The 2000s' Top 5 MLB Prospects That Never Were
Every year, there are countless amateur prospects slapped with the “future superstar” label, the majority of whom are selected on Day 1 of the draft and offered a seven-figure signing bonus.
But with such highly regarded players comes the potential for massive disappointment, as a small percentage of prospects are able to reach their respective high ceiling.
So, to usher in the weekend, I thought I’d briefly review five top prospects from the previous decade who never developed as anticipated and failed to reach their potential.
While I took draft position and signing bonus into consideration, this list is based more on athleticism, tools/pitches and perceived ceiling.
5. Jason Neighborgall, RHP, Arizona Diamondbacks (2005)
Drafted: Third round (No. 81 overall), 2005
A seventh-round draft pick of the Red Sox out of high school in 2002, Neighborgall chose to honor his commitment to Georgia Tech instead. With a fastball that consistently reached triple-digits and an unhittable, wipeout slider, the 6’5”, 205-pound right-hander attracted tons of draft buzz despite three consecutive disappointing seasons in college.
With so many working parts to his delivery and an arm seemingly too powerful for his own body, Neighborgall’s non-existent control was magnified upon entering the Diamondbacks’ system.
Just how bad was it you ask? Well, the right-hander posted a 17.22 ERA, 3.97 WHIP, 10.20 K/9 and 27.21 BB/9 in only 42.1 innings over three minor-league seasons. Let me try presenting that differently; in 42.1 career minor-league innings, Neighborgall walked 128 batters?
Is that even possible? I honestly don’t know. However, by the 2008 season his control problems had forced him out of the game, leaving everyone wondering about what could have been.
4. Kasey Kiker, LHP, Texas Rangers (2006)
Drafted: First round (No. 12 overall), 2006
After a storied amateur career that saw him drafted 12th overall by the Rangers in 2006, Kiker signed with the Rangers for $1.6 million with expectations of one day emerging as a frontline starting pitcher. However, the 5’10”, 185-pound left-hander’s command was consistently inconsistent as a professional, and seemingly took two steps back for every one step forward.
Now 24 years old, the once-promising southpaw didn’t pitch professionally in 2012 after a last-resort move to the bullpen in both 2010 and 2011 led to even greater struggles. Presuming he never pitches again, Kiker will finish his highly disappointing minor-league career with a 23-31 record, 4.53 ERA, 1.51 WHIP, 9.17 K/9 and 5.18 BB/9 in 481 innings.
3. Ryan Harvey, OF, Chicago Cubs (2003)
Drafted: First round (No. 6 overall), 2003
Headed into his senior season at Dunedin High School, Harvey was already regarded as a no-doubt first-rounder with the potential to be a top-10 overall draft pick. And sure enough, the 6’5”, 240-pound outfielder was selected sixth overall by the Cubs despite blowing out his knee earlier in the spring. The 18-year-old signed quickly, too, as he and the Cubs reached an agreement on a $2.4 signing bonus.
Given his size, athleticism and outstanding set of tools, Harvey was worth every penny at the time. However, the right-handed hitter’s bat never developed as expected as his long swing and lack of plate discipline led to both contact and strikeout issues. In 2005, his best minor-league season, Harvey posted an .808 OPS with 24 strikeouts, 100 RBI and 137/24 K/BB in 117 games as a 20-year-old in Low-A.
By the 2009 season, Harvey had been released by the Cubs after six dismal seasons in which he reached only Double-A. He then spent the 2009 and 2010 seasons playing for the Rockies’ Double-A affiliate, but was subsequently released in the offseason. Over eight minor-league seasons, he batted .244/.297/.452 with 117 home runs and 711/158 K/BB in 642 games.
Having pitched in the low-90s as a high school senior, Harvey attempted to revive a career on the mound with the Red Sox in 2011. However, the comeback lasted only several months before he was ultimately released in May.
2. Jeff Allison, RHP, Miami (Florida) Marlins (2003)
Drafted: First round (No. 16 overall), 2003
The top high school pitcher in the nation in 2003, Jeff Allison had all the makings of a No. 1 starter in the major leagues. But due to petty concerns about his mechanics, and more justified concerns about his overall makeup, the 6’2”, 195-pound right-hander fell to the then-Florida Marlins at No. 16 overall. Still, with three (potentially four) above-average to plus pitches, many expected Allison rise quickly through organization’s farm system.
Sadly, the 18-year-old suffered a nearly-fatal drug overdose following the conclusion of the season, and subsequently received treatment for his addiction to both heroin and Oxycontin. Due to multiple failed drug tests, the Marlins placed the right-hander on the restricted list and he missed the entire 2004 season.
Allison returned to the mound as a 20-year-old in 2005 for Low-A Greensboro, logging nearly 100 innings in 17 starts. However, his struggles with substance abuse resurfaced that offseason as he suffered another overdose. But after missing the entire 2006 and 2007 seasons, Allison made a comeback in 2008 as a 23-year-old. Eventually relegated to a bullpen role, he remained with the Marlins through the 2011 season before leaving via free agency.
In six minor league seasons, the former first-rounder was 31-38 with a 4.65 ERA, 1.43 WHIP, 5.3 K/9 and 3.2 BB/9 over 131 career games.
1. Brandon Wood, SS/3B, Los Angeles Angels (2003)
Drafted: First round (No. 23 overall), 2003
Even though his big-league career isn’t over, technically, Wood’s inclusion in this article is absolutely necessary. Drafted by the Angels with the 23rd overall pick in 2003, the 18-year-old ultimately signed for $1.3 million and logged 61 games in his professional debut.
The 6’3”, 205-pounder enjoyed a breakout season in 2005 when he batted .321/.383/.672 with 43 home runs and 128/48 K/BB in 130 games for High-A Rancho Cucamonga. The Angels wanted him to be their third baseman, they really did; Wood received a call-up each year from 2007-2011. But due to his poor pitch recognition and long, pull-happy swing, he never adjusted to big-league pitching, batting .186/.225/.289 with 18 home runs and 218/32 K/BB in 272 games.
For what it’s worth, Wood owns an .869 OPS with 171 home runs and 881/325 K/BB in 883 minor league games spanning 10 seasons. Playing with his third different team in as many seasons, the 27-year-old spent the 2012 season playing for Triple-A Colorado Springs (Rockies).
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