There are prospects, and then there are mega-prospects.
When each new baseball season rolls around, teams and fans evaluate the talent that each organization holds. Each organization has its gems, some of whom get compliments as the next Alex Rodriguez or Roger Clemens.
In recent years, players like Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper, the Upton brothers, and Jason Heyward have been the league's biggest attention-getters. Over the course of the last 30 or so years, there has been seemingly more and more attention given the apparent superstars of tomorrow.
Well hyped does not necessarily mean the future stars, just the players that were put under the microscope from a young age. Some players thrive in the spotlight and become superstars, while others wilt under the intense pressure and become busts.
But who are the most hyped prospects of the last three decades? And how does a mega-prospect from 20 years ago like Ben McDonald go up against a modern-day phenom like Stephen Strasburg? Take a look inside, where the most hyped prospects of recent memory are evaluated.
Royce Clayton is the guy most people remember for ending the legendary Ozzie Smith's tenure as the St. Louis Cardinals' shortstop, but he actually made his debut five years before that with the San Fransisco Giants. Never quite becoming a superstar like most had projected, Clayton still had a solid major-league career.
Clayton was hyped to be a speed-type middle infielder with some pop, and he followed up with a 15-year solid major league career. He he hit .258 and slugged 110 homeruns while playing for 11 different teams over his average career.
Steve Avery's rapid ascension to the minor leagues was almost unbelievable. After being the number three overall pick for the Braves in the 1988 draft, Avery quickly showed his potential by dazzling at every minor league stop. He made his major league debut as a 20-year-old in 1990, and he won 18 games the following season in the Braves' magical World Series run.
Though Avery dominated hitters early on in his career, his arm lost its effectiveness after a heavy workload at such a young age. His and other young pitchers' declines have made teams cautious about not overusing their young starters, hoping to save their arms for later in their careers.
"Pat the Bat" was the Phillies' first overall selection in the 1998 amateur draft, and was immediately pinned by Phillies fans as the next Mike Schmidt. Though it didn't quite work out that way, Burrell was still a productive power hitter in the middle of the order for Philadelphia for some years.
Phillie fans were often heard booing Burrell during his final days in Philadelphia, but it was likely because they over-hyped him to be something he did not and could not become. Pat won his second World Series ring in 2010 with the San Fransisco Giants.
Matt Garza put up dominating numbers in the Minnesota Twins' minor league system after being drafted in the first round of the 2005 amateur draft. He was grouped with other young Twins starters and they were labeled the next young great pitching staff in baseball, though injuries and trades shuffled their fortunes a bit.
Garza's long-term future would not be with the Twins, however, as he was shipped to the Tampa Bay Rays in 2007 for another guy on this list. Garza is still establishing himself as a dominating major-league pitcher, and even threw the first no-hitter in Tampa Bay Rays history this past season.
Most people's freshest memory of Rick Ankiel is probably his game-winning homerun for the Braves in Game 2 of this year's Division Series, but over a decade ago he was considered an up-and-coming Randy Johnson. After pitching solid 1999 and 2000 seasons, Ankiel imploded in a playoff game in which he had five wild pitches in the same inning.
Having to rebuild his career through the minor leagues as an outfielder, Ankiel has had a remarkable yet unpredictable journey in the sport. Though his arm failed him after he had been so hyped as a young player, his heart and determination to the game of baseball make his story one of the most inspiring ever.
Van Poppel was one of the most hyped baseball pitchers in years, but a bad contract out of the draft and frequent arm problems contributed to making him a bust.
Van Poppel was signed to a major league contract directly out of high school, which limited the amount of time the Athletics could keep him on the farm. This contract likely contributed to his career ending arm problems, as stress on the arm due to trying to reach the majors quickly hurt him badly. His career lasted until 2004, finishing with a career earned run average over 5.00.
It's nice to see a guy really live up to the hype every now and then, isn't it? After being the number one overall pick out of high school by his home-town Twins, Joe Mauer put up outstanding numbers all through the minor leagues and had everyone in the state of Minnesota talking about him.
After three batting titles, three Gold Gloves, four All-Star selections, and an MVP, it's easy to say the Twins made the right call in taking the home-town kid. Mauer has an early case to be one of the best hitting catchers of all-time, and seemingly has sharper skill sets each season.
Hamilton is another example that you don't have to take the straight-line path to be successful in the major leagues. Another number one overall selection, Hamilton was a five-tool talent that no one had ever seen before. With killer power, a strong arm, and great speed, Hamilton was the face of future All-Stars.
Everyone knows the story after that. After several years of substance abuse, Hamilton found redemption, along with a renewed motivation to play baseball. Now with the Texas Rangers, the newly crowned National League MVP teased experts with his odd path to Major League stardom.
The 1998 season's American League Rookie of the Year, Ben Grieve was a highly regarded prospect that translated his talent to the major leagues early on. Many people whispered that Grieve could become a superstar in the Oakland outfield, but a trade to the sluggish Tampa Bay Devil Rays seriously hurt his career.
With Tampa Bay, Grieve ran into injury problems and a lack of motivation. Once a solid power-hitting outfielder for Oakland, his career was stalled by a trade to what was then a bottom-feeding organization.
Big Cliff Floyd had big-time power and a big-time love for the game of baseball. Deciding to go pro after he was drafted in the first-round of the 1991 draft, Floyd was immediately put under the spotlight. Drawing comparisons to Reggie Jackson and other historic sluggers, Floyd may have disappointed some people by only hitting 233 homeruns throughout his career.
Despite not having the power that some said he would have, Floyd made up for it with his ability to steal bases and hit for contact. Along with his on-field abilities, Floyd was never egotistic and contributed greatly to every team he played on.
Chipper Jones is one of the easiest to recognize on this list. Some may not remember that Chipper was once a number one overall pick in 1990, selected by who was then the Braves' General Manager and who would eventually be field manager, Bobby Cox. As the Braves started to win in the early 90's, many viewed Chipper as the player that would eventually become Atlanta's face. Those people were right.
20 years after being drafted, Chipper has had a brilliant career. His longevity and consistency make him the first definitive future Hall-of-Famer on this list.
Kris Benson is yet another first overall pick on this list. Much of his hype was based around the fact that he was supposed to lead his drafted team, the Pittsburgh Pirates, back to their former perch of annual playoff contenders. Benson was a big-time strikeout pitcher in college, but the ability did not translate to the professionals.
Benson has pitched for five different teams in his 11-year career at the Major League level. He has posted a 70-75 record with a 4.42 earned run average, which makes it easy to say Benson did not live up to the hype, nor did he lead the Pirates back to the playoffs.
BJ Upton was once a number two overall pick of the Tampa Bay Rays, and rose quickly through their system. Despite questions about his defensive ability and what position he would play in the majors, there was no question Upton possessed a special ability to hit. Some compared him to Ricky Henderson, the legendary stolen base hero, with a little more power.
Still just 26, Upton is in the process of trying to define his career. After what appeared to be a breakout season in 2007, Upton has encountered some problems with making consistent contact. Though some state that he is a bust simply because he is struggling to be consistent at this stage, he is still young enough to where those Ricky Henderson projections can be realized.
It might sound cliche that the Upton brothers are put back to back on this list, but they were deemed almost identical players out of their respective drafts. B.J.'s younger brother Justin gets a slight edge because of his power potential, and the fact that he was a number one overall pick. Upton was boasted as a right-handed version of Ken Griffey, Jr.
At 23, Upton's potential is still limitless. He has shown he can hit for power and average in the major leagues, and is sure to grow off of that potential in the coming years.
Though many people already knew about him, Andruw Jones built a good bit of his hype entirely on two late-October swings. In Game 1 of the 1996 World Series, Jones connected for two homeruns in his first two World Series at bats. Though the Braves' World Series hopes fell after a promising start to the series, Jones' potential did not. Scouts raved over his defense and power potential, comparing him to legendary outfielder Willie Mays.
Jones spent the next decade racking up Gold Gloves while patrolling Atlanta's outfield, and never hit less than 20 homeruns for the Braves after 1997. Though having a major set-back after leaving the Braves, Jones has rebuilt his career as a designated hitter and fourth outfielder playing in the American League.
Early on in his career, people saw Delmon Young's limitless potential, but also saw an attitude that could override it. Young possessed an ability to hit screaming liners like nobody had ever seen. His hitting skills were compared to those of Albert Belle, and his attitude was similar to Belle's as well.
Young was traded to the Minnesota Twins in exchange for another top-prospect, Matt Garza, and has recently seen his career take off. In 2010, he hit 21 homeruns and 112 runs batted in, and finished tenth in the American League MVP voting. Young's potential has overridden his attitude so far, and playing with a classy organization like Minnesota should help to keep it that way.
Benes was hyped to be the next great strikeout pitcher for the San Diego Padres. He rose rapidly through the minor leagues, making the majors a year after being drafted. He made an immediate impact at the big league level, striking out 66 men in 66 innings. Coming into the 1990's, Benes was the coverboy of future big-league aces.
Benes had some good seasons while with San Diego, but his best season came in 1996 with the St. Louis Cardinals. That season, he set a career high with 18 games won. He is easily one of the most successful pitchers that were once number one overall selections, and though he never became quite the dominating staff-ace many people thought, he was still a quality pitcher over his 13-year career.
Getting tired of first overall picks yet? Strawberry was the New York Mets' number one selection in the 1980 draft, and would become their franchise's face for the next decade. With power that saw Reggie Jackson comparisons and a swing that reminded some of Ted Williams, Strawberry had limitless potential.
Though he was well-known for controversy he caused off the field, Strawberry had a very successful 16-year career at the major league level. He finished with 335 career homeruns and exactly 1,000 runs batted in.
Scouting directors must now be regretting what they missed out on in the 2007 draft. Making it to the 14th slot, the Braves gladly took hometown boy Jason Heyward with their lowest draft selection since 1991. He immediately showed that he had potential, dominating pitchers at every minor league level. Heyward was named the USA Today Minor League Player of the Year for 2009, and he wowed people the following spring with his booming batting practice homeruns.
Heyward entered the 2010 season as Atlanta's starting right-fielder, and held that position all season. He had a solid rookie campaign, hitting .277 with 18 homeruns and 72 runs batted in. The Braves are excited to see what kind of career unfolds for him, as his potential as a hitter is limitless.
Mark Prior was the once-phenom starter paired up with Kerry Wood to lead the Cubs to a long-awaited World Series. After being the second overall pick in the 2001 amateur draft, Prior was quick to establish himself as a dominating pitcher. In his first full season in the major leagues, Prior won 18 games and struck out an astonishing 245 men.
However, what followed that 2003 season was a rapid decline. After being overworked during the 2003 season by manager Dusty Baker, Prior's fastball velocity fell significantly and his numbers hit rock bottom. The last time he pitched in a major league game was in 2006, though he has attempted comebacks several times. Uncontrollable injury problems have turned Prior from phenom to bust.
Ben McDonald had been the most hyped pitcher out of the draft until recent years. In 1989, McDonald won the Golden Spikes award and became Baltimore Orioles' first overall pick. He made his big league debut that September, becoming the fastest Oriole to ever reach the majors. His ability to blow hitters away vanished once he reached the professionals, which baffled most scouts. He had problems with keeping his shoulder healthy throughout his baseball life.
After eight mediocre seasons pitching for the Orioles and Brewers, his frequent shoulder problems signaled the end of his career. He finished with a 78-70 record with an earned run average of 3.91. Certainly not living up to the hype, McDonald was drafted ahead of players like Frank Thomas and Chuck Knoblach, which Oriole fans see as an ironic twist of fate.
Ken Griffey, Jr. was a baseball superstar-to-be since he was a boy. Watching his father play ball his entire life, Griffey was destined to become a major-league ballplayer like his dad. After being selected first overall by Seattle in 1987, he was well on his way to becoming just that. Griffey had a powerful swing that wowed scouts, and could cover as much ground in the outfield as any player in the game.
Griffey's 630 career home runs say enough about his Hall-of Fame worthy career, but injury problems leave him a step below the elite players in the history of the game. If he could have stayed healthy throughout his career, Griffey may have been able to match Barry Bonds' homerun totals. Such would have made for a historic race to break Hank Aarons legendary homerun record.
Alex Rodriguez was an elite five-tool talent like the game of baseball had never seen. With an unmatched bat and amazing speed out of high school, the Seattle Mariners were glad to take him first overall in 1993. Most people paired him with future teammate Ken Griffey, Jr. as the two best draft prospects of all time.
17 years after being drafted, A-Rod is arguably the best all-around baseball player in history. At only 35 years old, he has become to fastest person to hit 600 homeruns and is on pace to do the same with runs batted in. He has been to 13 All-Star Games, reeled in three MVPs, 10 Silver Sluggers, two Gold Gloves, and has been a World Champion with the New York Yankees. There's no safer person to call a good first overall selection.
One thing is for sure: Bryce Harper is the most talented position player to ever come out of the amateur draft. Taken first overall by the Washington Nationals in 2010, Harper has astonishing power. He left high school early and attended a junior college so that he could be drafted a year sooner. While playing at the College of Southern Nevada, Harper shattered the school homerun record, hitting 31 homeruns in just 66 games. What was the previous record, you say? It was 12.
Harper still has to prove he can hit professional pitching, but once he does that, he will be in the big leagues. In the Arizona Fall League, he was limited to just 35 at bats but still hit .343. Harper may be several years away from contributing to the Nationals' big league club, but his talent and contract status might elevate them to get him a taste of the majors before the 2011 season ends.
Most hyped? No contest. Strasburg has gotten the most attention and is easily the top choice for the most hyped prospect of the modern baseball era. With a 100 miles per hour fastball and nasty off-speed pitches in his arsenal, the phenom took the baseball world by storm after being selected first overall by the Washington Nationals in 2009.
After making his much anticipated big league debut in the summer of 2010, Strasburg missed several starts and had to go on the disabled list. Much to the heartbreak of loyal baseball fans, the Nationals announced that their young pitcher would have to undergo Tommy John Surgery. Such a surgery requires over a year of rehab, so it doesn't seem that Strasburg will be back on a mound until Opening Day 2012.
Despite the setback, the baseball world covets the Washington Nationals' two gems. Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper are the two most hyped baseball prospects of all time, because they are the most talented players to ever take the game by storm. They will not disappoint.