San Francisco Giants: 13 Unlucky Prospects Who Never Lived Up to the Hype

Dan MoriCorrespondent IMay 23, 2013

San Francisco Giants: 13 Unlucky Prospects Who Never Lived Up to the Hype

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    The San Francisco Giants have won two of the past three World Series titles and a big reason for that is the quality of young talent that has recently come up to the majors in San Francisco.

    Homegrown talent that grew up in the Giants' minor league system include Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval, Brandon Crawford and Brandon Belt.

    Several of the Giants' top pitchers made their way up through the Giants' system a well, including Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, Madison Bumgarner and Sergio Romo.

    However, with every success story, there are also players who were hyped by the organization or the media that never quite made it.

    Let's take a look at 13 of those unlucky players who never lived up to that hype.

    All stats are courtesy of www.baseball-reference.com.

No. 13: Salomon Torres

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    Salomon Torres broke in with the Giants in 1993. He had a live arm and electric stuff, but also had trouble commanding his pitches.

    Torres was also only 21 years old when he first reached the majors and lacked the maturity to overcome tough situations.

    Torres pitched parts of two-and-a-half seasons with the Giants, compiling a record of 5-14 with an ERA of 5.19 and WHIP of 1.55.

    In 137 innings with the Giants, Torres walked 68 hitters while striking out 67. That ratio tells a huge part of the story as to why he was unsuccessful.

    To Torres' credit, he did transform himself into a competent pitcher with the Pittsburgh Pirates later in his career. He pitched seven seasons in Pittsburgh and earned 28 saves in his final season of 2008.

No. 12: Todd Linden

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    Todd Linden was a switch-hitting outfielder for the San Francisco Giants from 2003-07 who had the size and physical tools to make it big in the majors.

    Drafted in the first round of the 2001 amateur draft, Linden was the 41st overall selection.  At 6'2" and 225 pounds, Linden also had good speed for a bigger player. Unfortunately, he could never quite get over the hump.

    As a Giant, Linden had 373 at-bats with an average of .217, seven home runs and 28 RBI. His OBP of .288 and OPS of .612 showed his weakness. Linden had holes in his swing that were exploited by big league pitchers as he was a classic "4-A player."

No. 11: J.R. Phillips

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    After Willie McCovey, the Giants went through a long line of first basemen that came and went, seemingly like the late-afternoon wind at Candlestick Park. Outside of Will Clark, who was a Giants' star for eight seasons, the track record has been poor.

    These players included Reggie Smith, Willie Montanez, Mike Ivie, Dave Kingman, Rob Deer, Lance Niekro, Damon Minor and J.R. Phillips.

    Only when J.T. Snow came to the Giants in 1997 was there finally any stability at first base.

    J.R. Phillips was a big, strapping power hitter who played parts of four seasons with the Giants from 1993-96.

    Over that span, Phillips had 310 at-bats, hit 13 home runs and drove in 40 runs. His power numbers were respectable in a relatively small number of at-bats, but there were other holes in Phillips' game. 

    First and foremost, Phillips struggled to make consistent contact, striking out 100 times in those 310 at-bats. His batting average was only .194 with an OBP of .244.

    Phillips was also a lumbering player and not a strong defender. The Giants just got tired of his inability to make consistent contact and sent him to Philadelphia in the middle of the 1996 season.

No. 10: Wendell Fairley

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    The Giants selected Wendell Fairley in the first round of the 2007 amateur draft with the No. 29 overall pick.

    Fairley is still only 25 years of age, but his window of opportunity appears to have shut.

    The Giants envisioned a five-tool caliber player, but that never panned out. Fairley played for five seasons in the Giants' minor league organization with the highest level he reached being Double-A Richmond.

    Over those five seasons, Fairley had 1,396 at-bats, but could only muster a batting average of .257 with eight home runs and 149 RBI.

    Disappointed with Fairley's lack of progress, the Giants released him in March of 2013. 

No. 9: Kurt Ainsworth

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    The San Francisco Giants liked Kurt Ainsworth so much they selected him in the first round of the 1999 amateur draft at No. 34 overall.

    Ainsworth was expected to be a middle-of-the-rotation starter, but he toiled with mediocre results until arm trouble ended his career in 2005. Ainsworth pitched for the Giants from 2001-03.

    As a Giant, Ainsworth appeared in 19 games and had decent numbers, compiling an ERA of 3.56 and a WHIP of 1.399. His main problem was allowing too many walks, as he allowed 40 in only 93.2 innings of work.

    The high hopes the Giants had for Ainsworth were ended in 2003 when he was sent packing to the Baltimore Orioles in a trade deadline deal for Sidney Ponson.

No. 8: Damon Minor

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    Damon Minor had immense power when he squared the ball up. At 6'7" and 230 pounds, Minor was a big, strapping first baseman.

    Minor twice hit 30 or more home runs in the minors, but he could never come close to that level of success in San Francisco.

    Minor played parts of four seasons with the Giants from 2000-04. He did have some success, but never seemed to put it all together.

    In 285 at-bats, Minor hit .232 with 13 home runs and 39 RBI. Defensively, Minor was weak and playing behind J.T. Snow, he never saw consistent action. Had the Giants opted to give Minor playing time on a regular basis, he could have developed into the power hitter they coveted.

    Minor left the Giants in 2005 and headed to Japan where he played one season and then finished his career in 2006 by playing in Mexico.

No. 7: Tim Alderson

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    Former Giants pitcher Tim Alderson is the son of New York Mets' GM Sandy Alderson. In 2007, the Giants made Alderson their first-round draft selection with the 22nd overall pick.

    Alderson joined the Giants in 2007 at the age of 18. He played rookie league ball in Arizona that year and was slowly moving up the ladder when the Giants traded him to the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2009.

    Although Giants GM Brian Sabean did not want to part with Alderson, that deal enabled the Giants to acquire Freddy Sanchez, who was a valuable player on the Giants' 2010 world championship team.

    Alderson is still with the Pirates and has been throwing the ball well. Still only 24 years of age, Alderson has a decent chance to make it to the big leagues in Pittsburgh.

No. 6: Lance Niekro

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    The claim to fame for Lance Niekro is that his bloodlines are outstanding. His dad is the late Joe Niekro and his uncle is Hall of Fame pitcher Phil Niekro.

    The two Niekro brothers specialized in throwing the dancing knuckleball and their combined careers totaled 46 years in the majors with 539 victories.

    Lance, however, never made it big in the big leagues. He played parts of four seasons with the Giants at first base. Although he was 6'3" and 210 pounds with great promise and very good power, Niekro was unable to make it big because his long, loopy swing had too many holes. He was very susceptible to off-speed pitches.

    Niekro had 499 career at-bats with the Giants, hitting .246 with 17 home runs and 79 RBI. His low OBP of .288 and poor defensive ability were also big strikes against him.

No. 5: John Bowker

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    John Bowker was a strong left-handed hitting outfielder and first baseman for the Giants. He played parts of three seasons in San Francisco until he was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2010.

    In 574 at-bats, Bowker hit .232 with an OBP of only .283. He belted 17 home runs and drove in 73 runs. He was an aggressive and often an undisciplined hitter, as he struck out 136 times compared with only 39 walks.

    After a short stint with the Pirates, Bowker went to Japan, where he is former Giants' pitcher playing. Still only 29 old, Bowker could return to the United States and prove that he is indeed a big league player.

No. 4: Matt White

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    The story of Matt White involves one of the biggest snafu's in the long history of the Giants in a case of a potential star that got away.

    White was a highly touted right-handed pitcher coming out of high school. Standing 6'5" and weighing 230 pounds, White had a powerful arm, something the Giants were looking for on the mound.

    In 1996, White was named the collegiate Player of the Year, by USA Today while Baseball America rated him the No. 4 oveall prospect, but the Giants somehow let him get away.

    The Giants selected White with the seventh overall pick in the 1996 amateur draft.

    Unfortunately, due to a paperwork issue, the Giants lost the rights to White and he ended up signing with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. That was big news back at the time as the Giants were struggling on the field and at the gate.

    White ultimately never advanced to the big leagues as injuries derailed his career at the age of 24. 

     

No. 3: Steve Soderstrom

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    The San Francisco Giants selected Steve Soderstrom with the sixth overall pick in the 1993 amateur draft.

    Soderstrom was 6'3", 215 pounds and owned a strong arm that the Giants coveted.

    Soderstrom played six years in the Giants' organization, from 1994-99. He threw a total of 643 minor league innings for the Giants, allowing 682 hits while walking 261 batters and striking out 443.

    In 1996, Soderstrom had a brief stint in the majors with the Giants when he appeared in three games and won two. Following the 1996 season, however, Soderstrom would never again pitch in the big leagues.

    After five Triple-A seasons, the last as a member of the Reds' organization, Soderstrom retired in 2000.

No. 2: Calvin Murray

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    When the San Francisco Giants selected Calvin Murray with the seventh overall pick in the 1992 amateur draft, they had visions of Garry Maddox dancing in their heads.

    Maddox was an outstanding player who played in San Francisco from 1972-75 before moving to the Phillies where he won a world championship and eight Gold Gloves.

    Like Maddox, Murray had very good speed and was a good defensive outfielder. Unfortunately for the Giants, Murray never came close to achieving the success of Maddox.

    Murray played parts of four seasons with the Giants and accumulated 551 at-bats. He hit .240, with an OBP of .325 and OPS of .670.

    Murray stole 328 bases in the minors, but was never a good base stealer at the major league level, as he only had 18 steals with the Giants and was thrown out 11 times.

    The Giants finally gave up on Murray in 2002 and shipped him to the Texas Rangers prior to the trade deadline.

No. 1: Angel Villalona

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    The San Francisco Giants saw the immense potential of Angel Villalona and signed him at the age of 16. They gave him a signing bonus of over $2 million and sent him to the minors.

    The Giants fully expected Villalona to become a devastating power hitter who could also hit for a decent average. At such a young age, he just needed some time to mature physically and his prolific power potential would be realized.

    However, Villalona struggled with his weight and consistency at the plate. His immaturity also showed on both fronts.

    While at home in his native Dominican Republic in 2009, Villalona was accused of murder and arrested. Ultimately, after a lengthy legal drama, the case was settled out of court. We may never know if the charges were valid or if Villalona was the unfortunate target of a scam.

    Villalona's career was put on hold for the duration of the case and he finally returned to playing baseball in the Giants' minor league system in 2012.

    Currently playing A-ball in San Jose, Villalona has had to work hard to get back into playing shape and has often struggled. He is currently hitting .220, with eight home runs and 25 RBI in 159 at-bats.

    Villalona is still only 22 and the Giants are hoping that he can get back on track and advance through their system. Once rated as a top prospect, he is barely on the radar at this point.