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February 28, 2011

The BP Broadside

The Most Disappointing Prospects of All Time, Part 1

by Steven Goldman

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In honor of our Top 101 Prospects list going up today, I had intended to present you with a list of the Top 50 Busted Prospects, players of whom much was expected but from whom little was received. These would not be players who were overdrafted, but rather those who seemed on their way to justifying high picks and large bonuses when apparent destiny was denied. I say “intended,” because whereas I had planned to write one line per player, I got my annual-writing cap on and wrote full capsules for each one. Thus I had filled up a whole column before I had worked my way through more than 10. As such, we’ll begin here and I’ll return to the topic from time to time.

Because of the episodic nature of this project, the order of the players' appearance here is not important. At first, I’ll present you the case files in the order that I write them, and then as we wrap up we can place them in some kind of ranking—I have an idea of who the most disappointing prospect of all time should be, but I won’t be ready to anoint him (or in Joe Maddon’s words, disanoint him) until we’ve worked through all of the stories.

Mo Sanford RHP
Drafted 1988 32nd
round
Sanford was a third-round pick of the Yankees in 1984, but did not sign. Instead, he went to the University of Alabama and pitched poorly enough that he dropped all the way to the 32nd round of the 1988 draft. Still, he was a strikeout machine in the minors thanks to good stuff and a dominant curveball. At the conclusion of the 1991 season he had made it up to Triple-A with an ERA of 2.74 in 493 1/3 innings, striking out 566. He also walked 221, or four per nine innings. This lack of command proved his undoing, as it only grew worse through three major-league trials and return trips to the minors. His 27 major-league games featured 9.2 strikeouts per nine innings, but also 6.3 walks.  

Cameron Drew, OF Astros
Drafted 1985 1st round, 12th overall

Drew was a surprise high pick in the stocked 1985 first round; the Astros left Tommy Greene, Joe Magrane, Gregg Jefferies, and Rafael Palmeiro, among others, on the board to take him. The 6’5” outfielder had gained more notice for his basketball play at the University of New Haven than for his baseball future. Nonetheless, he justified Astros scouts’ belief in him, hitting .312/ .367/.486. In his second professional season, he won the Sally League MVP by hitting .326/.386./581with 26 home runs and 117 RBI. He reached the majors in September, 1988 after hitting .356 in 97 games at Triple-A Tucson, going 3-for-16, but a knee injury limited him to just three more plate appearances, all in the minors.

Bobby Valentine, INF/OF Dodgers
Drafted 1968 1st round, fifth overall

The future manager of the Rangers and Mets had but 62 games in Rookie ball before the Dodgers jumped him to Triple-A at 19. He hit only .259/.318/.353, but the Dodgers were impressed enough with his tools that they gave him a cup of coffee that September. In 1970, he played 140 games in the Pacific Coast League and hit .340/.389/.552 with 39 doubles, 16 triples, and 14 home runs while playing shortstop. The only negative was his 54 errors. The Dodgers, who had little regard for defense in those days, brought him to the majors for good in 1971. He wasn’t ready, proving himself to be a contact-oriented singles hitter who had no set position. After two seasons, the Dodgers gave up and dealt him to the Angels. Still just 23, there was hope that Valentine could still find his way to stardom, but playing the outfield that May, his ankle met a chain-link fence and was severely fractured. Valentine hung around the major-league fringes until 1979, but was never the same.

Chris Snelling, OF Mariners
Free Agent 1999

The Australian Olympian was thrice ranked a top-100 prospect by Baseball America through 2003, making the majors at 20. In our 2001 annual, we said, “If there is a war to be fought between scouts and statheads, Chris Snelling will be a major battleground. He’s no more physically imposing than Joey Ramone but has been one of the best players in both his professional leagues while also being one of the youngest. Though only 5’10”, he generates surprising power and, in spite of average-to-below speed, has the instincts to handle center field. Expect Snelling to keep baffling the hardcore tools goofs, though his power may be down a bit this year as he recovers from a broken bone and strained tendon in his hand.” What we didn’t know is that those injuries would be the first in an endless litany of them. Through his age-21 season, Snelling had hit .319/.394/.486, but never could stay healthy long enough to get established in the bigs.

Jeff Kunkel, SS Rangers
Drafted 1983, 1st round, third
overall
The son of a big-league pitcher and umpire, the Rangers deemed the Rider University (New Jersey) infielder a better pick than University of Texas fireballer Roger Clemens, who stayed on the board until the 19th pick. As a first-year pro, Kunkel showed tremendous pop for a middle infielder of the time, hitting .286/.309/.508 in a 68-game season split between the Midwest and Texas Leagues, swatting 21 doubles and 11 home runs in 252 at-bats. When he got off to a .316/.353/.486 start with Tulsa in 1984, the Rangers brought him up to replace struggling rookie shortstop Curtis Wilkerson. With 11 walks in 453 professional plate appearances to that point, Kunkel wasn’t ready to cope with the major-league strike zone.

Andy Marte, 3B, Braves
Free Agent 2000

Marte is still active and only 27 years old, but if the native Dominican were revealed to be 54, his career would make a great deal more sense. Signed by the Braves in 2000, Marte was listed five times on the Baseball America top 100 prospects, and for good reason: the kid showed terrific power from an early age, and even solid patience and contact abilities. Several major-league trials have resulted in .218/.277/.358 rates in 301 games; granting even a healthy discount on his minors production shouldn’t have landed him that far down. He’s on his fourth organization now and will be lucky to have a career as a reserve.

Steve Whitaker, OF Yankees
Free Agent 1962

A left-hander with a sweet power swing, Whitaker was up and down in the minors as he dealt with injuries and his own temper. As a 21-year-old playing in the Carolina league in 1964, he busted out with a .303 average and .609 slugging percentage, with 27 home runs in just 396 at-bats. After an off-year in 1965 (.239, .397 slugging), he pasted the Double-A Southern League to the tune of .300/.382/.542 and got called up. Whitaker impressed immediately. He hit only .246/.306/.491, but that was in a league that hit .240/.306/.369. He never again showed that consistent power, and the Yankees let him go in the 1969 expansion draft.

Mike Ivie, C, Padres
Drafted 1970, 1st round, first overall

Drafted out of high school, Ivie made his major-league debut just a month after his 19th birthday, getting a cup of coffee after hitting .305 and slugging .499 with Lodi of the California League. Today, we might downgrade those numbers based on the league environment, but this was a different era, and the Cal League averaged just .263 and slugged .393 that year. Ivie went 8-for-17 in his September debut and looked to be primed for a great career, but it would be three years before he returned to the majors despite some fine hitting in the sticks; he had developed a psychological aversion to returning the ball to the pitcher and had to be moved to first base. Whereas all that stood between him and a catching job was the light-hitting Fred Kendall (Jason’s dad), Ivie now had to contend with Nate Colbert, a Padre who could actually hit, and subsequently with future Hall of Famer Willie McCovey, who was acquired from the Giants after Ivie hit only .270/.303/398 at Triple-A Hawaii. A subsequent trip to the Texas League put Ivie back in a hitting frame of mind, as he smacked 18 home runs in 397 at-bats while hitting .292, good enough for another, permanent call. He began a career as a journeyman corner utility player, sort of a right-handed Matt Stairs type. He came closest to realizing his potential in 1979, when he hit .286/.359/.547 with 27 home runs in 454 at-bats as a first baseman-left fielder for the Giants. Other years were more forgettable, and his career ended when he was 30.

Ben Davis, C, Padres
Drafted 1995, 1st round, second overall

There was just one likely Hall of Famer in the first round of the 1995 draft, and 16 teams missed on him; Roy Halladay went off the board after immortals such as Ariel Prieto, Chad Hermansen, Reggie Taylor, Ryan Jaroncyk… And Ben Davis. He went one pick ahead of Jose Cruz Jr, who would prove to be a far better player. The switch-hitting prep catcher from Pennsylvania was touted as the best high school backstop since Roger Bresnahan, or something like that, and earned four listings on the Baseball America top 100 prospects based on outstanding defensive skills and a bat that seemed, if far from Piazza-like, projectable: at 21 he hit .286/.352/.460 at Double-A Mobile, then batting .308/.384/.512 for Triple-A Las Vegas at 22. The average was crucial because Davis was never too comfortable with ball four. Called up that same year, his defense was solid enough, but he never did hit; the closest he came was a 2001 first-half hot streak during which he hit .276/.391/.408, leading some to think, “Aha! He’s arrived at 24!”  It was not to be. He crashed with a .191 second half and completed his major-league career at 27 having hit just .237/.306/.366.

Alex Gordon, 3B, Royals
Drafted 2005, 1st round, second overall pick

Gordon is a .321/.438/.578 career hitter in the minors, but his major-league sample is now larger and far more depressing. Now heading into his age-27 season, he has no position and has hit .222/.319/.365 over the last two seasons. He may yet recover to have the same kind of hand-to-mouth career that Ivie did, but forecasts of stardom are now permanently on hold.

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

63 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

Infrancoeurgible

As of last August, Ben Davis was trying to get back into the majors as a pitcher. I don't know if he retired though.

http://www.delcotimes.com/articles/2010/08/27/sports/doc4c76887b82755348088125.txt

Feb 28, 2011 03:19 AM
rating: 2
 
dianagram

Brien Taylor waits for his moment in the spotlight.

Feb 28, 2011 05:32 AM
rating: 1
 
fgreenagel2

That was the first player I thought of too.

Feb 28, 2011 10:36 AM
rating: 0
 
pobothecat

He just blew out his arm in rookie ball, didn't he?

Mar 01, 2011 14:20 PM
rating: 0
 
Lou Doench

I nominate the Little Dog, Edwin Encarnacion. Or Brandon Larson. Or Willie Greene... Jeesh, what did Chris Sabo do to curse the developement of Reds Third Basemen?

Feb 28, 2011 06:39 AM
rating: 0
 
CRP13

corked his bat.

Feb 28, 2011 10:27 AM
rating: 0
 
SC

Encarnacion is in the midst of a successful big league career. He has hit 100 career HRs. His glove may be awful, but he's a successful prospect, not a failed one.

Feb 28, 2011 11:46 AM
rating: 5
 
Lou Doench

Don't get me wrong, I'm a huge fan of EdE. But he did get released twice last year. I guess you're right he didn't fail as a prospect, but he did fail as a major leaguer. One caveat, he did have Jerry Narron for a manager at a crucial time, and Jerry Narron may have ruined him.

Feb 28, 2011 14:27 PM
rating: 0
 
John Carter

This is good fun.

I am hoping for a conclusion that scientifically gives us some red flags to look for. They may be too hard to find. A career hampering injury could happen to anyone at any moment, no doubt. A pitcher with a bad delivery can be avoided, but I'm very happily hanging onto Felix Hernandez. Otherwise, when is the best time to give up on a prospect . . . during his second consecutive disappointing season?

Feb 28, 2011 06:42 AM
rating: 0
 
edwardarthur

Worst draft pick ever: Brien Taylor.

Feb 28, 2011 06:51 AM
rating: -1
 
mikebuetow

I would argue it was Danny Goodwin. Imagine taking a guy as the first overall pick -- and he DOESN'T SIGN.

http://www.hardballtimes.com/main/article/the-legend-of-danny-goodwin/

Feb 28, 2011 08:21 AM
rating: 1
 
Adam Hobson

Yes, because scouting directors are supposed to be able to predict the future of random off-field incidents a player will get into causing a career ending injury...

Feb 28, 2011 09:24 AM
rating: 1
 
mikebuetow

To be fair, I'm guessing edwardarthur was looking at the outcome, and not how it came about.

Behind every major prospect who disappointed is a story, no doubt.

Feb 28, 2011 11:29 AM
rating: 0
 
edwardarthur

Mike is correct.

The point was (a) the only # 1 pick the Yankees have ever had; (b) a record signing bonus; and (c) one of the very small number of # 1s who never made the majors. I could add that there was a pretty good local kid named Manny Ramirez who went later that round, but I suppose you could play that game with a lot of disappointments.

Feb 28, 2011 11:46 AM
rating: 0
 
Adam Hobson

So you can call him a bad prospect, the draft pick was fine. He was lights out in the minors prior to his injury, he wasn't more of an injury risk than any other pitcher and he had little to no makeup issues prior to the fight that led to his injury. It was just crappy random chance that he ended up in a fight that let to a career ending injury.

When I think of a bad draft pick, I think of a selection that you know was bad from the moment it was made. Think Matt Bush who was pretty much panned the moment the Padres drafted him because he was selected not for talent but for sign-ability. Even if he had worked out, his ceiling was far lower than many players drafted after him. While on the other hand, if not for a single completely unpredictable incident, Taylor may have fully realized his potential and become the 5th of the Yankees "core players" or more likely, he would have been traded for some middle reliever and made multiple all-star games for the Twins...

Feb 28, 2011 18:40 PM
rating: 3
 
BarryR

Steve Chilcott -- Mets took him first, instead of Reggie Jackson. I say "instead of" because every other team had Reggie #1 on their board.

Mar 01, 2011 10:27 AM
rating: 0
 
mrenick

What more does Brandon Wood have to (not) do to make this list?

Feb 28, 2011 06:58 AM
rating: 2
 
mrenick

well, this is part one, so I suppose there is still some hope

Feb 28, 2011 06:59 AM
rating: 1
 
wpmulligan

No Matt Bush? He hasn't played above A ball in five years since being the number one pick by the Padres.

Is it too early to consider him a bust or was he "overdrafted"?

Feb 28, 2011 07:03 AM
rating: -1
 
Matt Kory

He said he's going to write more later. You'd think that would keep the "What, no Player X!?!?" comments to a minimum.

Feb 28, 2011 12:29 PM
rating: 5
 
Brian Kopec

This is a failed prospect list. Not a failed draft pick list. Matt Bush was never a top prospect.

Feb 28, 2011 20:26 PM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Dave Pease
BP staff
(2)

he was a horribly busted #1.

Feb 28, 2011 21:24 PM
 
texpope

Mo Sanford? Seriously?

Feb 28, 2011 07:21 AM
rating: -1
 
jrmayne

"Mike Ivie is a $40 million airport with a $30 control tower." - Rick Monday.

--JRM

Feb 28, 2011 07:28 AM
rating: 4
 
LynchMob

Ya, this may be true ... but why pile on Mike Ivie? Why pile on a guy who did have a good MLB season (27 HRs!)?

Even just in Padres' history, there's plenty of more disappointing prospects ... the afformentioned Batt Mush being #1, imo ... but let's not forget these guys ...

- Jeff Pyburn
- Mark Phillips
- Dave Staton
- Ray McDavid
- Randy Bass

... and the beat goes on :-(

Feb 28, 2011 08:17 AM
rating: 0
 
PeterCollery

David Clyde

Feb 28, 2011 07:43 AM
rating: 0
 
hessshaun

Another one that I saw just on Saturday was now playing for the Phils. Josh Barfield. I am no maven, just thought it was interesting to see his name again.

Feb 28, 2011 07:55 AM
rating: 1
 
DDriesen

I always remember seeing Karim Garcia's name being touted and he just fizzled into nothing.

Feb 28, 2011 07:56 AM
rating: 0
 
John Carter

Besides Brien Taylor - Paul Wilson, Ruben Rivera, and Matt White clearly deserve to make Part II. I think we'll see Todd Van Poppel in there, too. Joba and Irabu are both big fat Yank-idates, although, as with Brandon Wood, there is a chance it might be too early to write off Chamberlain. (No offense intended to the matabalism challenged - but with the news of Joba's extra weight this spring, it seemed appropriate to riff a memorable Steinbrenner quote.)

Rick Reichardt was a record breaking bonus baby signed for so much that they created the draft. He was enough of a disappointment that there should be room for him on this list. He had some half-way decent years - considering the context of his era, but he rates a bigger disappointment than the mild disappointment that was Corey Patterson.

If Delmon Young doesn't build on or, at least, continue his improvement last year, he will go down as a historic disappointment. Speaking of Devil Rays prospects, we need to see another good year or two out of B.J. Upton soon before we can laud him for achieving his promise.

Feb 28, 2011 08:06 AM
rating: -3
 
SC

Delmon Young? Seriously? He hasn't been the massive success some projected for him, but he's clearly going to have a useful MLB career as a starter. Anyone who is going to have 5+ seasons as a starter at the big league level is by definition a successful prospect, even if they didn't reach the superstardom some wishcast on them.

Feb 28, 2011 11:49 AM
rating: 5
 
NHLfan98

Ah, Ruben Rivera indeed...my wife always reminds me of what a bust he is as I went on a Rookie Card hunt/binge while 'ol RR was in the low minors...yeah honey, this is going to be The Next Great Yankee.

Even better when he stole from Jeter.

Anybody interested in a stack of Rivera RC cheap? :(

Mar 01, 2011 05:56 AM
rating: 2
 
pobothecat

Trade ya' a box full of Mark Wohlers, Steve Karsays and Preston Wilsons.

Mar 01, 2011 14:25 PM
rating: 1
 
Yarky1

I'd like to see something on Marc Newfield. I remember James saying in 1994 that he would be an MVP candidate by the year 2000, "the lord willing and the creek don't rise." I guess He wasn't and it did.

Feb 28, 2011 08:08 AM
rating: 1
 
jetson
(660)

I guess that's the yin to James' Moises Alou yanh. He insisted for years that Alou really couldn't play.

Feb 28, 2011 10:17 AM
rating: 1
 
Yarky1

Ha. Good call. I remember that too.

Feb 28, 2011 20:46 PM
rating: 0
 
jhardman

David Clyde has to be at the top of this list because of how he was used. Literally. I remember my 10 year old self listening to his MLB debut on the radio in awe, and I won't forget it as my now 48 year old self remembers the whole fiasco in disgust. There should be a clause unique to him in every MLB collective bargaining agreement.

Feb 28, 2011 08:14 AM
rating: 0
 
carligula

Great idea, Steven. I await Brad Komminsk taking his rightful place atop this list.

Feb 28, 2011 08:50 AM
rating: 1
 
Dr. Dave

Personally hoping to see David Green, Keith Mitchell, and Kevin Young.

Feb 28, 2011 09:42 AM
rating: 0
 
Wrigleyviller
(883)

Love the column, but I think players who solely flamed out (like Drew in this case) because of injuries should be exempt. I mean, they are disappointing, but not because of anything they did wrong.

Obviously though there are lots of inbetween cases - players who didn't take care of their bodies or maybe ignored injuries or something.

Also, I think there should be an entry in this series for unique cases - Jason Isringhousen and Rick Ankiel come to mind. I mean, they were massive disappointments in one respect, before making miraculous transformations into something useful but very different.

Feb 28, 2011 10:22 AM
rating: 0
 
CRP13

Chris Burke. 10th pick, $2.25MM signing bonus in 2001, yeesh.

Feb 28, 2011 10:31 AM
rating: 0
 
ostrowj1

Ben Davis may not have had the career that some had hoped, but this justified the draft pick:

http://www.usatoday.com/sports/baseball/diamondbacks/2001-05-27-schilling.htm

Feb 28, 2011 10:51 AM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Steven Goldman
BP staff

Again, my goal here is not to look at overdrafts, guys who were just pure scouting misses, but players who justified their selections to some degree before failing. For some, the reason will inevitably be injuries, whether random or through mishandling. For others, the reasons are more difficult to identify.

Feb 28, 2011 12:13 PM
 
John Carter
Other readers have rated this comment below the viewing threshold. Click here to view anyway.

Re: Delmon Young - considering his defense, his first three years and his call-up, which you cannot count as a "year" could be characterized as replacement level. Last year, he was OK. As I said, if he continues that or improves: good enough. If not, in baseball lingo he's a bum.

Feb 28, 2011 12:33 PM
rating: -5
 
pobothecat

Oh please stop with the Delmon. You don't like him. Fine. But he's 25 years old --- and hit .299 with 21 homers and 112 RBI's at the age of 24.

Yes, he could be characterized as "replacement level" --- by someone who doesn't understand the meaning of "replacement level".

Mar 01, 2011 14:32 PM
rating: 0
 
rweiler

Hard to see how this list could be complete without Billy Beane. Drafted in the first round out of high school, had a couple of good years in the minors at age 22 and 23, and then an epic failure in MLB.

Feb 28, 2011 12:37 PM
rating: 0
 
Kyle E.

We in Minnesota nominate Adam Johnson.

Feb 28, 2011 13:11 PM
rating: 4
 
sharkey

Oh, now that's just unfair. Dude hit .344 in the indie leagues in 2005; dunno why he never got a shot.

...a pitcher, you say? Oh.

Carry on.

Feb 28, 2011 14:43 PM
rating: 4
 
JoshT

I like this list. I especially like that Ty Griffin and Corey Patterson don't even make this list yet--who are the two guys every Cub fan cites when arguing that you should trade every prospect in the Cubs system for some #3 pitcher.

Feb 28, 2011 14:33 PM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Steven Goldman
BP staff

I've got another 40 slots on the list, so these guys may be coming, but I'm leaning against Griffin. It seems to me that, as hyped as he was as a college player, he was more an overdraft than an established prospect who failed to make good. Patterson also seems like a borderline case, but closer to my parameters than Griffin.

Feb 28, 2011 15:31 PM
 
akw4572

Man, Brandon Larson HAS to make this list. Heck, name the list after him.

Feb 28, 2011 15:22 PM
rating: 1
 
abcjr2

Sil Campusano. Back in the days of Mazeroski's Gold List he topped the list, two years running I think, as a 5 tool can't-miss stud.

Feb 28, 2011 16:58 PM
rating: 2
 
abcjr2

http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=983

Just going back ten years on this site, here's a list of players who were in the top 20 of BP, BA and Sickels from 2000.

Ruben Mateo, Sean Burroughs, Dee Brown and Matt Riley are on all three lists, Ben Petrick is on two of them (BA had him in the top 40).

Feb 28, 2011 17:11 PM
rating: 3
 
abcjr2
 
vilmabanky

Can't believe no one has mentioned Ben McDonald yet. First round, first pick, he was going to be all things to all people. Mussina was not even Frank Tanana to his Nolan Ryan.

Feb 28, 2011 17:57 PM
rating: 2
 
jetson
(660)

But Ben was actually very good, albeit for a very short time. I guess it's a matter of metrics, but for me that sort of DQ's you from this list.

Mar 01, 2011 05:08 AM
rating: 2
 
raygu1

wow-I went to school with Kunkel at Rider. Did not realize he was the 3rd overall pick.

Feb 28, 2011 18:34 PM
rating: 0
 
Robotey

I nominate Billy Beane.

Feb 28, 2011 19:02 PM
rating: 0
 
sldeck

I have a fever and the only thing that will cure it is more Ruben Mateo

Feb 28, 2011 20:12 PM
rating: 0
 
sldeck

Ben McDonald had 8 years in MLB -- not bad for a failed prospect

Feb 28, 2011 20:16 PM
rating: 0
 
Brian Kopec

Won't somebody please name Chad Hermansen?

Feb 28, 2011 20:28 PM
rating: 1
 
Sal T

Ryan Anderson. The next Randy Johnson.

Feb 28, 2011 21:18 PM
rating: 5
 
John Carter
Other readers have rated this comment below the viewing threshold. Click here to view anyway.

I'm sorry some of you get so tied up in knots for my mentioning Delmon Young - when I am not even calling him a failed prospect. Nor am I even pessimistic that he will be. In fact, I own him on my Scoresheet team. However, I give up trying to be clearer with my point that he will deserve to be on Steve's list, if he permanently regresses from the gain he made last year.

Mar 01, 2011 14:59 PM
rating: -6
 
cdt719

I just noticed this article a few months after it was written, but I don't understand how a guy drafted in the 32nd round when everyone else was taken 12th overall or higher or was an international free agent. I'd almost think that was an accidental cut and paste that didn't belong in the article.
Also I'd argue Ivie doesn't belong, an 11 year career with 11 total WARP, a TAV of .282 and a best season of 3.8 WARP isn't great, but I wouldn't call it failure either.

Jun 08, 2011 21:33 PM
rating: 0
 
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