Former 'Can't-Miss' MLB Prospects Now Facing Make-or-Break Years in 2014
Due to the overwhelming failure rate of prospects, an organization can rarely afford to be overly patient or forgiving with its top young players. However, when that player is a former top draft pick or international signee, an organization tends to be more lenient due to the amount of money originally invested.
Headed into the 2014 season, there are several former top prospects on the verge of falling out of the long-term picture with their current club. And for many of them, the upcoming season may be their final chance to turn the developmental corner and avoid becoming merely a “what could have been” player.
Here’s a look at three once highly regarded prospects facing a make-or-break season in 2013.
Daniel Corcino, RHP, Cincinnati Reds
Signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2008, Daniel Corcino jumped onto the prospect radar in 2011 when he registered a 3.42 ERA and 156-34 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 139.1 innings as a 20-year-old in the Midwest League.
The Cincinnati Reds challenged him with a two-level bump to Double-A Pensacola in 2012, and the right-hander excelled against advanced hitters, posting a 3.01 ERA and .216 opponent batting with 126 strikeouts in 143.1 innings.
However, Corcino’s walk rate jumped from 2.2 BB/9 in 2011 to 4.1 BB/9 in 2012, though that’s fairly common with young pitchers at higher levels.
Ignoring the red flag, the organization decided to promote Corcino to Triple-A Louisville for the 2013 season rather than allow him to refine his command—even if only for a portion of the season—back at Double-A. As a result, the 23-year-old regressed considerably in the International League, registering an ugly 5.86 ERA and 90-73 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 129 innings.
More specifically, the control that made him successful in previous seasons didn’t translate at the more advanced level, as Corcino’s 9.8 H/9, 6.3 K/9 and 5.1 BB/9 represented his worst totals since reaching a full-season level in 2010. Specifically, the right-hander struggled mightily to command his fastball, which in turn made his secondary offerings less effective.
The 23-year-old will likely return to Triple-A for the 2014 season and is bound to post better numbers in his second tour of the International League. But if his fastball command doesn’t improve as hoped, then there’s a realistic chance that the Reds move Corcino to the bullpen.
Trevor Bauer, RHP, Cleveland Indians
Acquired by the Cleveland Indians during last offseason as part of a three-team trade involving the Arizona Diamondbacks and Cincinnati Reds, Trevor Bauer’s fall from prospect grace continued in 2013 in spite of the change of scenery.
In four spot starts for the Indians, the once-promising right-hander registered a 5.29 ERA and 11-16 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 17 innings—a line that looks eerily similar to the one he posted with the Diamondbacks last summer.
As it was the case during his 2012 campaign with the Diamondbacks, Bauer’s lack of success in 2013 stemmed from his inconsistent fastball command and inability to get opposing hitters to expand the strike zone. In his last start in the major leagues on June 28 against the Chicago White Sox, the 23-year-old allowed five earned runs on six hits and failed to make it out of the first inning.
Things only worsened for Bauer following a demotion to Triple-A—a level he mastered in 2012—as he posted a 4.15 ERA with 119 hits allowed (14 home runs) and a 106-73 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 121.1 innings. He was also passed on the organizational depth chart, with his once probable spot in the major league rotation eventually going to flame-thrower Danny Salazar.
Bauer is still only 23 and will likely have further opportunities to offer value in the major leagues. However, it’s difficult to envision him making a significant impact without improved fastball command and more effective pitch sequencing.
Gary Brown, OF, San Francisco Giants
The No. 24 overall pick in the 2010 draft, Gary Brown’s prospect stock has continued to slide since the start of the 2012 season. Clearly benefiting from the hitter-friendly environments of the California League during his 2011 full-season debut, Brown batted .336/.407/.519 with 51 extra-base hits and 53 stolen bases in 131 games for High-A San Jose. He also led the league with 188 hits and 13 triples.
Since then, however, the speedy outfielder hasn’t come close to matching his 2011 production while moving at a steady, one level-per-year pace through the San Francisco Giants’ system.
In his first taste of Double-A in 2012, Brown’s battling line dropped to .279/.347/.385 with 41 extra-base hits (32 doubles) and 33 stolen bases in 51 attempts.
He moved up to Triple-A last season, where his production continued to decline. Though he played in over 130 games for the third straight year, the 25-year-old batted a disappointing .231/.286/.375 with a 135-33 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 608 plate appearances. He also struggled on the basepaths, swiping just 17 bags in 28 attempts.
Thanks to his plus speed and excellent defense in center field, Brown still profiles as at least a big league reserve. However, he’s far removed from top-prospect status and unlikely to become the top-of-the-order catalyst he once seemed destined to become.