Baseball's Next Big Thing: How Our Obsession With Perfection Has Scarred a Sport

Dan Hiergesell@DHiergesellFeatured ColumnistFebruary 10, 2011

SURPRISE, AZ - FEBRUARY 26:  Alex Gordon of the Kansas City Royals poses during photo media day at the Royals spring training complex on February 26, 2010 in Surprise, Arizona.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

It happens every year.

Minor league players, sometimes as young as 18, are hyped up to be the "next big thing" in baseball. 

As fans and fantasy baseball participants, we either watch these young talents blow up and become stars or unfortunately bear witness to them being thrown into the fire.

Being "Baseball's No. 1 Prospect" really doesn't mean as much as it should.  Players who have worn that title have succeeded and failed in the eyes of the big leagues.  We rarely and truly never know how a young talent will fare when called up. 

Can a power hitting catcher from Double-A protect the plate enough to hit Roy Halladay?

How will a young kid from the Midwest handle the big spotlight of a championship-hungry city?

At times it's disheartening to see players be built up so much, just to fall harder.  Why do we as a society of fans and baseball fanatics, feed on the careers of young-blooded baseball "phenoms"?

Do we really understand how hard it is to travel, leave family, keep in touch with friends, and to forget all of those hardships to step up to the plate at Yankee Stadium?

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We don't, but we still have the nerve to complain when our 13th round draft pick doesn't hit over .260. 

Regardless of the social and ethical borders we've crossed as onlookers of a beautiful sport like baseball, we still have a chance to not only realize how special young talent is, but to remember those once-heralded prospects for the sake of baseball.

With that said, the following players have been "lost at sea."  2011 could prove the year that some, maybe even all of these players, blow up their life jackets and float their careers to safety.

Matt Wieters, Catcher, Baltimore Orioles

Wieters has had a career that's hard to swallow.  And because of that, he's become the distinct example of major league scarring.

Formally "Baseball America's No. 1 Prospect" as of 2009, he's been unable to carry his career minor league average of .333 into the big leagues.

Drafted in fantasy leagues among some of the best catchers in the game in 2009, even before he was called up to the majors, Wieters was projected to be a savior of many faces.

He was the future of great hitting catchers.  The future of the struggling Baltimore Orioles franchise and the future fantasy owner's best friend.

Where did it all go wrong?

In 2009, through 354 at-bats, he hit a very respectable .288 average.  However, after hitting only nine home runs, the lack of power instantly rubbed fantasy owners the wrong way.  Was he a rookie bust?  That's arguable, but that was just the beginning.

Last year, after Wieters was still being drafted among the best catchers in the game, his production absolutely plummeted.  Batting a unworldly .249 with 11 home runs, he was instantly tossed overboard and cast out to sea.

Still floating, Wieters will have a chance to rebound from last year and reshape his career as a MLB player and personality. 

Currently under the radar, the 24-year old catcher will be able to sit back and take this season in stride.  No "saviors" being thrown his way.  No "Baseball America's No. 1 Prospect" being thrown his way.  Just the ball.

If Matt Wieters can rebound this year and become a legitimate hitting catcher for seasons to come, he will become a prime example as to why rushing baseball talents from the minors up to the majors, could ruin expectations as well as early careers.

Alex Gordon, 3B, Kansas City Royals

Once projected to be the next David Wright, Gordon is now being considered the Ryan Leaf of baseball.

Where have the years gone?

Gordon stepped into the spotlight that is the mess of Kansas City back in 2007.  The former first-round pick has been unable to swim to safety, let alone keep his head above water. 

Once thought of as a perennial 30-home run hitter, Gordon has only 45 homers through four seasons and 1,442 at-bats.

Now in 2011, Gordon is fighting to not only start at third for the Royals, but he's fighting from being demoted back down to the minors.

Gordon turns 27 today.  Since 27 is the "prime time" for hitters to produce at their highest potential, this could be the last chance for Gordon to save his career.  If not, he could go down as one of the biggest busts ever in baseball.

Does this come as a surprise?  It might, but considering Gordon was hyped to the brim, as well as being counted on to rescue one of the worst franchises in the MLB over the past 15 years, he might of never had a fair chance to build a career in baseball.

Gordon's life jacket has slowly been leaking, and the 2011 MLB season could be the patch he's been looking for.

Carlos Gomez, OF, Milwaukee Brewers

Heading into 2011, Gomez will be playing for his third team in a four-year career.

Once thought of as the next big speedster to grace the majors, Gomez has been unable to hit enough to keep a starting job.  2008 was the only year that Gomez has recorded over 320 at-bats.

Remember, this is a guy who supposedly beat Jose Reyes in foot races on the regular at practices.  His game is speed, his talent is speed, his paychecks are dependent on his speed, and he's been unable to utilize it.

In 445 career games, the 25-year old has only swiped 77 bases.  Quite a lower number for Gomez, who stole 65 bases between two minor league seasons from 2005-2006.

Still fairly young, Gomez still has a chance to rebound and right the ship.  However, considering that his legs are his sole and sometimes only attribute, the longer he waits to explode, his chances to do so become nonexistent. 

What can we expect from Gomez this year?

Nobody really knows.  Gomez could turn his career around and finally hit for the average that will allow him to steal 50 bases. 

On the other hand, he could continue to be trade bait, vanishing into the pool of MLB players and lose his speed as age starts kicking in.  Let's hope not.

Honorable Mention: Mark Prior, SP, New York Yankees

Prior needed to be mentioned.  He's a product of an unlawful and unethical sabotage of a great pitcher's arm.

After being ran into the ground by manager Dusty Baker from 2002-2003, Prior, who was 22 at the time, pitched over 320 innings in 49 starts.  Four of those starts were complete games.

While letting a young and talented pitcher get his feet wet doesn't qualify as a crime, Baker's over usage of Prior has been highly documented and continuously debated. 

Prior's short, yet impressive career, has been a building block that has been used by team's to structure plans for their young pitchers.  Think Joba Chamberlain and Clayton Kershaw.

It's been four years now since Prior has recorded one out in the majors, and there is no reason to believe that will change.

Every year, Prior tries to rehabilitate and resurface as a pitcher to be signed.  Usually a team will sign him in the miraculous hopes that he'll be deemed healthy and be able to pitch even an inning in the majors. 

That's how good of a pitcher he was.  And was is the key word.

Signed by the New York Yankees this off-season, Prior will have yet another opportunity to make a comeback at the age of 30.

If there was ever a team for Prior to get healthy for and display his talents in a major league stadium, it's the New York Yankees.  The situation seems perfect.

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