The Big 3: “The Best That Never Was”

For every baseball lover who follows Minor League Baseball there is no better day than when the Top 100 prospects lists are released every February.  You get an insiders prospective into what each prospects overall skill sets consist of and why they can become the stars of the future.

On any first read, I always start at prospect #100 and scan until the #5 spot appears.  It’s at the #5 spot that I truly start to take notice.  In the past these Top 5 spots have been allocated to the likes of Joe Mauer, Josh Hamilton, Josh Beckett. It is the previously mentioned players that have made prognosticators and scouts look like geniuses for many decades.  More times than not, if all these great talent evaluators are giving a Top 5 grade to any young prospect then it essentially means that these players potentially could shape and mold Major League Baseball for years to come.

The one exception to this was in 2007.  Not since 2001 (Josh Beckett, Jon Rauch and Ben Sheets) or the vaunted 1992 Top 5 (Todd Van Poppel, Brien Taylor and Roger Salkeld) had the league seen a trio of young pitchers emerge on a Top 5 list.  You had a prized import, a hard throwing Texan and the future face of New York all penciled in to become dominant #1 starters.

Daisuke Matsuzaka (Dice K):

“Who needs a gyroball? He has six pitches that grade out as plus or plus-plus at their best, and he’ll be the best Japanese import ever. And no, we’re not forgetting about Ichiro” ~

Philip Hughes:

“As good as Chien-Ming Wang has been, this homegrown ace will be even better” ~

Homer Bailey:

“The next great Texas fireballer in the tradition of Nolan Ryan and Roger Clemens” ~

Those quotes were one of the many glowing reports on these three “Can’t Miss” prospects.  Dice K, the most highly touted of the bunch, had a robust 2008 season in which he garnered a 2.90 ERA and appeared to be a star on the rise.  However, this has proved to be his last effective season due in large part to several nagging injuries, difficulty with consistency on his off speed pitches and drop in velocity.  Like Dice K, Philip Hughes too has shown flashes of brilliance.  Hughes had a solid 2009 campaign in which he compiled a 3.03 ERA and helped the Yankees to a championship run.  But again like Dice K, he has struggled with consistency (although he had a decent first start) and has left Yankees brass scratching their heads.  Rounding out the trio you have Bailey who has never been able to establish himself and has become a fringe #5 starter.  Below are their career stats.

Dice K                    5 Yrs, 4.25 ERA

Hughes                 6 Yrs, 4.46 ERA

Bailey                    6 Yrs, 4.91 ERA

If one chooses to be a glass half empty guy than they can say that Dice K will at best be a bullpen guy, Hughes will be pitching for the Orioles in a weak Baltimore rotation in a couple years  and Bailey will finish the season pitching for Louisville.  But lets look at these three guys in a more positive light.  If all three guys retired today they would still have had better careers than Van Poppel, Taylor and Salkeld.  Hey, Barry Zito who has arguable had the worst five years of any pitcher in Major League Baseball history was even able to bounce back and throw a complete game shut out on Monday.

So in the end there’s still hope for these three guys.  But until then they are the “Big 3: The Best That Never Was”.

~Baseball America 2007, Staff, Feb 28 2007

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