Ranking the 5 Most Overhyped New MLB Youngsters
When we evaluate, project and rank prospects, we are essentially hyping them up.
Every player that reaches the major leagues is a special talent and worthy of a degree of excitement, but when a highly touted prospect races through the minor leagues and draws rave reviews along the way, he quickly becomes a huge deal.
Many of these promising young players are given a chance to prove they belong at the highest level every year, and when they fail to meet what are usually lofty expectations, they are quickly labeled as “overhyped.” However, it’s important to keep in mind that prospects have age on their side and hopefully ample opportunities to stick in the major leagues. Therefore, it’s more appropriate to reflect on their former hype as prospects years down the line.
With being said, here are the five most overhyped young players in Major League Baseball.
*All stats courtesy of FanGraphs.com unless otherwise noted.
*All spring training stats courtesy of MLB.com.
5. Travis d'Arnaud, C, New York Mets
Travis d’Arnaud finally reached the major leagues last August, in spite of a foot injury that limited him to only 32 games in the minors. Understandably, the 25-year-old struggled to find himself at the plate after spending nearly four months on the disabled list, and he finished the season with a disappointing .548 OPS in 31 games.
d’Arnaud was expected to benefit from a fresh start this spring, but things never came together for the rookie catcher, and he batted .163 with nine strikeouts in 49 at-bats.
In both of d’Arnaud’s stints against mostly major league pitching (last season and this spring), the right-handed hitter’s ability to get the barrel on the ball has worked against him. Last season specifically, he made contact on 83.8 percent of pitches within the strike zone and 69.5 percent on ones out of the zone. Granted, d’Arnaud was the victim of some bad luck, with a .244 batting average on balls in play, and stands to improve this year in that regard, but the low average does reflect his ongoing issues with selectivity.
4. James Paxton, LHP, Seattle Mariners
James Paxton was impressive last season as a September call-up, posting a 1.50 ERA with 21 strikeouts in 24 innings (four starts), and then earned a spot in the Mariners’ Opening Day rotation with an equally strong showing in spring training.
However, I can’t help but wonder how long the 25-year-old left-hander’s improved control and command will last moving forward. Over parts of four seasons in the minor leagues, Paxton, who has long, stabby arm action on the backside that makes it difficult for him to repeat a consistent release point, walked four batters per nine innings in 364.2 innings.
Eventually the book will come out on his tendencies and specifics of his arsenal, and when that happens, his stuff will likely be less effective. Therefore, it will come down to whether Paxton came make swift adjustments against big league hitters.
3. Jackie Bradley, OF, Boston Red Sox
Jackie Bradley batted .419 in 28 games last spring and forced his way onto Boston’s Opening Day roster, but then struggled to hold his own in the major leagues, posting a .189 batting average and 31 strikeouts in 37 games.
Still, following the departure of Jacoby Ellsbury this offseason via free agency, the 23-year-old entered spring training as the favorite to take over in center field.
However, Bradley's late-season struggles carried over into the spring, as he batted .158 with 17 strikeouts against three walks in 19 games and opened the door for a resurgent Grady Sizemore to seize the Opening Day gig. (Bradley was recalled prior to Monday’s game after the Red Sox placed Shane Victorino on the 15-day disabled list.)
Bradley’s weaknesses as a hitter have been exposed by big league pitchers since his red-hot spring in 2013. Specifically, he’s demonstrated a tendency to stride early, open up with his front side and try to pull pitches on the outer third of the plate. So, naturally, pitchers have steadily sequenced him accordingly, establishing the outside corner before working the zone laterally.
And while Bradley’s approach and plate discipline theoretically should give him a chance to hit at the highest level, his patience has also been a detriment, leading to too many unfavorable counts and strikeouts.
2. Junior Lake, OF, Chicago Cubs
Junior Lake reached the major leagues last July after spending parts of seven seasons in the Cubs’ system, and flashed his upside by batting .284/.332/.428 with 16 doubles and six home runs in 254 plate appearances. However, the now-24-year-old outfielder also struck out 68 times against 13 walks during that span, this coming after he posted a 579-146 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 619 career games in the minor leagues.
Additionally, Lake’s seemingly solid triple-slash line was fueled by a .377 batting average on balls in play, which help offset the right-handed hitter’s ugly strikeout and walk rates of 26.8 and 5.1 percent, respectively.
Don’t get me wrong, Lake is a lot of fun; he’s an exciting athlete with the ability to show all five tools in a given game. However, even though he’s made big developmental strides in the past two seasons, he is still a frustrating and inconsistent player who has lots to prove over a full year in the major leagues.
1. Billy Hamilton, OF, Cincinnati Reds
After an historic 2012 campaign in which he posted an .852 OPS and stole 155 bases, Hamilton posted a disappointing .256/.308/.343 batting line and 102-38 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 547 plate appearances last season. However, the 23-year-old still managed to swipe 75 stolen bases (in 90 attempts) in 123 games, and he ultimately took Major League Baseball by storm as a September call-up.
Even though Hamilton showed a better feel for the strike zone this spring and made more consistent contact, there still is legitimate concern as to whether he’ll ever develop the hit tool needed to hold an everyday job in the major leagues, let alone as a leadoff hitter.
Hamilton struggles to keep his weight back and will lunge at too many pitches, especially quality secondary offerings, which was evident in his season debut on Monday against the St. Louis Cardinals when he recorded the dreaded “golden sombrero” (thanks for the plug, Billy!).
Furthermore, Hamilton has a wiry frame at 6’0”, 160 pounds that lacks physical projection. So even if he continues to mature physically in the coming years, he’ll never be regarded as strong, which then raises the question of whether he’ll ever develop the necessary strength to make consistent hard contact in the major leagues.