The Top 10 Prospects... That Fell So Far from Their Potential
Front offices, coaches and fans alike all buzz about the hype and potential of their future superstars that are waiting in the wings. They will be called up in September, right smack dab in the middle of a pennant race and lift the team up wearing a red cape and the letter "S" on the front of their shirt. They'll bring blood, sweat and tears to do whatever it takes for the club.
Their scouting report will include more credentials and tools than Babe Ruth. They'll have the "family pedigree" and the makeup... The bat speed and the base stealing speed... And everything else you can imagine as they are molded into the Superman-type prospect.
More times than not, these "future superstars" and can't-miss prospects end up fading, getting injured or simply never reaching their ceiling that are even higher than the monster home runs they're projected to hit. It is not as easy meeting the infinite expectations as guys like David Price, Joe Mauer, Prince Fielder and other former top prospects/modern stars that have made it.
However, here's your disclaimer now: It's never too late to fulfill prospect status. Consider a 2005 version of this list? Josh Hamilton would've toppled the competition as he was nearly out of baseball due to his off the field issues. Or even a 2010 list? Alex Gordon and Cameron Maybin could've helped me make the list; it sure looks like they both redeemed themselves. Last but not least, there's the 30 and up club guys... AKA, the rare Jose Bautistas of the world that are simply late bloomers.
Those primarily eligible for this list are guys branded as top prospects between 2000-2009 that were typically ranked as a Top 20 player by Baseball America. Sorry to those ineligible.
In honor of all the future superstars that just signed at the August 15th signing deadline, and in pity to all the hyped up talent that never really reached the next level, take a stroll down memory lane, take out your old scouting reports and enjoy the Top 10 ultra-hyped prospects that just never quite met expectations...
Nick Johnson... Healthy.
He had the eye and patience of a Bernie Williams. He had the hitting ability of a Derek Jeter. He had a mitt comparable to Donnie Baseball. Nick Johnson was destined to be the next great Yankee.
A switch hitter with great hitting ability, great plate coverage and an uncanny ability to draw walks...
He had the "family pedigree" as Larry Bowa was his uncle. He had good size and great defensive instincts as a young first baseman. As a 21-year old, he was the No. 4 rated prospect by Baseball America in 2000 and Johnson looked to be a perennial All-Star for the Yankees.
Unfortunately, Nick Johnson proved to be more delicate than a China vase balancing on the top of a see-saw. Johnson was born and raised in Sacramento, California where he resides in the offseason. However, his full-time home as a Yankee sure seemed to be Tampa, Florida... Home of the Yankees rehab facility.
After tenures with the Expos/Nationals and the Marlins, Johnson returned back "home" to New York... And by home again, I mean Tampa, where he rehabbed for nearly the entire season after yet another wrist injury.
He is currently a 32-year old pro playing for the Cleveland Indians AAA team. Nick Johnson had some very solid years with Montreal/Washington, but the fact he's played over 100 games only twice in his career tells the whole story.
Rick Ankiel contributed more with his bat than his arm
Rick Ankiel fit the bill of a can't-miss pitcher. He was first on Baseball America's Top 100 Prospects opening up the new millennium. A great power pitcher with youth, good frame, athleticism and every other scout's dream characteristic, Ankiel was well on his way to being a special pitcher with the Cardinals as he pitched into the NLDS in 2000 as a would-be-junior in college. And that's where he peaked... As a 21-year-old.
The wheels fell off in every which direction for Ankiel as he couldn't command anything.
He was victimized by the Steve Blass disorder: He couldn't throw.
Four walks, five wild pitches and 35 pitches later, Ankiel's prospect status was ruined.
As the story goes, he converted to the outfield and had some solid seasons with the Cards, Royals, Braves and now Nationals... and he's still only 32 years old. However, had the Cardinals known they were drafting a borderline fourth outfielder with a career .248 average, they may have gone with somebody else early in the second round of the '97 draft.
Jeremey Hermida had a tough time following his rookie campaign
The Florida Marlins have been a factory for great drafts, international signings and getting the guys to the bigs at a young age to develop and become stars. Think Miguel Cabrera. Think Josh Beckett. Think Mike Stanton. Think Jeremy Hermida...? Hermida was the Marlins' coverboy for top prospect status from 2004-2006. As a 22-year-old in 2006, Hermida was BA's No. 4 prospect in all of baseball.
He could hit for average. He could draw walks. And he was more highly regarded than fellow Marlins like Josh Johnson, Anibal Sanchez and even Hanley Ramirez.
He was selected No. 11 overall in the 2002 draft as a young high schooler out of Georgia's Wheeler High School.
And on August 31st, 2005, the Hermida era began in Florida as he crushed a grand slam in his first at-bat in the majors off Al Reyes, as a pinch hitter nonetheless!
Unfortunately, that would be Hermida's high point in his baseball career.
To summarize Hermida's major league contributions, we examine the following low-lights:
I) In 2007, he led all ML outfielders with nine errors and the worst fielding percentage.
II) In 2010, he was designated for assignment by the Red Sox and shortly thereafter, released.
III) Since 2008, he has hit .243 with 36 Home Runs in 354 games during that span.
II) He is with his fourth organization in six years.
It may not be incredibly fair to conclude Hermida as one of the bigger let-down prospects of the 00's, but given his elite prospect status and "rough" past four seasons, he is surely notable.
Then again, he's only 27 years old and may be a late bloomer... Look no further than fellow former Marlin prospect, Cameron Maybin.
The book is not closed on Hermida yet, but for now, he's made this list.
Andrew Miller is still young, but it's been a rough ride thus far
Is it fair to deem Andrew Miller a failed prospect already? He, too, is just 26 years young. So, no. But compared to the pitcher he was expected to be...
The story for Miller goes something like this:
Once drafted in the first round by the Tigers, he was bound to be an elite starter, considered untouchable, traded for a Top 3 MLB talent, then faded out in Florida due to awful pitching.
It hasn't been a smooth ride for Miller in the Show since he was called up to the bigs as a 21-year-old.
Home to a 5.79 ERA, 10-plus hits per nine innings, WHIP upward of a dollar 75, is Andrew Miller's career.
He was a premium piece along with Cameron Maybin in the eight-player trade that sent Miguel Cabrera to Detroit and some believed he'd overshadow Cameron Maybin in Florida. Unfortunately, neither one of them had much effect in Miami.
The Marlins certainly did not get their money's worth with Miller considering they traded a potential Hall-of-Fame hitter for him, and sent him to Boston last year for a guy they DFA'd a few months later (Dustin Richardson).
Miller is pitching in Boston to the screechy tune of a 5.40 ERA. On the plus side, that is a mark of improvement.
The finger tells the story
Adam Miller's twitter account name is "thafinger28."
The finger is what has derailed Miller's career that continues despite some of the most unlikely surgeries.
Adam Miller was the up and coming, top-of-the-rotation starter for the Cleveland Indians. He had a plus slider and plus fastball that he could get up to 98 mph. In 2008, BA described Miller as "His delivery is free and easy and his work ethic and makeup never have been questioned."
Cleveland had found their next CC Sabathia in the draft, as Miller was the Tribe's top prospect every year from 2005-2008. He was a Texas high school pitcher and going to be the next Josh Beckett.
Adam Miller had more work done on his middle finger than Michael Jackson had done on his face. It felt like every other week something was wrong with the finger. At first, it wasn't a big worry. He'd take time to let it recover, come back in a month and dominate hitters. But the finger lingered.
Miller, who already had a history of elbow and shoulder issues, had the biggest issue with that middle finger. He couldn't grip the ball and clearly couldn't get action on his pitches without the use of that finger.
An unattached tendon led to one thing which led to the next. At one point, Miller was shut down as his doctors were worried about him infecting the finger from pitching. It seemed his immune system just didn't want him to pitch.
Miller signed a minor league deal with the Indians last year, despite all his troubles. His fastball has been clocked at 93 and there is hope, but he'll never be a major league starter it seems. At best, he'll be a late inning setup man which is a far cry from the power starter he was on the path to be.
The series of unfortunate finger events certainly set back Adam Miller's career as he has been in the minor leagues for nine seasons now. In a way, Miller's story is more of a success than a failure as the fact that he is pitching at all is a minor miracle. From a prospect standpoint, though, Miller surely was one of the best that never bloomed.
Rocco fought to play as much as he could
Rocco Baldelli was the Devil Ray that would change the Tampa franchise after its half decade of consecutive losing seasons beginning in '98. Scouts, executives and GM's alike praised Rocco Baldelli's style of play and makeup.
He was oft-compared to Hall of Famer Joe Dimaggio for a multitude of reasons, not just their Italian background. Both Rocco and Joe wore No. 5, both were premium center field athletes, and Al LaMocchia, a scout for more than half a century referred to Rocco Baldelli as Joe DiMaggio's twin.
Coming into the league with comparisons to the "Yankee Clipper" made Baldelli one of the most hyped and promising prospects of the decade.
Baseball America had him as the No. 2 prospect in 2003, behind mega-college star Mark Teixiera and right ahead of No. 3 Jose Reyes and No. 4 Joe Mauer. All four of these guys would go on to be All-Stars and potentially even more...
Great rookie and sophomore years with Tampa had Baldelli forecasted as one of the up and coming stars in all of the league. That was powerful, especially considering he was playing on the worst franchise in baseball. He could hit and play defense. He led all outfielders in assists in 2004 as well as range factor.
For all the injuries that slowed Nick Johnson's career, Baldelli's career could be characterized by his serious medical issues.
2005-2008 were defined by physical and medical issues for Rocco. He was fatigued easily and could certainly not last a full 162-game season. He was diagnosed with a serious but rare mitochondrial disorder. Baldelli battled to play for the Red Sox as a fourth outfielder when it was deemed he had channelopathy (less serious than his previous diagnosis, though).
His story worthy of a movie career continued as he "retired" for a brief time to work for the Rays front office in 2010... He returned in July of that year on a minor league deal, and played through September until he was drained and cramping frequently just before the playoffs.
Baldelli retired again after the 2010 season. A class act and loved by Rays fans among many, Rocco's career never reached where it could've. He currently serves as a special adviser in the scouting department for the Rays.
Andy Marte's most memorable big league performance will be the relief inning he pitched for the 2010 Cleveland Indians...
The problem is Marte was a third base slugging prospect.
Andy Marte was a top prospect for the Atlanta Braves. Then the Boston Red Sox. Then the Cleveland Indians. What's wrong with this picture? (Brett Wallace, close your eyes)
Marte could be considered the Latino Bambino of AAA. The problem is, he could never stride past AAA. After hitting over 20 HRs in a pitcher's park in Atlanta's AAA affiliate of Gwinnett, Marte was traded for Edgar Renteria. He was then flipped to Cleveland with Kelly Shoppach for Coco Crisp and Josh Bard (among others).
From 2004-2006, he was annually a Top 15 prospect in all of baseball. He was yet another third baseman of the future. Unfortunately, the future for Marte was short.
Cleveland gave him chances off and on for five seasons from '06-'10. After the 2008 season, when he was basically seen as a bust by the Indians for hitting .221 in 80 games, he rose from the baseball grave in AAA hitting .327 with 18 HRs in 82 games. He was back on the radar.
But not for long.
He hit .230 for Cleveland the next two seasons with hitting holes big enough to play putt-putt in. Hitting coaches got tired of his inability to draw walks and go the other way, so they sent him the other way, letting this once premium prospect leave town after 2010.
Marte was shipped around as much as anything FedEx has seen. He's currently floundering around in the Pirates AAA system.
And lastly, perhaps the Indians learned a lesson: Never trade for a guy that has any third degree connection to Edgar Renteria. The 1997 World Series proved he always beats the Indians... The Marte trade proves Renteria beats the Indians, even when it's indirectly.
Brandon Wood has had more downs than ups
Brandon Wood had higher stock than Justin Upton, Troy Tulowitzki and Ryan Braun.
"He profiles as a middle-of-the-order run producer with 25-30 or more homers per year while being capable of handling shortstop" said BA coming into 2008.
Chone Figgins could move to any position and Orlando Cabrera was shipped out of LA to give Wood what was rightfully his. With over 90 homers in the minors between 2005-2007, Wood had great power at a premium position. While he came up as a shortstop, he eventually moved to third. And with that move came a freefall in all things offense.
A Scottsdale, Arizona native, Brandon Wood played baseball year round and was sure to be another gem out of the desert.
The jump from AAA to the MLB is an ever-so-hard one and Brandon Wood depicted that as well as anyone. His major league line, today, looks as follows: .184/.225/.289 (AVG/SLG/OBP)
Wood, like many on this list, is still young. He's only 26. How old was Jose Bautista when he found his groove?
However, it's quite sad when I say, he can't hit his weight at this point... A few more hits and he may match his 185 lbs bill.
Corey Patterson may be coming to a field near you very soon...
Oh, the pride of Chicago.
Corey Patterson, like every other top prospect, had it all.
As a 19-year-old in '99, he was ranked as the No. 16 prospect in all of baseball. Then No. 3 in '00. And in '01, he was No. 2 behind just Josh Hamilton.
Corey Patterson tools included his ability to:
I) Hit for average
II) Hit for Power
IV) Play Defense
V) His strong throwing arm in the outfield.
That would make him the cliche. He was a five-tool player.
Corey Patterson's tools helped him to develop into a:
I) Pinch Runner
II) 25th man
IV) Fourth outfielder
V) Fifth outfierder
Patterson has been far from the least useful player comparitively, but his hype and promise make him one of the biggest bust prospects as he's played for seven different teams already (two tours with Baltimore). He'll continue to latch on every year because he's a veteran and has the ability to do the aforementioned.
Mark Prior's career left Cubs fans looking something like this
You absolutely cannot forget Mark Prior.
An apology in advance to Cubs fans for back-to-back dud prospects, but let's face the facts...
If the Greek gods were to sculpt a pitcher, he'd be Mark Prior: 6'5" 225 lbs, strong, (supposedly) durable, with pure power pitches. He was likely the most hyped pitching prospect of the decade, only behind Stephen Strasburg. His mechanics were (seemingly) flawless. A consistent delivery, good arm angle, he had it all, so he would instantly be one of the best pitchers in baseball, even in a steroid era.
The Prior era exploded in Chicago in 2002. In 19 starts, he pitched to a 3.32 ERA with six wins... on a 67-win team, nonetheless. Though the team looked weak, they clearly had their strength in years of control and promise with Mark Prior and Kerry Wood leading the rotation.
2003 was the beginning, middle and end of Mark Prior's "prime." He dominated, embarrassed and stunned National League hitters from Spring Training through the NLCS against the Marlins. His 2003 pitching line looked more like Pedro Martinez than that of a 22-year-old in his first full season: 2.43 ERA, 18-6 record, and 245 K's.
He never made more than 27 starts in the next eight years. In fact, he hadn't touched a Major League mound since 2006.
A guy with all the talent in the world fell out of favor with Chicago Cubs fans for a variety of reasons (as Naperville recalls Prior bailing his three-hour autograph signing two hours early, with young kids in tears as he and his entourage opted to skip handshakes and pictures with fans for no apparent reason).
He is a worst-case scenario nightmare for all young pitchers and franchises. His injury history is worthy of its own medical journal for pre-med students to study from. And primarily, his Achilles heel proved to be his main... Achilles heel over the next few seasons after 2003.
The Rangers, Padres and Yankees all took fliers on the Prior sweepstakes over the years. None have been rewarded.
What made him such a bust was his obvious potential. At 31 years old, he's still trying to make it back to the show.
McPherson is a perennial 30-HR bat... in AAA.
Honorable mentions go out to all of the following:
Ruben Mateo, Drew Henson, Alex Escobar, Joe Borchard, Jesse Foppert, Dallas McPherson, Andy LaRoche, Franklin Morales, Matt Bush and your former top prospect, highly touted rookie or first round draft pick that felt like a waste, here.
If every "prospect" was to fulfill his potential, then baseball players would all be out of the league by 30, as careers would end earlier and there would be no such thing as longevity. Why? Because there are 100 "top prospects" every year. Top prospects purely mean top potential. Nothing is guaranteed in baseball or sports as a whole.
Every team has their share of prospects that never cut it. They likely have more prospects that don't pan out, than those that do. We see that year in and year out. That's baseball for you.
So next time you see that "untouchable" tag or hear that can't-miss-prospect talk, you can just think back to the star careers of Corey Patterson, Andy Marte and Mark Prior.
But don't forget about the Melky Cabreras, Jeff Franceours or Delmon Youngs who were seemingly in the do or die phases of their careers and eventually did figure it out.