedly rough follow-up campaign in 2012.
Although his plate discipline has been respectable, Drury made consistent, weak contact all season while his power seemingly vanished. The right-handed hitter had the potential to become one of the organization’s top position prospects with a strong 2012 campaign. However, he’s instead become another young player in the Braves’ system who lacks consistency at the plate.