August 2, 2010
Prospects Who Have Stalled
The minor league regular season has about one month left; as a result, you can't call bad performances "slow starts" anymore. Instead, they're bad seasons. Here are 10 guys who entered the year with high expectations and have seen those expectations plummet.
As we normally do with minor-league reports, we present these names in alphabetical order:
Phillippe Aumont, RHP, Philadelphia Phillies
The return from the Seattle Mariners for Cliff Lee has led to nothing but injuries and poor performances—and Aumont is arguably the biggest disappointment. The Mariners converted the 2007 first-round pick into a reliever last year, hoping he could move quickly as a closer candidate, but the Phillies switched him back to a starter. He's struggled mightily this year with his delivery, which scouts say looks different nearly every time he pitches. After putting up a 7.43 ERA at Double-A Reading, he's shown some signs of life since a demotion to High-A, but he's still missing the strike zone far too often with his plus-plus sinker. Is it time for a return to relief?
Tim Beckham, SS, Tampa Bay Rays
It's hard to criticize anything that the Rays have done organizationally of late, but one glaring mistake occurred in June 2008. The Rays had the first overall pick in the MLB draft and went with Beckham rather than Buster Posey, who's now slapping balls all over the field for the possibly playoff-bound San Francisco Giants. Beckham, meanwhile, is in High-A and hitting just .247/.343/.358 (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage)—and that's only because of a recent hot streak in which he has gone 12-for-26 in his past seven games. Certainly Beckham still has tools, but two years after signing for a $6.15 million bonus, the Rays hoped more of those tools would have morphed into skills by now.
Aaron Crow, RHP, Kansas City Royals
As we approach the signing deadline for 2010 draft picks, here's hoping that Crow serves as a cautionary tale. After not signing with the Washington Nationals in 2008, Crow ended up getting less money from the Royals a year later. The time off, minus a handful of indie-league outings, has clearly affected him. Because Crow began the season as a 23-year-old with no pro experience, the Royals hoped he could handle a Double-A assignment, but instead he put up a 5.66 ERA and was recently sent down to High-A. He might actually be further away from the majors than he was since the impasse with Washington two years ago.
James Darnell, 3B, San Diego Padres
Darnell had a breakout season in 2009; he was exactly the kind of prospect who tends to prove that a California League performance is for real. With a good approach plus raw power and impressive athleticism, all signs pointed up. Instead, he's seemingly hit a wall in the Texas League this season with a line of .230/.314/.358. A series of minor injuries haven't helped his cause, as scouts note a much slower player both in terms of running and bat speed, which is cause for much great concern.
Aaron Hicks, OF, Minnesota Twins
It was surprising to see Hicks return to the Midwest League this year. Even though he hit an uninspiring .251/.353/.382 for Beloit in 2009, his tools stood out as the best in the Midwest League, and it seemed as though the 2008 first-round pick would be ready for a bigger challenge. Instead, he's back with the Snappers, and his .270/.388/.411 line is only a modest improvement and mostly the result of a nice run to start the second half. The tools and ceiling are still every bit where they were going into the year, but so is the gap between what he is and what he can be.
Jio Mier, SS, Houston Astros
Mier was the talk of the Astros system last year; he went out and hit .276/.380/.484 in the Appalachian League while shocking scouts with his power and unsurprisingly showcasing fantastic glove work. He remains a gifted defender, but his full-season debut has been nothing short of a nightmare, as even five hits in his past two games leave his averages for Low-A Lexington at .223/.310/.297. After hitting seven home runs in 51 games last season, he has just one in 367 Sally League at-bats.
Derek Norris, C, Washington Nationals
Although recovery from a major wrist injury is a mitigating factor, that alone can't wipe away Norris' strange line of .240/.415/.397 for High-A Potomac. An offense-first catcher, Norris has remained an absolute walk machine, but the wrist issue has made him almost too passive. His ability to hit for average and power has slipped away. Because of his defensive shortcomings, he can't afford to be a one-trick pony at the plate, and an expected 2011 assignment to Double-A could be a make-or-break season for Norris, at least in terms of his reputation as one of the better catching prospects in baseball.
Josh Reddick, OF, Boston Red Sox
When the Red Sox needed an outfielder this past weekend, they called on Ryan Kalish, who has seemingly leapfrogged Reddick on the Boston depth chart. A .167/.205/.321 line in 88 big-league plate appearances hasn't helped, but Reddick consistently put up numbers in the minors until this year, when he's struggled at Triple-A Pawtucket. His line there is .231/.276/.391, and that includes a 12-for-25 surge in his past six games. Scouts have noted a tentative, at times visibly frustrated Reddick this year, and it's a funk he needs to snap out of to regain his prospect status.
Jordan Walden, RHP, Los Angeles Angels
It certainly made sense on paper. With Walden, the Angels had a big righty with mid-90s heat but also ugly mechanics, a history of arm troubles, and no changeup. Turning such a prospect into a closer seemed like a no-brainer, but the results have been worse than expected at Double-A Arkansas. With 21 walks in 41 innings, Walden still struggles with his control. His slider is inconsistent, too; some days it's utterly unhittable, but other days players are mashing it all over the field. Some thought that with the conversion, Walden might be able to help out the big-league squad as early as September. At this point, next September might be a more reasonable goal at best.
Chris Withrow, RHP, Los Angeles Dodgers
Despite being a first-round pick in 2007, Withrow had just 13 innings of experience heading into the 2009 season because of hand and elbow problems. He quickly made up for lost time by reaching Double-A, striking out well more than a batter per inning and getting into the upper 90s with his fastball. He came into the 2010 season as the highest ceiling arm in the system. Back at Double-A, Withrow has been consistently inconsistent. The big-league heater is certainly there, but he has trouble commanding it. Even more strike-zone issues arrive when he throws his power curve; he tends to bounce those pitches in the dirt. With a 5.05 ERA and 51 walks in 98 innings in 20 starts for Chattanooga, he's slipped in the eyes of many scouts. It's possible they were too high on him in the first place.
A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider .
Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus.
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