January 3, 2011
Below are 10 once highly regarded prospects who need big 2011 campaigns to get back in the broader scheme of their organization's plans:
Martinez has been a must for this list for so long that we should rename it the annual Fernando Martinez list. The amazing thing is that the outfielder is still just 21 years old; what's troubling is that the nonstop stream of injuries that have affected his development have finally begun to impact his tools. No longer fast, and barely an average runner, Martinez has gone from a potential five-tool talent to one whose value revolves solely around his bat. Right now, he's not enough of an offensive force to play every day in a corner, but for the fourth or fifth year in a row, he's still young enough to become a good big leaguer.
After a strong 2008 campaign moved Anderson toward the top of the Red Sox prospect list, his track record of success consists of a hot three weeks in the Double-A Eastern League to begin last season. Other than that, he's been a big, unathletic first baseman with a slow bat that leaves him often behind good fastballs and unable to tap into his raw power. By trading for Adrian Gonzalez, the Red Sox have blocked Anderson's path to the big leagues; they need him to become a trade asset by July, should they need to go that route.
At one point, this kid was the cornerstone of the Cliff Lee deal (from Philly to Seattle). As a 6-foot-7 righty with a low- to mid-90s sinker, Aumont's potential is still there, but every other aspect of his game went backwards in 2010, leaving the 21-year-old in limbo as for his future role. He'll get another crack at the Eastern League this year, and as for the other two parts of that deal, right-hander Juan Ramirez and outfielder Tyson Gillies, they're also more than eligible for this list after lost seasons.
Tim Beckham, SS, Tampa Bay Rays
In June 2008, the Rays had narrowed down their decision with the first overall pick in the draft to Beckham and Buster Posey. With fears that Posey would been an expensive and protracted negotiation, the Rays selected Beckham, and two years later Posey hits in the middle of the order for the defending World Series champions while Beckham flounders. There was certainly some progress in 2010, as Beckham lowered his error rate while showing a more patient approach, but that's not nearly enough to cause excitement. He's yet to hit for much of an average, the power has never come, and he's lost enough athleticism to leave many scouts projecting a move to second or third base. The Rays have made few mistakes in their transformation from lap dog to playoff contender, but Beckham officially becomes one of them without a rebound at Double-A in 2011.
Aaron Crow, RHP, Kansas City Royals
At first glance, it might not be fair to put Crow on this list after just one season as a pro, but the right-hander dug his own hole by barely pitching in 2009 after not signing as a first-round pick by the Washington Nationals. That leaves him as a 24-year-old with no track record of success after a year that was marked by excessive rustiness and a demotion from Double-A to the Carolina League, where his ERA actually went up. Scouts still like the stuff, and he made some progress toward the end of the year in finding his command, but in a loaded Royals system, a move to the bullpen is likely in his best interest.
Matt Hobgood, RHP, Baltimore Orioles
Hobgood looked like a budget-minded selection when Baltimore nabbed him with the fifth overall pick in the 2009 draft, and while the Orioles said he was at the top of their board at the time, he's looked like a mistake so far by any measurement. His beefy (or chubby, depending on the observer) frame was a concern for many, and he's simply never matched the stuff he showed in high school, as what was once a low-90s fastball now never escapes the 80s, while his regressing command and control has created further issues. He's gone so far backwards that he's already facing a pivotal year in his development.
Chris Marrero, 1B, Washington Nationals
Marrero is an example of how hard it is to be a first-base prospect. He's never had an outright bad year, but he's never been great either, and if one's athleticism limits him to the extreme right side of the defensive spectrum, one has to project as a run producer on a championship-level team or they aren't much of a prospect. Marrero can hit a little bit, he draws his fair share of walks and has above-average power, but he can't do any of them on a star level, leaving the 2006 first-round pick entering the 2011 season without a defined future other than a Triple-A assignment, and most scouts don't see much room for improvement.
Donovan Tate, OF, San Diego Padres
The third overall pick in the 2009 draft, Tate has been a professional for 18 months now, yet has played in just 25 games due to a list of injuries that would fill an entire column. It's the worst of scenarios, as the one thing Tate really needed was at-bats. One of the best packages of tools in recent memories, Tate entered the game as a raw product, and he's now 20 years old with nearly two years of lost development time. He's unlikely to be ready on a baseball level for a full-season assignment in 2011, and he's as likely to be starring in San Diego four years from now as he is to be floundering at the lower levels with a gaudy strikeout rate.
Being young for the level is an excuse that can only be used for so long; at some point the numbers have to show up. As a 20-year-old, Triunfel was one of the youngest players in the Double-A Southern League, but he didn't hit, and now has a career line of .277/.316/.365. If that doesn't impress you (and it shouldn't), keep in mind that nearly half of his career has been played for High Desert in one of baseball's best offensive environments. Beyond the lack of performance, he's a shortstop in name only, as knee problems and a thickening frame leave him without the range to play the position in the big leagues. That puts even more pressure on the bat, no matter how young he is.
The third overall pick in the 2007 draft, Vitters has a career batting line of .275/.317/.435, and those numbers have declined with each move up the ladder. It hard to find a prettier swing in the minors, but in the end, Vitters' hitting ability has been his undoing, as his tremendous plate coverage has led to a swing-at-everything approach that has caught up to him at more advanced levels against pitchers who realize that they don't need to throw strikes against him. There's no question about the talent, but at this point, a fundamental change in the way he goes about things is what's necessary for him to succeed.
A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider .