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10 Young Players on the Verge of Becoming MLB Busts

Joel ReuterFeatured ColumnistMay 9, 2013

10 Young Players on the Verge of Becoming MLB Busts

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    As prospect evaluation and player development has improved over the years, prospect projecting has become much less of a crapshoot than it once was.

    However, the fact remains that not every top prospect pans out. There are still a number of future busts taken in the high rounds or signed to big international contracts each season.

    With that in mind, here is a look at 10 young players on the verge of becoming MLB busts—guys who still have a chance to get their once-promising careers on track but are quickly running out of time if they hope to be the big league stars they were once projected to be.

SP Christian Friedrich, Colorado Rockies

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    Taken with the No. 25 pick in the 2008 MLB draft, Christian Friedrich looked the part of a future frontline starter after a big minor league season in 2009.

    The left-hander went 6-5 with a 2.41 ERA and 159 strikeouts in 119.2 innings between Single-A and High-A, and as a result he entered the 2010 season as the No. 33 prospect in all of baseball, according to Baseball America.

    However, he followed that up with back-to-back seasons with an ERA over 5.00, and he struggled in his first taste of big league action last season in going 5-8 with a 6.17 ERA over 16 starts.

    Still just 25, Friedrich is currently pitching in Triple-A, where he has a 4.30 ERA and 1.432 WHIP over his first four starts. The hopes of him being a top-of-the-rotation guy are a thing of the past, and now it's a question of whether or not he can be a viable big leaguer.

CF Brett Jackson, Chicago Cubs

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    After displaying a good mix of power and speed during his time at the University of California, the Cubs took Brett Jackson with the No. 31 overall pick in the 2009 draft.

    A big first full pro season in 2010 saw him hit .297/.395/.493 with 242 total bases and 30 stolen bases. He shot up prospect ranking lists and came in at No. 38 by Baseball America entering 2011.

    After another strong season in 2011 saw him reach Triple-A for the first time, most expected him to be patrolling center field full-time at some point last season.

    While he did earn a call-up, an alarmingly high strikeout rate kept him from making an impact, as he whiffed a total of 217 times in 527 at-bats between Triple-A and Chicago. He's already struck out 24 times in 64 at-bats this season, and that inability to make consistent contact could keep him from being an everyday big leaguer.

SP Mark Rogers, Milwaukee Brewers

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    The first high school pitcher taken in the 2004 draft, the Brewers selected Mark Rogers with the No. 5 overall pick. He looked to have a bright future ahead of him.

    He was brought along slowly and struggled early on before a right shoulder injury sidelined him in June of 2006. He would end up missing the rest of 2006 and all of the 2007 and 2008 seasons while rehabbing from his original surgery and subsequent surgeries thereafter.

    Rogers finally made his big league debut in 2010, making four appearances (two starts) and posting a 1.80 ERA with 11 strikeouts in 10 innings. 

    He spent all of 2011 in the minors but got an extended look down the stretch last year, going 3-1 with a 3.92 ERA and 41 strikeouts in 39 innings over seven starts. He opened the 2013 season in the minors after failing to win a rotation spot, and he's currently sidelined again with arm fatigue.

1B Ike Davis, New York Mets

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    When Ike Davis first broke into the league as a 23-year-old and hit 19 home runs with 71 RBI to finish seventh in NL Rookie of the Year voting, it looked as though he would be a future star in the middle of the Mets lineup.

    He got off to a red-hot start the following season, but an ankle injury ended his season after just 36 games and halted what very well could have been a breakout season.

    Upon returning last season, he struggled to the point of nearly being demoted in the first half but rallied with a decent second half to finish the year with 32 home runs and 90 RBI, despite a .227 average.

    That strong second half hasn't carried over to start this season, though. He has again struggled with an average of just .177 and only eight RBI. He's already been demoted to the No. 7 spot in the lineup, and if he continues to struggle, the Mets may have to entertain the idea of sending him down.

SP Kyle Gibson, Minnesota Twins

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    The Twins took Kyle Gibson with the No. 22 pick in the 2009 draft after he dominated at the University of Missouri. He was expected to be on the fast track after reaching Triple-A in his first pro season.

    However, he was sidelined with an elbow injury after 18 starts in Triple-A the following season, and he wound up undergoing Tommy John surgery as a result. He returned late last season to throw 28.1 innings and post a 4.13 ERA.

    The team gave him a look this spring, and he had an outside shot of cracking the rotation, but he allowed 14 hits and eight runs in eight innings of work. As a result, he opened the season in Triple-A, where he has a 4.26 ERA through his first six starts.

    At 25 years old, he's starting to get old for a prospect. With less-than-dominant numbers, it now becomes a question of whether or not he can be a reliable big league starter as opposed to a front-of-the-rotation guy.

CF Colby Rasmus, Toronto Blue Jays

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    A first-round pick in 2005, Colby Rasmus was viewed as a future star when he was ranked as the No. 5 prospect in baseball prior to the 2008 season and the No. 3 overall prospect the following season, according to Baseball America.

    He took over as the Cardinals' everyday center fielder in 2009 and held his own with a .714 OPS and 16 home runs over 474 at-bats. 

    Two years later, he had failed to progress as the team had hoped and butted heads with management, so the team shipped him to the Blue Jays in a deadline deal that brought Edwin Jackson to St. Louis for their postseason run.

    He had career highs last season with 23 home runs and 75 RBI, but his average plummeted to .223 in the process and his .689 OPS was incredibly low for someone with over 20 home runs. His days as a future star are behind him, and his days as an everyday player may be numbered as well if he doesn't pick it up.

SP Dellin Betances, New York Yankees

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    The prospect trio of Andrew Brackman, Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances was once referred to as the "Killer B's" and expected to be the future atop the Yankees' rotation.

    Fast-forward to now, and Brackman is no longer with the organization, Banuelos is sidelined with Tommy John surgery and Betances is struggling again in the high minors.

    After emerging as a top prospect in 2010 and 2011, Betances went 6-9 with a 6.44 ERA last season between Double-A and Triple-A, and he fell out of the Baseball America top 100.

    The struggles have continued this season, as he's 2-2 with a 6.00 ERA through his first six starts of the season at Triple-A. At 25 years old, his time to figure things out is running out.

1B Justin Smoak, Seattle Mariners

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    A big-time power prospect in the Rangers organization after being taken with the No. 11 pick in the 2008 draft, Justin Smoak was dealt to the Mariners at the deadline in 2010 as the key piece of the package that brought Cliff Lee to Texas.

    The power has been there, as he's hit 34 home runs over the past two seasons. However, he has hit just .225 with a .685 OPS over that span, including just .217 last season.

    He shortened his swing down the stretch last year and hit .341/.426/.580 over the final month of the season. That was followed by a strong spring in which he hit .407 with a 1.251 OPS. It looked like he had finally turned a corner.

    That all changed once the regular season started though, and he's currently hitting just .236 with one home run and five RBI. The potential is still there, but at 26 he's running out of time to turn into the slugger Seattle hoped he'd be.

SP Jake Arrieta, Baltimore Orioles

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    Taken in the fifth round of the 2007 draft, Jake Arrieta joined a talented crop of young pitchers in the Orioles farm system and quickly emerged as one of the best.

    He debuted in 2010, making 18 starts and going 6-6 with a 4.66 ERA, and the following season he was a regular in the rotation. In 22 starts, he went 10-8 with a 5.05 ERA, showing flashes of being a frontline starter but struggling at times.

    Still, that was enough for him to earn the Opening Day start last season, and he threw seven innings of shutout ball to pick up the win in that game.

    That success didn't last long, though. By early July he was demoted to the minors. He broke camp in the rotation this season, but after putting up a 6.63 ERA through four starts, he was demoted again. The 27-year-old is running out of chances to lock down a spot on the Orioles staff.

LF Domonic Brown, Philadelphia Phillies

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    Entering the 2011 season, Domonic Brown ranked as the No. 4 prospect in all of baseball according to Baseball America. He was all set to take over as the Phillies' everyday left fielder and was viewed by most as the front-runner to win NL Rookie of the Year.

    Instead, a broken hamate bone put him on the sidelines to open the season, and ever since then he has been trying to get his career back on track, bouncing between the majors and minors without an everyday position.

    With vacancies in the outfield this spring, Brown seized the opportunity and hit .356 with seven home runs and 17 RBI to win the everyday left field job.

    While he does have six home runs and 15 RBI through his first 113 at-bats, he is hitting just .239. It's looking less and less like he'll be the All-Star he was expected to be.

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