10 Former 1st Round Picks Looking to Revive Their Careers in Spring Training
The aura of being selected in the MLB’s First-Year Player Draft first round is something that every ball player, from high school to college, strives for.
The 30 players selected are considered by each team to be the best of the best, and are expected to contribute in the coming years.
Unfortunately, many first-rounders don’t live up to the hype and need to get things straightened out either in the minors or on a completely different team, while others can compete in the limelight and have a fruitful career in the pros.
Here is a list of 10 former first round draft picks that have seen some success, but have veered off the right path and are now looking to revive their careers in 2011, beginning in Spring Training.
Jeff Francis, 9th Pick, Colorado Rockies
Hampered by a surgically repaired shoulder that kept him out of the 2009 season, Jeff Francis is looking to return to the shape that made him deserving of the Colorado Rockies ninth overall selection in the 2002 MLB draft.
Tooted as a No. 1 starter-type on many staffs across the league, Francis was solid from 2005-2008 for the Rockies, starting over 30 games and striking out over 120 batters in each season.
Francis is best remembered for his 2007 season in which he lead the Rockies to the World Series with a 17-9 record, and that’s the star-power the Kansas City Royals hope to bottle up with Francis after they inked him to a one-year $2 million contract this off season.
Showing signs of great improvement after shoulder surgery, Francis will have the opportunity to become Kansas City’s No. 1 starter after the surprise retirement of Gil Meche, and this year’s Spring Training will be an important couple of months for lefty Jeff Francis.
Mark Prior, 2nd Pick, Chicago Cubs
The early 2000's was a time Mark Prior will never forget. He was drafted number two overall by the Chicago Cubs and enjoyed an illustrious career for an under performing club.
Injury after injury obstructed Prior’s ability to get back to his 2003 form when he went 18-6 and finish third in NL Cy Young voting, but in his present situation we couldn’t possibly see him performing anything close to that.
The past year, Prior pitched competitively for a grand total of 12 innings, so to expect anything greater from him is truly being optimistic.
That’s nothing the New York Yankees wouldn’t take a chance on, signing him to a one-year minor league contract with an invite to Spring Training.
After a series of unsuccessful stints with teams such as the Padres and Rangers, Prior will look to make a mark on the Bronx Bombers fragile starting rotation during 2011 Spring Training in Tampa.
Taylor Tankersley, 27th Pick, Florida Marlins
Posting a 4.58 ERA in 168 career appearances for the Florida Marlins, former 27th pick, Taylor Tankersley, is hoping to revive his magic with the New York Mets in 2011.
Tankersley, 27, will be used strictly out of the bullpen for the Mets as a lefty reliever, but will have to prove to the Mets coaching staff that he has fully recovered from missing the entire 2009 season with a stress fracture in his left elbow.
With the loss of Pedro Feliciano and Hisanori Takahashi to free agency, the Mets were in desperate need for a left-handed presence in the ‘pen, and hopefully Tankersley can be their answer.
Not completely sold on his durability, the Mets have also brought in reliever Tim Byrdak to compete with Tankersley for the left-handed specialist role, and ultimately it’s the former first-rounders job to lose.
Aaron Heilman, 18th Pick, New York Mets
Just writing that name could give any Mets fan the chills.
The former 18th overall pick by the New York Mets in 2001, Heilman was not what the club was expecting when they drafted the starting pitcher from Notre Dame.
After starting 25 games for the Mets from 2003-2005, Heilman compiled a lowly 8-13 record, which ultimately ended in his demotion to the middle relief.
Obviously not happy with his downgraded job status, Heilman was adamantly clear about his disgust with the club who wouldn’t let him start anymore, and the Mets had good reason not to start him.
Disappointing Mets fans across the country, Heilman was eventually traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks in part of a three teams deal and yet again he’s right at it demanding to be a starter.
If Heilman can prove he has the abilities that deemed him a first round pick, he may be able to crack the Diamondbacks rotation and revive a once promising career.
Mike Fontenot, 19th Pick, Baltimore Orioles
Drafted 19th overall by the Baltimore Orioles in the 2001 draft, Mike Fontenot hasn’t really lived up to the hype he created for himself playing at Louisiana State University.
He’s been sort of the average MLB player that gets by with his good glove and average bat, and that’s why it comes as sort of a surprise to know he was drafted in the first round.
Battling Miguel Tejada for the World Series winning San Francisco Giants shortstop position, Fontenot is entirely capable of making a new name for himself and set himself apart from other average middle infielder/utility-type men in the league.
Look for Fontenot to have a big spring, and nail down the starting shortstop job for the Giants, finally giving support for his first round selection.
Jeremy Bonderman, 26th Pick, Oakland A's
It’s hard to believe that a former first round pick can now be dubbed a low-risk/high-reward type player, but the former 26th pick by the Detroit Tigers in the 2001 draft, Jeremy Bonderman is just that.
It’s also hard to believe that Bonderman hasn’t landed on a team yet for the 2011 season, but the shallow pitching market should aid in his hooking up with a team soon.
Bonderman, 27, shouldn’t be able to relive his 2006 stat line of 34 starts, almost a K per inning and a solid WHIP below 1.300, but he can be a durable number five starter for many teams looking for starting pitching help.
Look for Bonderman to sign late in the off season and turn some heads as he tries to revive his career on only his second different team.
Jeremy Hermida, 11th Pick, Florida Marlins
After two solid seasons in 2005 and 2007 for the Florida Marlins, Jeremy Hermida’s upside was so bright, that even two solid GMs—Theo Epstein and Billy Beane—took a chance on Hermida, which proved to be a unpleasant experience.
The former 11th round pick in the 2002 First-Year Player Draft by the Florida Marlins, Hermida had all the makings for a solid corner outfielder, but then subsequently hit a rough patch in his career.
With little plate discipline, poor pop in his bat, and average range, the Cincinnati Reds have taken a chance on the former first-rounder in hopes that he can once again dominate in spring training like a first-rounder should.
Rickie Weeks, 2nd Pick, Milwaukee Brewers
Coming off a solid season in which he played in over 130 games, Rickie Weeks has seen this milestone only once, far too few times a No. 2 overall pick should.
Viewing him as the second best available player in the 2003 draft, the Milwaukee Brewers locked up their second baseman long-term, but are now at the crossroads as his contract expires after the 2011 season.
As it stands now, the Brewers are not overly optimistic about re-signing Weeks, being that he is a below-average defender with an average bat.
So look for Weeks to try and have a career year in order to get the contract he wants after the season.
It all starts in spring training for the former top draft choice who is looking to revive a career once thought to be headed for Cooperstown.
Jeff Francoeur, 23rd Pick, Atlanta Braves
This guy’s got jokes.
Drafted in the number 23 overall slot in the 2002 draft by the Atlanta Braves, Francoeur started off his career with a bang: hitting 29 home runs in 2006 and starting all 162 games in ’06 and ’07.
But then his performance (and his mental toughness) started to dwindle, causing the Braves to trade him to their rival Mets at the end of the 2009 season.
After his rough tenure with the Mets was finally over with a trade to the Texas Rangers, Francoeur had the sense to blame his hitting troubles on the Mets home ball park saying, “Citi Field is a damn joke.”
A joke, Jeff Francoeur?
Sure it’s a big park, but David Wright seemed to hit nicely in its spacious dimensions. Maybe Francoeur should worry more about his free-swinging and less about where he is playing.
Now Francoeur has hooked on with the Kansas City Royals and is looking to revive a career that was once so full of potential.
I hope Kauffman Stadium is to your liking, bud.
Jeff Clement, 3rd Pick, Seattle Mariners
What a difference one year can make.
This time last year Jeff Clement was poised to take over the Pittsburgh Pirates starting first base job, but after a few months of under performance at the plate, Clement was demoted to Triple-A and never reclaimed his starting job; and it looks like he never will.
With all the off season moves the Pirates have made, it seems Clement has fallen even further down the depth chart at first base, outfield and third base.
He will be in camp this year as a non-roster invitee, but will have a hard time competing with 1B Lyle Overbay, 1B Garrett Atkins, OF Steve Pearce, 3B Andy Marte and 3B Josh Fields for any playing time at the major league level.
Nonetheless, look for Clement to bust his butt this spring training to prove once and for all that he is worthy of his third overall selection by the Seattle Mariners in the 2005 draft.