5 Early Flops of the 2014 MLB Draft Class
When a highly touted draft pick gets off to a slow start as a professional, we tend to draw hasty conclusions about his long-term potential or assume that something was missed in the scouting process.
The reality is that most prospects will struggle at some point during their ascent toward the major leagues. For some guys, however, that just happens earlier than expected.
When evaluating the early returns from recent draft picks, it’s important to remember the impact small sample sizes have on players’ numbers, and that those numbers are a weak indicator of his overall potential or career trajectory. After all, it will be several years until a majority of the players from this year’s class are even ready for the major leagues.
With all that being said, here are five prospects from the 2014 draft class who have struggled in their professional debuts.
Chris Oliver, RHP, Philadelphia Phillies
2014 Stats (Rk/SS): 16.2 IP, 5.94 ERA, 2.58 WHIP, .301 BAA, 5 HBP, 21 BB, 9 K (8 G/3 GS)
Chris Oliver was viewed as one of the more projectable college pitchers in this year’s draft class thanks to his combination of a 6’4”, 185-pound frame, potential for two plus pitches (fastball/slider) and relative lack of experience on the mound.
However, it was for those same reasons, as well as his inconsistent delivery and below-average control, that the right-hander fell to the Phillies in the fourth round (No. 112 overall).
The 21-year-old’s workload has been limited this spring after a long college season, with Oliver appearing to focus on completing three innings every time he takes the mound. Unfortunately, the right-hander’s control issues have prevented him from achieving that goal with regularity, as he’s yielded 22 hits and 21 walks—he’s also hit five batters for good measure—over his first 16.2 innings as a professional.
Oliver was going to be a project for whoever drafted him, which is why the Phillies have brought him along slowly this summer between the rookie and short-season levels. Oliver will need to develop a usable changeup and make huge strides with his control to remain a starter, but his potential plus-fastball/slider combo also gives him considerable upside as a late-inning reliever.
Mike Papi, OF/1B, Cleveland Indians
2014 Stats (SS/A): .163/.269/.213, 2 XBH, 9 RBI, 12 BB, 15 K (22 G)
After putting up big numbers during his sophomore and junior seasons at Virginia, Mike Papi was arguably the most advanced hitter in this year’s draft class. However, because he’s more of a high-floor prospect than a high-ceiling one, Papi fell to the Indians in the competitive balance round (No. 38 overall).
The 21-year-old didn’t begin his professional career until mid-July due to Virginia’s run into the College World Series finals, so it’s a fair assumption that his current struggles at Low-A Lake County are related to fatigue. Still, a .159 batting average and two extra-base hits through his first 23 games constitute a disappointing start for such a good hitter.
That being said, Papi’s 15-11 strikeout-to-walk ratio during that span and .159 batting average on balls in play both suggest that his production should pick up moving forward.
A left-handed batter, Papi projects to hit for both average and power as a professional thanks to a refined approach and mature pitch-recognition, though his limited defensive profile will put additional pressure on his bat for the duration of his career. Therefore, the longer he can hold down a corner outfield spot the better.
Chris Ellis, RHP, Los Angeles Angels
2014 Stats (Rk): 8.2 IP, 10 H, 9 ER, 5 BB, 10 K (6 G)
A 6’5”, 205-pound right-hander, Chris Ellis spent his first two years at Mississippi primarily as a reliever, making just three starts and logging 52.2 total innings.
He moved into the rotation this spring, where he’s showed the durability to turn over a lineup multiple times and keep hitters off balance with three average-or-better offerings—both of which played an important part in the Angels' decision to draft him in the third round (No. 88 overall).
Ellis was assigned to the Rookie-level Pioneer League to begin his professional career, where he allowed one hit over three scoreless innings between his first two appearances. Since then, however, the 21-year-old has allowed nine runs on nine hits over his last 5.2 frames, with opposing batters raking a .375 clip during that span.
As was the case with Ellis in college, his struggle to consistently miss bats and avoid barrels stems from his lack of a dominant pitch, and it’s hard to see him becoming anything more than a No. 4 or 5 starter without one.
Garrett Fulenchek, RHP, Atlanta Braves
2014 Stats (Rk): 23.2 IP, 5.32 ERA, 1.69 WHIP, .250 BAA, 17 BB, 21 K (9 G/7 GS)
Garrett Fulenchek wasn’t a known commodity compared to some of the other prep pitching prospects in this year’s draft class, but the combination of his strong spring at Howe (Texas) HS and late helium led to his selection by the Braves in the second round (No. 66 overall).
The 6’4”, 205-pound right-hander features a heavy fastball in the low 90s that induces a ton of ground balls and a hard slider that projects as at least an average offering at maturity, while his changeup is a seldom-used pitch that will require considerable development moving forward.
Fulencheck has spent his professional debut in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League, where he’s had no problem missing bats (8.0 K/9) but struggled to consistently throw strikes (6.5 BB/9). The 18-year-old has had far more success this season against right-handed batters (.219 BA, 17 K in 17 IP) compared to lefties (.321 BA, 8 BB in 6.2 IP), though that should change as he develops a more effective changeup.
Aaron Brown, OF, Philadelphia Phillies
2014 Stats (SS): .256/.301/.356, 11 XBH (3 HR), 16 RBI, 8 SB, 6 BB, 41 K (47 G)
The Phillies decided to draft Pepperdine's Aaron Brown in the third round (No. 81 overall) as a center fielder rather than a pitcher, despite the left-hander’s feel for three offerings with average-or-better potential.
But as is often the case with legitimate two-way prospects, the Phillies opted to develop Brown as a position player given his power potential from the left side and ability to play center field, with pitching serving as a fallback option should it not work out.
Even though Brown posted a .908 OPS with 13 home runs this spring, the 22-year-old also struck out 52 times in 61 games and coaxed only nine walks. His lack of plate discipline and swing-and-miss tendencies have caught up to him in the New York-Penn League this summer, as he’s batting .256 with three homers and a 41-to-6 strikeout-to-walk ratio through 47 games.