Come Back Kids: MLB Players In Need of a Bounceback Season
No one said it was easy to get into the Major Leagues. No one said it was any easier to stay in the Major Leagues.
But it is possible and you are about to see some of the once highly-touted prospects who have made it to the show. The only problem is that their careers have not exactly blossomed in the fashion that was expected of them when they were first signed.
Jose Bautista was one such player before he exploded for 54 home runs a season ago. So with that in mind, here are some players who are in dire need of a career turnaround soon, as their value continues to drop—perhaps to the point of no return.
Erik Bedard: LHP
It's hard to blame a pitcher for not compiling big win numbers while playing for the Baltimore Orioles and Seattle Marines. Still, lefty Erik Bedard has had a real rough go of it for the majority of his career.
Drafted in the 6th round of the 1999 draft by the Baltimore Orioles, Bedard had the world before him. Though he debuted with two games in 2002, his career really took off in 2004. He finished with a sub .500 record, but struck out 121 batters while pitching for the 78-84 Orioles.
By 2006 he had become a bona fide ace. In 2007, he placed 5th in the American League Cy Young race after compiling 221 strikeouts and a 13-5 record.
Prior to the 2008 season, Bedard was dealt to the Seattle Mariners. From there, his career took a hard nose-dive. Between 2008-2009, he started a total of 30 games for the Mariners, never striking out more than 90 in either season.
He underwent two separate shoulder surgeries towards the end of '09 and missed the entire 2010 campaign. As a free agent, he re-signed with the Marines on a one-year contract for 2011. He's still just 31, but with his history of arm troubles, it could be the beginning of the end for this talented southpaw.
Nate McLouth: OF
McLouth was a late draft pick by the Pittsburgh Pirates—drafted in the 25th round in 2000 and playing for the Pirates these days won't make you a very household name.
But after a couple of years of futility, McLouth had a breakout campaign in 2008. That year, his first as an All-Star, he clubbed 26 home runs and drove in 94 runs. He also stole 23 bases and led the league with 46 doubles. He won his first, and so far only, Gold Glove in centerfield.
After that incredible season, the pressure put onto McLouth to repeat was enormous. He signed a three-year contract extension with the Pirates worth over $15 million.
Midway through the '09 season, he was dealt to the Atlanta Braves, where he still managed to hit 11 long balls in just over 80 games (he missed 18 games with a hamstring injury).
But 2010, marked a career-low. He missed 33 games with a head injury, and spent 33 more games in Triple A after hitting just three home runs all season. His current contract expires at the end of the 2011 season. It carries a $10 million club option for 2012, and unless he has a nice rebound '11 campaign, you can almost guarantee the Braves will not exercise that option.
Austin Kearns: OF/DH
Drafted 7th overall by the Cincinnati Reds in 1998, Austin Kearns made an immediate impact when he debuted in 2002. In just over 300 at-bats, he hit 13 home runs and a .315 clip, finishing third in the Rookie of the Year balloting.
While it was difficult for Kearns to find regular playing time (dealing with injuries and competing with the likes of Adam Dunn and Ken Griffey Jr. in the outfield), Kearns managed to put up some respectable numbers in the Queen City. From '02-'05, he averaged about 14 home runs and 53 RBI.
But midway through the 2006 season, the Reds dealt Kearns to the Washington Nationals, where perhaps he could find more stable playing time.
And while he did have a decent 2007 campaign, Kearn's years in the Nation's Capital were less than stellar, culminating in 2009 with an 80-game season.
Kearns signed a one year contact with the Cleveland Indians (his second stint with the Tribe), for 2011. At 30 years of age, it's make or break time for the Lexington native. He certainly has the skills to have a bounce-back season. The question is, will he finally seize that potential?
Scott Kazmir: LHP
The New York Mets drafted Scott Kazmir 15th overall in the 2002 draft. Two years later, he became just another botched up trade completed by the Mets. They sent Kazmir to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in the infamous Victor Zambrano trade (Mets fans still have nightmares about that deal to this day).
After debuting in 2004, Kazmir went on to have several consecutive seasons of success. He led the league in strikeouts with 239 in '07. He won at least 10 games from '05-'08 and never had an ERA over 4.00. The Devil Rays aptly signed him to a three-year, $28.5 million extension at the beginning of the '08 season.
Since then, however, the talented lefty has a losing record, and a 4.76 ERA. He was traded to the Los Angeles Angels for a couple of minor league players during the '09 season. Last season was his worst yet—5.94 ERA, 9-15 record, and less than 100 strikeouts.
Kazmir's current contract expires after the 2011 season. The 27-year old needs to have a big rebound campaign if he hopes to receive any kind of a healthy contract heading into 2012.
Russell Martin: C
Believe it or not, Russell Martin has only five Major League seasons under his belt (it seems like he's been playing forever).
Martin was a late draft pick for the Los Angeles Dodgers. He was selected in the 17th round of the 2002 draft, but like the saying goes, "Good things come to those who wait". For the first three seasons of his career, Martin was a good thing.
From 2006-2008, Martin averaged 14 home runs and 74 RBI. He even stole an average of 16 bases during that span - not too shabby for a backstop. He was an All-Star in '07 and '08 and knows how to call a good game.
But over the last two seasons, Martin's productivity had started to decline. He hit a combined 12 home runs between '09-'10. He became a free agent after the 2010 season, and has since signed a one year deal with the New York Yankees.
He's got some cleats to fill in the Bronx. He's squatting behind the same plate as Yogi Berra, Thurman Munson and Jorge Posada. But, as hard as it seems to believe, Martin will turn only 28 next month and has the demeanor to play in the spotlight of Yankee Stadium and excel.
Jeremy Bonderman: RHP
Jeremy Bonderman was selected 26th overall in the first round of the 2001 first-year player draft. He was drafted by the Oakland A's, but never saw daylight in Oakland. He was dealt to the Tigers in 2002 and made his Big League debut a year later.
And what a dubious debut it was. Bonderman made 28 starts for the Tigers that year, and finished with a 6-19 record and a 5.56 ERA. The Tigers themselves had a less than spectacular year, ending with a record of 43-119.
But before long, Bonderman began piecing things together. He won at least 10 games each of the next four seasons. He struck out more than 200 batters in 2006, which was his finest season to date. The following season, Bonderman inked a nice four year contract extension, worth $38 million.
Injuries and ineffectiveness soon crept up on the young right-hander, making that extension look like a complete bust. He finished 2010, his last season in the Motor City, 8-10 with a 5.56 ERA. He is currently a free agent, and will look to latch on to a team before Spring Training, most likely on a Minor League contract.
At 28 years of old, there is still time for Bonderman to turn things around. But if he doesn't make strides soon, he could become the next once talented arm to head off to Japan.
Jose Reyes: SS
It doesn't seem all that long ago that Jose Reyes made his debut in Queens. The New York Mets signed this kid as an amateur free agent in 1999 and by 2003 he was dazzling fans with his slick defense, his amazin' speed and his everlasting enthusiasm.
His career got off to a rather bumpy start, as nagging groin and hamstring injuries kept him from really hitting his potential. But by 2005, Reyes had implanted himself as one of the game's elite shortstops. That year he led the league with 60 stolen bases and 17 triples. Two years later he swiped 78 bases, the most in baseball since 1988 when Rickey Henderson stole 93 (Marquis Grissom also stole 78 in 1992).
Reyes also showed that he had some pop in his bat, blasting 47 home runs between 2006-2008.
But the last two seasons have been difficult on the 27-year old. A myriad of injuries have kept Reyes on the doctor's table more than on the base paths. His resiliency is uplifting and his energy is never-ending. But he'll be a free agent for the first time in his career after the 2011 season (unless the Mets lock him up long term before then).
His talent dictates he could be in line for a hefty contract. But if this season has any resemblance to the two prior, it could be a difficult time for Jose.