Favorite Prospect Struggling? Might Be No Big Deal!
One of the most frustrating things is when a top prospect comes up and does not just fail, but falls flat on his face. One of the most recent, and frustrating, examples is San Francisco Giants first baseman Brandon Belt. After being drafted in the fifth round in the 2009 draft out of the University of Texas at Austin, Belt was assigned to High A and absolutely destroyed the ball, putting up a 383/492/628 line in 333 plate appearances before being promoted to AA, where Belt kept on hitting to the tune of a 337/413/623 line across 201 plate appearances. Belt was promoted to AAA for a brief 61 plate appearances, putting up a respectable 229/393/563 line to end the season. In 2011, Belt spent time in the major leagues, being played inconsistently by Manager Bruce Bochy while failing to produce with a 225/306/412 line and destroying AAA pitching to the tune of a 309/448/527 line. In 2012, Belt has had similar issues in the major league, putting up a much-improved 230/347/340 line while making an adjustment to stand more upright during his at bats.
But take heart Giants fans (or Royals fans for Eric Hosmer, or Rays fans for Matt Moore), there is a long, long list of great baseball players who were top prospects and struggled early on, eventually becoming great baseball players.
1. Michael Jack Schmidt. Chances are if you know more than three males born from 1975 through 1985, one of them will be named Michael or Jack (or Michael Jack) and there is a really good reason for this: Mike Schmidt was an amazing baseball player. Before he began putting up Hall of Fame numbers, Schmidt put up a putrid 196/324/373 line in 1973. Schmidt’s learning curve was steep, as he put up a 282/395/546 line, leading the National League with 36 home runs, 138 strikeouts (the following year he would strike out 180 times), and a .546 slugging percentage.
2. Matt Wieters. Matt Wieters was supposed to be the next big thing after he was drafted #5 overall by the Baltimore Orioles out of Georgia Tech in 2007. After being ranked the #12 prospect by Baseball America before playing a single professional game and #1 after putting up a 345/448/576 line in High A and a 365/460/625 line in AA in 2008. In 2009, Wieters put up a 305/387/504 line in AAA before being promoted to the major leagues. Wieters struggled his first few seasons in the major leagues, but has since turned into a consistent All-Star and Gold Glove winner who is consistently in the discussion for the best catcher in the league.
3. Edgardo Alfonzo. Before becoming one of the best second baseman in the league from 1999-2002, Alfonzo was a top prospect in the Mets organization, being ranked as the #74 prospect by Baseball America after the 1992 season and #31 prospect by Baseball America after the 1993 season. Alfonzo put up a 278/301/382 line in 1995 and a 261/304/345 line in 1996 before figuring it out in 1997 to the tune of a 315/391/432 line. Alfonzo’s peak was short due to back problems, but he was one of the most underrated baseball players, and a key cog for the Mets, in the late 90s and early 2000s.
4. Adrian Beltre. Beltre is one of the more fascinating career paths, from a top prospect (Baseball America ranked him the #30 prospect after a 1996 season where he hit a combined 284/366/519 at full season A and High A age 17 and then the #3 prospect after he hit 317/407/561 in High A in 1997). After putting up a 321/411/581 line in 64 games in AA as a 19 year old in 1998, Beltre hit 215/278/369 in 77 games for the Dodgers. Beltre played with varying levels of success for the next five years, putting up a combined 265/323/432 line before breaking out with an amazing 334/388/629 line in 2004, his contract year. After signing a five-year, $63 million contract with the Seattle Mariners, Beltre seemingly returned to his previous level, putting up a combined 266/317/442 line over five years. In 2010, Beltre finally put it all together for the Boston Red Sox, playing Gold Glove-caliber defense while putting up a 321/365/553 line, a level he has generally maintained during his season and two months with the Texas Rangers.
5. Jayson Werth. After being the #22 pick of the 1997 draft by the Baltimore Orioles, Werth hit in every stop in the minor leagues and was consistently a highly-regarded prospect. Baseball America ranked him #52 after 1998 and #48 after 1999. After an off season in 2000, Werth bounced back after being dealt to the Blue Jays for Jason Bale and Baseball America ranked him #70 and then #94 after 2002. Werth then spent the next few years raking in the minors and struggling in the majors (albeit often with injuries), including being dealt to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Jason Frasor. After having the Dodgers not offer him a contract, Werth signed with the Phillies as a free agent and finally broke out.
6. Ryne Sandberg. Sandberg was a 20th round pick by the Phillies in 1978, so he was not exactly the most highly regarded prospect until he hit 310/403/469 as a 20-year old in AA and 293/352/397 as a 21 year old in AAA, while stealing 32 bases both years, primarily as a shortstop. After being traded by the Phillies with Larry Bowa for Ivan de Jesus, Sandberg won the National League Rookie of the Year with a 271/312/372 line followed by a 261/316/351 line in his second year. Sandberg broke out in 1984, winning the MVP with a 314/367/520 line, cementing himself as the Cubs second baseman of the future.
Of course, this isn’t to say that Belt, Hosmer, and Moore will all bounce back and become great players (or even good ones, history is littered with top prospects who never panned out), but it should be noted that prospects often struggle early on and have very productive careers – not everyone can start a career like Ralph Kiner.
Of course, Giants fans can just keep checking for Brandon Belt trade rumors at MLBTradeRumors.
Until next time, follow me @HypeProspect.