Minnesota's Aaron Hicks got an aggressive promotion out of spring training, but has done nothing to justify it through two weeks in the regular season.
Mike Trout and Bryce Harper ruined everything for the 2013 rookie class in Major League Baseball. Even though everyone knew that they were two elite talents, no one expected them to show up and dominate the way they did right out of the gate last season.
In contrast, keeping in mind that we are less than three weeks into the season and obvious small-sample-size caveats apply, this year's rookie class has a lot to live up to. Some players have taken to their role in the big leagues—like Miami's Jose Fernandez and St. Louis' Matt Adams, to name a pair—yet others have struggled.
So what about those rookies who aren't finding life in The Show very welcoming?
Part of the problem is, thanks to the prospect boom that baseball has seen over the last decade, fans hear so much about these young players and how good their tools are that you just expect them to show up and be everyday players right away.
Baseball doesn't work like that. It is a very hard game that can break you faster than it will turn you into a star.
Here are the rookies who have looked lost in the big leagues so far and seem destined for a return trip to the minors sooner rather than later.
For the purpose of this discussion, we will be talking about legitimate prospects who are struggling, not the 26-year-old organization player on a roster just for depth.
Note: All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.
It wouldn't hurt Aaron Hicks to spend some time in Triple-A.
Aaron Hicks is going to become one of the poster children for why you never put stock into spring-training stats. The 23-year-old tore up the Grapefruit League this spring, to the tune of a .370/.407/.644 slash line, and that was coming off a good season at Double-A where he hit .286/.384/.460 in 129 games.
The tools are there for Hicks to be a very good all-around center fielder in the big leagues. He has a plus throwing arm, speed, range, an advanced hitting approach and pitch recognition, and he also has some pop in his bat.
But Hicks' developmental curve has been very unusual. He had a great—albeit brief—2008 season as an 18-year-old in Rookie ball when he hit .318/.409/.491 in 45 games. The Twins pushed him to Low-A as a 19-year-old the next year, and he hit a decent .253/.351/.382 in 67 games.
Repeating Low-A in 2010, Hicks had his big breakout season where all his tools were on display. He posted a .279/.401/.428 slash line with 21 stolen bases and 88 walks in 115 games. He moved up to High-A the next year, only to hit .242/.354/.368 in 122 games.
The Twins—still seeing the raw tools Hicks had—pushed him to Double-A last year, and he passed that test with flying colors. Given his history of taking a long time to adjust to a new level, deciding to push him so quickly through two levels—especially the two hardest levels in baseball—appears to have been a mistake.
Atlanta's Julio Teheran is one of the great prospect enigmas.
I will fully admit that I hopped back on the Julio Teheran bandwagon this spring. That sounds hypocritical since I just got done telling you not to look at spring stats when discussing Aaron Hicks, but Teheran was a different story.
Not only did the 22-year-old Colombian have a full season in Triple-A last year—even if it wasn't in any way successful—but there was all kinds of talk about how he was back to his old mechanics that made him one of the best pitching prospects in baseball two years ago.
Then, after watching games that Teheran started this spring, his stuff and command looked sharper. He was keeping his fastball down in the zone, his changeup still had that great late fade and the breaking ball looked like at least a serviceable offering.
This was going to be the year where Teheran finally stuck in the big leagues.
That was until he started regular-season play, and then everything looked exactly as it had before the spring. Teheran still has trouble keeping his fastball down in the zone and the breaking ball is a non-factor at this point.
Teheran had plenty left to prove in Triple-A following last season's disastrous 5.08 ERA. He also allowed 189 base-runners in 131 innings pitched. Eventually, there will come a time when he has to put up or shut up, but at 22 years old, there is still time to at least develop him into a solid mid-rotation starter.
That's still a far cry from the top-of-the-rotation star that Teheran looked like two years ago.
An electrifying spring forced Jackie Bradley, Jr. onto Boston's Opening Day roster.
You will notice a common thread among the first three rookies on this list: They all played out of their minds during spring training.
Jackie Bradley Jr. wasn't even on Boston's 25-man radar when camp started in early February, yet he forced the coaching staff to notice him by hitting everything in sight and putting up a .419 average with a .507 on-base percentage during spring training.
Last year, Bradley's first full season in professional baseball, was huge. The 23-year-old battled a wrist injury during his junior season at South Carolina that lowered his draft stock and made it so he was available to the Red Sox with the No. 40 overall pick in the 2011 draft.
An advanced college hitter when healthy, Bradley tore up High-A before the Red Sox promoted him to Double-A, where he finished the 2012 season. He was healthy and productive there, making him look like a future big leaguer at some point in 2013. Still, no one expected it to be right away.
While there have been a few moments where Bradley has fit in—like his ability to work a count and draw a walk—the bat still needs a bit more seasoning in Triple-A before he becomes an everyday player.
You can even see the Red Sox starting to realize that Bradley isn't ready, as Daniel Nava has started the last two games in left field. As Evan Drellich of The Massachusetts Republican noted, look for Bradley to be sent down on Friday, when the team is expected to activate David Ortiz from the DL.
Rob Brantly's power was supposed to carry him in the big leagues, but he isn't hitting anything.
The one thing that Rob Brantly does have going for him in the midst of a dreadful start to the season is that at least Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria remembered his name when he was going through all the players on the roster during his media spin cycle, where he tried to tell people that this is not a Triple-A team.
Brantly had a good finish to the 2012 season, hitting .290/.372/.460 in the incredibly small sample size of 113 plate appearances, but it was at least something that the Marlins could hang their hat on as their latest round of rebuilding is taking place.
But the problems with Brantly this season—and as a prospect in general—revolve around his inability to actually play defense and his approach at the plate. He has solid tools behind the plate with good arm strength and athleticism, but he doesn't move around well behind the dish. There is some pop in his bat, though his lack of pitch recognition and patience will prevent him from tapping into it.
As pitchers have gotten wind of Brantly's weaknesses on offense, they have started to expose them this season. Last year was also likely a function of playing in September, when a lot of teams are looking at call-ups on the mound and in the field.
More time in Triple-A to try to refine his approach with the bat and get more comfortable behind the plate is what Brantly needs right now.
Another player who jumped from Double-A to the big leagues (due in part to injuries), Alfredo Marte has not adjusted to the big leagues.
One big reason cited when the Arizona Diamondbacks ultimately traded Justin Upton to Atlanta over the winter—besides his propensity to strike out in between hitting the ball really far—was because of their outfield depth. Players like Gerardo Parra, Cody Ross, Jason Kubel, Adam Eaton and A.J. Pollock gave them a surplus that they could afford to deal from.
That created an opening on the 25-man roster that the Diamondbacks had to fill, so they called up Alfredo Marte from Double-A to start the season. He had a very successful 2012 campaign, hitting .294/.363/.523 with 20 home runs in 113 games, and he seemed to fit the team's new philosophy of making contact, since he has cut down on his strikeouts during the last two years.
But in 10 games in the big leagues this year, Marte isn't hitting anything. He has struck out nine times in 24 at-bats with just two extra-base hits.
Marte isn't one of Arizona's elite prospects. He has a few decent tools and really made adjustments in Double-A last year to at least increase his stock, but his pitch recognition and swing are still going to make it difficult for him to keep his average and on-base percentage up enough to play in a corner-outfield spot.
Getting time in Triple-A, where he has yet to play, would serve Marte well before the Diamondbacks try to give him a longer look later this year or next season.
Seattle's Brandon Maurer has had an interesting start to the season.
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When going over the list of rookies and their performances so far this season, Brandon Maurer was a name that I debated including for a long time.
On the one hand, his overall stat line in just three starts is dreadful. Maurer had one of the worst starts that any pitcher will have this year on April 9 against Houston, when he recorded just two outs and gave up six runs on seven hits.
Even though it would have been an overreaction to a bad start early in the year, no one would have been surprised if the Mariners had sent Maurer down to Triple-A after that outing.
Then Maurer came back with a strong performance on April 14 against Texas, easily the best of his young career so far. He went six innings, giving up five hits and three runs (two earned) with one walk and five strikeouts.
It will take another outing or two before we get a strong gauge on where Maurer is at, but the Mariners are in a good position to endure some volatility in their rotation because they have options to choose from at the high levels of the minors.
Sometimes, it takes one good day to bring the confidence back, or perhaps that was just an aberration. Maurer certainly has the talent to pitch in the middle of Seattle's rotation. He just has to prove that he can perform consistently when his number is called.
A big part of Brad Peacock's problems revolve around something he can't change: his height.
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The Houston Astros are going to have all sorts of problems on the field this year, so they can endure growing pains from a young starting pitcher more than almost anyone else in the league.
Brad Peacock has been an intriguing prospect to follow. Prior to a disastrous stint with Oakland's Triple-A team last year after he was acquired in the Gio Gonzalez trade, he had a good performance in 2011, with a 2.39 ERA and 177 strikeouts in 146.2 innings at Double-A and Triple-A.
Then, with the A's Triple-A affiliate, Peacock imploded. He had an ERA of 6.01 and allowed 147 hits and 66 walks in 134.2 innings.
While he is better than the numbers showed in 2012, Peacock is not going to be as good as his stats from two years ago would suggest.
The biggest problem that he faces revolves around genetics, as he is listed at 6'1", but doesn't look even that tall. His lack of height prevents him from getting any downhill trajectory on a straight fastball. Hitters can elevate the pitch, causing him to be homer prone.
Combine that with the fact that Peacock plays most of his games in the bandbox known as Minute Maid Park, and you have a pitcher who will need to adjust the way he pitches—or perhaps switch roles to a long reliever—in order to succeed.
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