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September 20, 2010

Future Shock

Monday Ten Pack

by Kevin Goldstein

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In last week's Ten-Pack, we named an all-minor league all-star team, looking at players who had exceeded expectations this season. For this week, we'll reverse that and name an all-disappointing team for the 2010 season. Injuries don't count; these are players that got playing time and failed to live up to expectations.

Catcher: Tyler Flowers, Chicago White Sox

After hitting .297/.423/.516 across two levels in 2009, Flowers seemed nearly big league-ready, but everything went backward this year. Not only did he scuffle to a .220/.334/.434 mark at Triple-A Charlotte, but his defense, which improved in 2009, went backward again, to the point that many scouts wonder if he could play the position every day in the big leagues. With A.J. Pierzynski hitting free agency in the offseason, the timing of Flowers' regression couldn't be any worse.

First base: Brandon Snyder, Baltimore Orioles

A first-round pick in 2005, injuries and some slow development made Snyder a late bloomer at best, but he'd shown enough life with the bat in 2008 and 2009 to make Baltimore believe he could be a much-needed answer at first base, if only for the short term, as he's never had the power to profile for the position. After a .254/.324/.407 showing for Triple-A Norfolk, he's not even showing batting average anymore, and without any positional flexibility 2011 becomes a make-or-break year.

Second base: Dustin Ackley, Seattle Mariners

It might not be fair to put Ackley in this category, as few prospects can handle Triple-A in their first season, but at the same time this was the second player picked in last year's draft who was seen as one of the better college hitters in recent memory. After recovering from a brutal start to the year, Ackley finished with an overall line of .267/.368/.407 across the two levels, and again, while that's commendable, scouts saw a sure-fire big league starter but nothing about him screamed star, as his high walk total dipped significantly at Triple-A while his supposedly plus speed resulted in just 10 stolen bases.

Third base: Josh Vitters, Chicago Cubs

While a broken finger cut Vitters' season short, he played enough to create some real concerns about his future. It's hard to find a prettier swing in the minors, but the real problem is that the third overall pick in the 2007 draft displays it too often, swinging at any pitch within the same area code. Those bad habits caught up to him at Double-A with a .223/.292/.383 line in 63 games, and he still needs to make the adjustments that scouts have been waiting on for three years.

Shortstop: Tim Beckham, Tampa Bay Rays

The first overall pick in the 2008 draft would have made this team last year after his .275/.328/.389 showing during his full-season debut, but a stronger second half, along with his unquestionable tools allowed a bit of optimism to remain. While he learned to draw a few walks at High-A this year, nothing else came forward, as his .256/.346/.359 showing for High-A Charlotte showed power that has still not developed, an inability to retain his speed and/or take advantage of it, as well as a thickening frame that is making some start to wonder whether he can stay at shortstop for the long term. Don't remind the rarely wrong Rays that if they hadn't taken Beckham No. 1 overall that year, their second choice was Florida State catcher Buster Posey.

Outfield: Jordan Danks, Chicago White Sox

While Danks struggled at Double-A last year, many scouts saw it as a bit of a case of "too much, too soon," hoping that his explosive showing at Class A ball represented him finally tapping into his tools. After a full season at Triple-A this year while hitting just .245/.312/.373, scouts are no longer hoping, taking a more pessimistic view that his first 40 pro games represent the only time in the past five years (including his time at the University of Texas) that he's ever lived up to expectations.

Outfield: Aaron Hicks, Minnesota Twins

While it might not be fair to call a .279/.401/.428 line a disappointment, this was the year when Hicks was supposed to explode, and in the end what we got was more of a bang cap. Sure, he walks, but often to his own detriment, as his approach isn't patient as much as it's passive, with him often ending up in pitcher's counts while passing on pitches that he should be driving. For a first-round pick repeating the level, Hicks' second go-around in Low-A didn't result in more power or stolen bases, and now he's forced to the much tougher offensive environment of the Florida State League without the success to build on that the Twins hoped.

Outfield: Michael Taylor, Oakland Athletics

When Oakland picked up first baseman Brett Wallace in last year's Matt Holliday deal, they quickly flipped him to Toronto for Taylor, the ex-Phillie who was picked up in the Roy Halladay trade. A fifth-round pick in 2007, Taylor seemed to be on the verge of something special after hitting .320/.395/.549 at Double- and Triple-A last year, but nearly everything fell apart at Triple-A Sacramento. Taylor's ability to drive balls abandoned him, leading to a .272/.348/.392 finish in 127 games. If it's any condolence, Wallace has been no great shakes himself in the big leagues.

Starting pitcher: Chris Withrow, Los Angeles Dodgers

A first-round pick in 2007, Withrow's career was seemingly derailed by arm troubles, but after throwing just 13 innings in his first two seasons he was finally healthy and impressed scouts with an upper-90s fastball that led to 131 strikeouts over 113 2/3 innings while he reached Double-A. Back in the Southern League this year, Withrow's command abandoned him, and attempts to address the problem left him mechanically out of whack, with the velocity getting reduced without any improvement in control. The end result was a 5.97 ERA in 27 starts and plenty of scouts wondering if his arm is bugging him again.

Relief pitcher: Phillippe Aumont, Philadelphia Phillies

Maybe it's not fair to put Aumont in this role, but the former first-round pick was the big prize in the Cliff Lee deal after spending 2009 learning how to be a closer in the Seattle system. The Phillies began the year moving the 2007 first-rounder back to starting, and other than the occasional glimpse of brilliance, including six no-hit innings in his fourth start, he was downright horrible. Finally demoted to High-A with a 7.43 ERA, Aumont would again impress greatly on occasion, including a 13-strikeout performance in early July, but with a 4.48 ERA in 16 games split between starting and the bullpen, his season still represented a big step in the wrong direction.

A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider Insider.

Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

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