MLB's Most Heartbreaking Prospect Flops of the Last Decade

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterJanuary 13, 2022

MLB's Most Heartbreaking Prospect Flops of the Last Decade

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    It just never came together for Jesus Montero.
    It just never came together for Jesus Montero.Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

    It's telling that if you type "prospects will" into Google's search engine, the autocomplete feature will go right to "break your heart."

    It's true, you know. We know this because Major League Baseball's history is littered with cautionary tales in which exactly that happens.

    Rather than delve too deep into the past, we've come to lament eight heartbreaking prospect flops of the last decade. The specific circumstances varied, but these are guys who were rated as top-10 talents at their peak but never were (or still aren't) able to achieve stardom in the majors.

    Please note that this is not to be confused for a list of draft busts. Because even when some seem like sure things to be future stars, all draftees are long shots of varying degrees.

    Now then, let's proceed in chronological order by these eight players' MLB debuts.

OF Domonic Brown, Philadelphia Phillies

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    Lenny Ignelzi/Associated Press

    Peak Rank: No. 4 in 2011 (MLB.com)

    MLB Debut: July 28, 2010

    Career WAR: 0.7

    Come the spring of 2010, the Domonic Brown Hype Machine was in high gear.

    Playing mostly at High-A and Double-A in 2009, he had an .880 OPS with 14 home runs and 23 stolen bases. Thus did he underscore his status as a five-tool talent, with Baseball America even likening his physicality to a young Darryl Strawberry. Brown was, as Ryan Howard put it, the "total package."

    Then 22, Brown added to his legend in 2010 with a .980 OPS, 20 homers and 17 steals in the high minors. It all pointed toward 2011, surely, as the year that he would cement himself as a cornerstone player with the Philadelphia Phillies.

    But it didn't happen that year. Or in 2012. And even in spite of his All-Star first half in 2013, the Phillies' 493-game experiment with Brown ultimately yielded a subpar 95 OPS+ and 54 home runs. His physical gifts simply didn't translate, particularly with regard to his disappointing in-game power.

    The concussion that Brown suffered in a collision with an outfield wall on Sept. 2, 2015, proved to be the period at the end of his major league career. Yet there is a sort of happy ending in progress, as he's found a new passion for coaching youth players since he last played professionally in the Mexican League in 2019.

C Jesus Montero, Seattle Mariners

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    Peak Rank: No. 3 in 2011 (Baseball America)

    MLB Debut: Sept. 1, 2011

    Career WAR: Minus-0.3

    Jesus Montero was, of course, a New York Yankee before he was a Seattle Mariner. He landed with the latter by way of a Jan. 2012 trade that Yankees general manager Brian Cashman made with great trepidation.

    "He may very well be the best player I've traded," Cashman told reporters at the time.

    This was after Montero, then 21, took the majors by storm in Sept. 2011, going 20-for-61 with four home runs in 18 games. It was a continuation of his years of excellence in the minors and what sure seemed like real-time confirmation of the scouting reports that pegged him as a next-level offensive catcher.

    So, suffice it to say it was anticlimactic to watch Montero's power and discipline fall flat as he hit just .260/.298/.386 with a 94 OPS+ for the Mariners in 2012. The next season was even worse in all sorts of ways, namely in that it involved an early demotion, a torn meniscus and a 50-game suspension as a result of MLB's Biogenesis investigation.

    And that was pretty much that for Montero. He appeared just six times for the Mariners in 2014 after showing up to camp wildly out of shape, and then in just 38 games in 2015. He played all of 2016 in the Toronto Blue Jays system and has since bounced around assorted foreign leagues.

LHP Matt Moore, Tampa Bay Rays

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    LM Otero/Associated Press

    Peak Rank: No. 1 in 2012 (MLB.com)

    MLB Debut: Sept. 14, 2011

    Career WAR: 4.8

    It's shocking in retrospect that some publications ranked Matt Moore ahead of even Mike Trout and Bryce Harper going into 2012, but it was defensible at the time.

    Just 22 then, Moore made a heck of a statement in 2011. He posted a 1.92 ERA in 27 starts in the high minors before breaking in with the Tampa Bay Rays and tossing seven shutout innings in his first playoff start.

    Though the Rays already had a future Cy Young Award-winning ace in David Price, Baseball America noted that some scouts preferred the stuff in Moore's arsenal. So confident were the Rays in Moore that they inked him to an extension before the calendar even turned to 2012.

    That confidence was initially rewarded as Moore pitched to a solid 3.57 ERA over 58 starts from 2012 to 2013. Even then, though, shortcomings with his command and ability to miss bats kept him from truly achieving ace status. Then his elbow broke down in 2014, necessitating Tommy John surgery.

    A successful stint in Japan in 2020 notwithstanding, Moore just hasn't been the same pitcher since he returned from Tommy John in 2015. Over 142 appearances and 620.2 innings, he's mustered only an 80 ERA+ and 0.3 rWAR. Now 32, he's a free agent who'll be fortunate if he gets another major league job.

SS Jurickson Profar, Texas Rangers

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    Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

    Peak Rank: No. 1 in 2013 (MLB.com)

    MLB Debut: Sept. 2, 2012

    Career WAR: 3.2

    Jurickson Profar is not only still going, but he has indeed carved out a niche for himself as a utility player with the San Diego Padres over the last two seasons. 

    This isn't what he was supposed to be, however.

    The hype for Profar began to build in 2011 and only heightened as he starred at Double-A and even homered in his first at-bat for the Texas Rangers in 2012. The reports on him generally agreed that, even if his tools weren't exceptional on their own, he was just so much better than the sum of his parts.

    But during his 85 games with the Rangers in 2013, flashes of his apparent upside were few and far between as he posted just a 77 OPS+ and 0.1 rWAR. It wasn't until 2018 that he achieved a level of respectability, and even then he only had a modest 107 OPS+ and 1.7 rWAR.

    To be fair, missing the 2014 and 2015 seasons to shoulder surgery didn't do Profar's trajectory any favors. Yet there's a question of whether the tools for stardom were ever really there. More directly, there's the question of whether his former No. 1 stature resulted from the Rangers gaming the system.

RHP Dylan Bundy, Baltimore Orioles

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    Steven Senne/Associated Press

    Peak Rank: No. 2 in 2013 (MLB.com)

    MLB Debut: Sept. 23, 2012

    Career WAR: 8.6

    Dylan Bundy is also still going and is indeed just one year removed from a ninth-place finish in the American League Cy Young Award in 2020.

    Nonetheless, he's seven years and 770.2 innings into his major league career with only a 94 ERA+ to show for it. Not exactly a performance befitting of a guy Baseball America once billed as the Baltimore Orioles' "best homegrown pitcher since Mike Mussina."

    Injuries, including Tommy John surgery in 2013, have a fair amount to do with the general letdown of Bundy's career. His stuff has just never been as eye-popping as it was supposed to be. To wit, he hasn't touched 100 mph even once as a major leaguer even though he was famous for doing so as a teenager.

    It's also fair to question the Orioles' handling of Bundy. Even though his cutter was his best pitch as an amateur, the Orioles made him scrap it after he turned pro because, as then-GM Dan Duquette said in summing up the organizational philosophy: "We don't like it as a pitch, OK?"

    Bundy, 29, has since turned that cutter into more of a proper slider, which has been a devastating pitch at the best of times. It's now up to the Minnesota Twins to hope that such times aren't over.

OF Gregory Polanco, Pittsburgh Pirates

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Peak Rank: No. 10 in 2014 (Baseball America)

    MLB Debut: June 10, 2014

    Career WAR: 3.9

    In 2013, the Pittsburgh Pirates outfield already featured an MVP in Andrew McCutchen and a rising star in Starling Marte. And down in the minors, yet another star was rising.

    Even if Gregory Polanco hit some speed bumps along the way, he generally acquitted himself well in the high minors that year. He then dominated in the Dominican Winter League, hitting .331 with five homers and seven steals in 44 games.

    All the major publications were high on Polanco going into 2014, but none more so than Baseball America. In spite of some misgivings about his hit tool, it saw him as an "athletic five-tool talent with the ability to hit for power and average, run, throw and play superior defense in center field."

    The impression Polanco made upon debuting in '14 was immediate, and the Pirates apparently saw enough promise in his first full season in 2015 to sign him to an extension. But seven years later, he's a 30-year-old headed for Japan with only a 94 OPS+ and not a single star-caliber season on his major league resume.

    As for how this happened, the injury trouble he ran into from 2017 to 2019 can't be discounted. Yet the concerns over his hit tool also proved to be well-founded, especially when pitchers began exploiting his over-long swing with four-seam fastballs in 2020 and 2021.

SS Orlando Arcia, Milwaukee Brewers

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    Benny Sieu/Associated Press

    Peak Rank: No. 6 in 2016 (MLB.com)

    MLB Debut: Aug. 2, 2016

    Career WAR: 2.2

    In just six seasons, Orlando Arcia has gone from the Milwaukee Brewers' shortstop of the future to a guy who's keeping first base warm in Atlanta until the team re-signs or replaces Freddie Freeman.

    As for how Arcia arrived at this point, one explanation is that he was never as good at the one thing at which he was supposed to be exceptional: defense.

    In 2016, Jim Callis of MLB.com put the then-21-year-old Arcia's defensive skills in the same tier as those of Byron Buxton. But while he did generate occasional highlights, on the whole, metrics such as defensive runs saved and ultimate zone rating painted a decidedly mixed picture of his glove work with Milwaukee.

    Once that ship began to sail, the pressure was on Arcia to hit enough to justify his everyday role. His offensive track record in the minors—including a .307 average at Double-A in 2015—allowed for some hope in that regard. But in the majors, neither the quality of his at-bats nor his contact skills developed.

    Among hitters who made at least 1,900 plate appearances from 2016 to 2021, only Billy Hamilton did worse than Arcia's 72 OPS+. So even if he is still only 27, he's at a point where he needs to either reinvent himself as a hitter or settle into a platoon role as a versatile defender.

OF Andrew Benintendi, Boston Red Sox

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    Peak Rank: No. 1 in 2017 (MLB.com)

    MLB Debut: Aug. 2, 2016

    Career WAR: 12.5

    The clock hasn't yet run out on Andrew Benintendi. He's only 27, after all, and he's fresh off winning a Gold Glove and hitting a solid .276 with 17 home runs for the Kansas City Royals in 2021.

    Yet there's no ignoring the hard turn his career has taken since his first three seasons with the Boston Red Sox:

    More accurately, Benintendi's decline began in the second half of 2018. His offensive production vanished and stayed vanished throughout Boston's World Series run, in which 11 of his 15 hits were singles.

    The notion that Benintendi played against his strengths by trying to join the launch-angle revolution does have some merit, particularly in how his upping of his average launch angle in 2019 coincided with his worst full season in the majors. It was him trying to squeeze fly balls out of a swing more so geared for line drives.

    Even in correcting his course in 2021, Benintendi still didn't hit for enough power to keep pitchers from aggressively attacking him in the strike zone. So if he's going to become the "once-in-a-decade hitter" that a scout once proclaimed him as to Baseball America, further reinvention is needed.

                

    Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference, FanGraphs and Baseball Savant.

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