Favorite Prospect Struggling? This could be a big problem.
Last week I wrote about a number of big prospects who struggled early in their careers but went on to be successful, from Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt to Matt Wieters. But a prospect struggling might be a cause for alarm, as history is also littered with top prospects that got to the major leagues and failed miserably.
1. Brandon Wood. It seems that Brandon Wood fooled everyone. A top pick when drafted (#23) by the Angels, Wood impressed from the beginning, hitting 278/348/475 for the Provo Angels and 308/349/462 for the AZL Angels, both part of different Rookie Leagues. The following season, Wood hit 251/322/404 for the Angels’ A-level affiliate in Cedar Rapids, garnering Baseball America’s #83 prospect ranking. The following season, Wood absolutely destroyed the ball in High A Rancho Cucamonga, putting up a 321/383/672 line with 43 home runs and 51 doubles. Wood’s stock skyrocketed, especially after his (Warning: SSS) 19 plate appearance trial in AAA, putting up a 316/316/526 line. Wood was ranked #3 by Baseball America. After a 276/355/552 line in AA Arkansas in 2006, Wood was ranked the #8 prospect by Baseball America; then #16 after a 272/338/497 line in AAA. Wood’s struggles in the major leagues have been well documented. After hitting 200/224/327 with 43 strikeouts in 157 PA while playing both shortstop and third base in 2008, Wood was sent back down to AAA. Wood’s trials in the major leagues never seemed to get any better, including an amazingly bad 146/174/208 line in 2010 in 226 plate appearances that included 71 strikeouts with just six walks. Wood fooled everyone, including Baseball Prospectus’ Kevin Goldstein:
Me on Brandon Wood in 2005: “He’s still going to get better,” San Jose manager Lenn Sakata said. “He looks like the next Cal Ripken to me.”—
Kevin Goldstein (@Kevin_Goldstein) March 12, 2012
2. Paul Wilson. Wilson had it all: A dominating career at Florida State, a lightning fastball, a dominating slider, and a 6’5″ 235 lb frame. Wilson was the #1 pick in the 1994 Rule IV draft and was immediately ranked the #16 prospect in baseball by Baseball America. After struggling in his brief audition in 1994, Wilson dominated in his first full season of professional ball, putting up a 2.17 ERA for AA Binghamton in 120.1 innings followed by a 2.85 ERA for AAA Norfolk over 66.1 innings. After the season, Wilson was ranked the #2 prospect in by Baseball America (behind Andruw Jones). Wilson spent most of 1996 with the Mets, putting up a 5.38 ERA (75 ERA+) across 149 innings. Wilson missed time while being on the DL with “tendinitis” in his shoulder, then came back to pitch the rest of the season before being diagnosed with a torn labrum and needing shoulder surgery. Wilson made a few appearances at the end of 1997 in the low levels of the minor leagues before struggling in 1998 in the upper levels. In the spring of 1999, Wilson had his elbow rebuilt and looked pretty good for the Mets’ AAA affiliate in 2000 before being dealt with Jason Tyner to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays for Bubba Trammell and Rick White. Wilson looked great as the swingman for the Devil Rays, putting up a 3.35 ERA (148 ERA+) for the Rays. Over the next four seasons, Wilson put up a combined 4.67 ERA (92 ERA+) across 124 games (111 starts) for the Devil Rays and the Cincinnati Reds before struggling further in 2005 (7.77 ERA in 9 starts) and having surgery on his labrum and rotator cuff. Wilson retired early in 2006 after struggling in the minor leagues.
3. Joel Guzman. Joel Guzman serves as the ultimate cautionary tale whenever any team drafts or signs a big shortstop. For every Alex Rodriguez, Cal Ripken, and Alfonso Soriano (laugh all you want, he was really good from 2002-2008), there are another 50 Joel Guzmans. Signed by the Dodgers out of the Dominican Republic in 2001 for a then-record $2.25 million, Guzman played rookie ball at age 17 (hitting 245/329/370) and in A and High A at age 18 (hitting 241/271/387). Guzman’s breakout came in 2004, when he hit 307/349/550 for the High A Vero Beach Dodgers in 357 plate appearances, before putting up a 280/325/522 line for the Jacksonville Suns of the AA Southern League. Guzman’s prospect status jumped after 2004, Guzman’s age-19 season, being ranked #5 by Baseball America. In 2005, Guzman (then 20) put up a solid 287/351/475 line, again in AA. In 2005 Guzman, never a particularly good defensive player, made 25 errors in 99 games at shortstop and another four in 21 games at second base. Guzman was also getting absolutely huge, growing to 6’7″ and being (kindly) listed at 225 lbs, with his reported weight much higher. Despite his size, Guzman was still ranked the #26 prospect by Baseball America, which clearly still believed strongly in his bat. In 2006, Guzman was hitting 297/353/464 for the AA Las Vegas 51s before being dealt to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays with Sergio Pedroza for Julio Lugo. Guzman was assigned to AAA Durham, where he struggled, hitting 193/228/386. After that, Guzman never really put it all together, appearing in 24 games in the major leagues and putting up a 232/306/321 line while primarily playing third base. Guzman, plying in AA for the Baltimore Orioles, hit 279/344/519 in his age 25 season, but he will never amount to more than a very large cautionary tale, as is discussed in this article on TrueBlueLA.
4. Hensley “Bam-Bam” Meulens. Meulens had it all: size (6’4″, 200 lbs), power, and a truly amazing nickname. Unfortunately he also swung at everything and often missed, which, coupled with a complete inability to consistently field a baseball, doomed him. Muelens burst onto the prospect scene by hitting 285/376/510 at AAA Columbus, then being ranked the #30 prospect by Baseball America. Muelens got a long look at the major league level in 1991, putting up a 222/276/319 line with 97 strikeouts in plate appearances, primarily playing left field. For his major league career, Muelens hit 220/288/353 with 165 strikeouts in 549 plate appearances. Of course, Muelens is now the hitting coach for the San Francisco Giants, which may explain why the Giants are, as a team, hitting 260/320/380 as a team, good for the 12th highest OPS in the NL.
5. Dallas McPherson. Drafted in the second round out of the Citadel in 2001, McPherson was supposed to be a slugging third baseman, and exploded onto the scene in his second full season with a 308/404/606 line with 18 home runs in 77 games for Ranch Cucamonga and a 314/426/569 line with 5 home runs in 28 games for AA Arkansas in 2003. After the season Baseball America ranked McPherson the #33 prospect in baseball. McPherson began the season back in AA Arkansas, where he hit 321/404/660 in 68 games before being moved up to AA Salt lake, where he put up a 313/370/680 line in 67 games. Brought up for a cup of tea in September, McPherson hit 225/279/475. After the season, McPherson was rated the #12 prospect by Baseball America. In 2005, McPherson opened the season as the Angels’ starting 3B, putting up a weak 244/295/449 line (OPS+ of 96) and has bounced between the minor leagues and the major league ever since. A typical AAAA slugger, McPherson hit 42 home runs for AAA Albuquerque in 2008, but has only appeared in 62 games in the major leagues since the end of 2005.
6. Todd Van Poppel. Todd Van Poppel was the best prospect in the 1990 draft; Chipper Jones was the first overall pick in the 1990 draft (and the player in the 1990 draft who had the best career). With a fluid motion, a dynamite fastball, and an ideal 6’5″, 210 lb frame, Van Poppel widely viewed as the best pitching prospect in nearly a decade. Van Poppel dropped as far as he did in the draft because he committed to the University of Texas and used it as leverage to scare other teams off with record-setting bonus demands. After telling the Atlanta Braves not to draft him (they took Jones), the Oakland A’s drafted him and gave him a then-record $1.2 million major league contract. After being assigned to low A Southern Oregon, Van Poppel looked the part of the future ace, putting up a 1.12 ERA in five starts across 24 innings, striking out 32. Upon his promotion to full season A for three more starts, Van Poppel put up a 3.95 ERA across 13.2 innings while striking out 17. Van Poppel also walked ten batters, a fact that was largely ignored due to his strikeout numbers and projections. After being named the #1 prospect by Baseball America, Van Poppel was assigned to AA Huntsville, where he pitched generally well, putting up a 3.47 ERA in 24 starts across 132.1 innings while striking out 115 and walking 90. Van Poppel made one start for the A’s, pitching 4.2 innings, allowing seven hits, walking two, and striking out six, while allowing five runs. After the season, Van Poppel was ranked the #2 prospect in baseball (behind 1991 #1 pick, Brien Taylor). Sent to AAA for 1992, Van Poppel put up a 3.97 ERA in nine starts across 45.1 innings while striking out 29 and walking 35 for AAA Tacoma. 1992 was a lost year for Van Poppel, as he spent the bulk of the year on the DL. Despite the plunging strikeout to walk ratio, Baseball America ranked Van Poppel the #7 prospect in baseball, behind Chipper Jones, Taylor, Cliff Floyd, Carlos Delgado (then a catcher), Tim Salmon, and Wil Cordero. Splitting time in 1993 between AAA Tacoma and Oakland, Van Poppel put up a 5.83 ERA in AAA and a 5.04 ERA in the major leagues. From that point on, Van Popple struggled, putting up a career 5.58 ERA in the major leagues across 359 games with only 98 starts.
So, in short, your top prospect may never ever become what you had hoped so you should trade him for Adam Dunn. Right now.
Until next time, @HypeProspect.