Cincinnati Reds Prospects Who Never Lived Up to the Hype
Prospects are valuable to every Major League Baseball team, but sometimes, even the most highly touted prospects fail to live up to the hype.
The Cincinnati Reds have been lucky to hit big on a lot of first-round picks from the past decade. Ten of the team's first-round picks since 2003 have made it to the majors, although two made it to the majors with other organizations. Only one top pick during that span has yet to reach the big leagues.
However, the Reds didn't have much luck with their top picks from 1992 to 2002. Outside of outfielder Austin Kearns, there wasn't really anyone to speak of in terms of success in Cincinnati. That could explain why the team, outside of a one-game playoff in 1999, did not make the postseason from 1995 to 2010.
Teams are hesitant to trade away prospects, even for established players. Yet prospects can be used as valuable pieces to acquire big-name players, as the Reds have found out in recent years.
The players on this list—most of whom were first-round picks—never lived up to expectations.
*All stats are via MLB.com
3B Brandon Larson
Drafted: 14th overall pick (first round) of 1997 MLB draft
Years in Majors with Cincinnati: 2001 to 2004
Career Statistics with Cincinnati: 332 G, .179/.271/.299, 8 HR, 11 2B, 0 3B, 37 RBI
Larson hit .340/.393/.667 with 25 home runs and 20 doubles in 80 games at Triple-A in 2002 and followed that up by hitting .323/.384/.617 with 20 home runs and 19 doubles in 72 games at Triple-A in 2003. Those numbers had the Reds optimistic that he could hit in the majors.
The third baseman quickly fell apart at the plate once he reached the majors.
Although he didn't take over as the everyday third baseman until late April 2004, Larson did nothing at the plate that showed that he could hold his own. He hit .212 with three home runs and only 14 RBI in 40 games.
By the middle of the 2004 season, the team gave up on Larson.
LHP Brandon Claussen
Drafted: 34th round of 1998 MLB draft (by the New York Yankees)
Years in Majors with Cincinnati: 2004 to 2006
Career Statistics with Cincinnati: 57 GS, 309.2 IP, 15-27, 5.12 ERA, 1.521 WHIP, 223 K/120 BB
He may not have been drafted by the Cincinnati Reds, but the organization had high hopes for Brandon Claussen after he was brought over in the Aaron Boone deal during the 2003 season.
Claussen entered the 2004 season as the Reds' third-best prospect, according to Baseball America. He came to Cincinnati as a pitcher with a strong fastball, a good slider and an average changeup. His stuff looked like it would be good enough to succeed in the majors.
When Claussen came to town, pitching was not the team's strength. The rotation included Paul Wilson, Aaron Harang (before he was established), Jose Acevedo and Cory Lidle. Claussen was expected to join the rotation at some point during the 2004 season. When he finally did, he didn't have much success.
The southpaw allowed only seven runs on 15 hits during his first three starts of the season, which came in July. However, his command quickly became an issue. He finished his first extended stint in the majors with 45 strikeouts to 35 walks in 66 innings.
Cincinnati quickly regained faith in Claussen the following season. He posted a 4.21 ERA with 121 strikeouts to 57 walks in 166.2 innings over 29 starts. He couldn't follow that up with a strong campaign, and he never pitched in the majors after the middle of the 2005 season.
The Washington Nationals gave Claussen a chance to resurrect his career in the minors in 2007, but he couldn't get back to his old form.
Claussen overcame Tommy John surgery in 2002 to become the Yankees' top pitching prospect, but he never developed into a consistent starter in the major leagues. He definitely had his moments, but he didn't live up to the expectations in Cincinnati.
RHP Christopher Gruler
Drafted: 3rd overall pick (first round) of 2002 MLB draft
Years in Majors with Cincinnati: N/A
Career Statistics in Minor Leagues: 27 G/25 GS, 92.2 IP, 3-5, 5.05 ERA, 71 K/57 BB
Former Cincinnati Reds general manager Jim Bowden was responsible for bringing many talented players to the organization, but he whiffed with a first-round pick in the 2002 draft.
With the third overall pick in that year's draft, Cincinnati selected right-handed pitcher Christopher Gruler.
Missing on a player with a pick that high can be tough to swallow, especially when he never reaches the major leagues. Unfortunately for the Reds, that pick turned out to be wasted.
However, the expectations were high when he was drafted. As MLB.com's Jeff Wallner wrote, Hall of Fame catcher Johnny Bench compared Gruler to Tom Seaver. In fact, Bench even said that Gruler had better secondary stuff than Seaver.
That is high praise from one of the greatest players ever to play the game.
Gruler instead had a tough time getting his career on track. He appeared in only 27 games in his professional career, including only 10 at Single-A. Control problems made it tough for him to succeed when he was on the mound, but it was staying healthy that was his biggest issue.
The former first-round pick needed three shoulder reconstruction surgeries. By 2007, he was out of baseball.
This pick looks even worse when looking at some of the names picked after Gruler. Zack Greinke, Cole Hamels and Matt Cain were among the other pitchers who were taken in the first round of the 2002 MLB draft.
RHP Ryan Wagner
Drafted: 14th overall pick (first round) of 2003 MLB draft
Years in Majors with Cincinnati: 2003 to 2005
Career Statistics with Cincinnati: 108 G, 119 IP, 8-4, 4.69 ERA, 1.546 WHIP, 101 K/56 BB
At one point, Ryan Wagner was viewed as the closer of the future in Cincinnati. Things didn't work out that way, and he was eventually used in an aggressive trade that backfired.
The right-hander had great stuff. A solid fastball and a nasty slider created a great one-two punch that helped him project to be a dominant closer. If he needed it, he also had an average changeup.
Wagner worked his way quickly through the minors after being drafted. He appeared in five games at Double-A and four games at Triple-A in his first professional season in 2003.
According to Baseball America, Wagner was the organization's top prospect entering the 2004 season. He started his second professional season at Triple-A and impressed in 15 games there. After that, he was in the majors until he pitched himself out of the league.
Wagner had mixed results during his time in Cincinnati. His stuff was good enough to help him have good outings, but there wasn't enough consistency with his arm.
With the Reds unexpectedly in contention during the middle of the 2006 season, then-general manager Wayne Krivsky made a questionable trade with Washington Nationals general manager, and former Reds general manager, Jim Bowden. Cincinnati sent Wagner, Austin Kearns and Felipe Lopez to Washington in exchange for right-handed pitcher Gary Majewski, southpaw Bill Bray and other prospects. The Reds didn't make the playoffs that season, and the rest is history.
Wagner made 40 appearances with the Nationals from 2006 to 2007, but he spent the rest of his career in the minor leagues. He has not pitched in professional baseball since 2009.
Although he had a very promising arm, Wagner never lived up to the expectations in Cincinnati.
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