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October 2, 2006

Future Shock

Monday Morning Ten Pack, 10/02/06

by Kevin Goldstein

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Earlier this year, I took a look at some top picks from the 2003 draft that were facing a make or break season. The overwhelming majority of those players continued their downward slide in 2006, with only Boston's David Murphy clearly improving his prospect status, though one could make arguments for David Aardsma and Ryan Harvey of the Cubs at least holding their own. With the 2006 season in the books, let's move the calendar one year forward to the 2004 draft. This was the first first draft in which all first-round picks that signed got a bonus of at least $1 million, and 34 players among the top 100 picks eclipsed that figure, with 11 of them have already in the big leagues. Here's definitely going in the wrong direction.

Matt Bush, ss, Padres (1st overall pick, $3.15 million bonus)

The circumstances behind this selection have been well documented--he was certainly not the top player in the draft, but most teams did see him as a first-half of the first round talent. Absolutely nothing has gone right since then. It started with an embarrassing incident outside a Phoenix nightclub before he even played a game. Then he hit .181/.302/.236 in the complex league. He behaved well in his full-season debut last year, but he certainly didn't play well, batting a miserable .221/.279/.276 for Low Class A Fort Wayne to go along with 38 errors. This year was pretty much a lost season, as a broken tibia in spring training and a severe hamstring injury in the middle of the year limited him to just 22 games, in which he hit a much-improved but still pretty bad .264/.354/.306. He deserves one more chance, but at some point you have to wonder if his 80 arm, which delivered mid-90s fastballs in high school, might be more valuable on the mound.

Mark Rogers, rhp, Brewers (5th, $2.2 million)

Rogers was the first high school pitcher selected that year, and if Brewers fans really want to get upset, the next three were Homer Bailey, Scott Elbert and Philip Hughes. Rogers had the best raw stuff, with an upper 90s fastball and a hard-biting breaking ball, but control and mechanics have been a continuous problem. Rogers had a 5+ ERA in each of the last two seasons, but at the same time, the signs of dominance were still there, as he struck out 205 in 170 innings. Of course, he also walked 123. In mid-June, Rogers seemed to be finally putting things together--in a three-game stretch he allowed one earned run over 20.2 innings, giving up just five hits and striking out 29. Then things went south again and he landed on the disabled list with a sore shoulder, which wasn't a huge surprise to scouts who noted how strongly he throws across his body. The good news is he doesn't need surgery. The bad news is that he'll be back at High Class A next year hoping to re-find the magic.

David Purcey, lhp, Blue Jays (16th, $1.6 million)

Purcey was the biggest disappointment in the Toronto system this year. His full-season debut last year was quite promising, as the six-foot-five, 235 pound southpaw reached Double-A while putting up a 3.41 ERA in 137.1 innings to go along with 161 strikeouts but a concerning 81 walks. Because he was a draft-eligible sophomore who returned to college for his junior year, Purcey was a little behind the curve age-wise, turning 24 in April, so Toronto started him at Triple-A. The one thing he could not afford was a worsening of his control problem, but that's exactly what happened, as he lasted just 12 starts with a 5.40 ERA and 38 walks in 51.2 innings before going back down to Double-A. There, things didn't get better, but also didn't get worse, as he had a 5.60 ERA in 16 starts. Big-bodied southpaws with power stuff are hard to come by, and Purcey will get (and deserves) more chances, but now he'll likely begin the year once again at Double-A at the age of 25.

Chris Lambert, rhp, Cardinals (19th, $1.525 million)

After being selected out of Boston College, Lambert looked like an excellent prospect . . . until he got out of A-ball. In his pro debut, he had a 2.58 ERA in nine starts for Low Class A Peoria with 46 strikeouts in 38 innings, and 2005 started off just as well, with a 7-1, 2.63 record in ten starts with High Class A Palm Beach. Since a mid-season promotion that year, everything has gone downhill, including a 6.35 ERA in 18 stars for Double-A Springfield last year, and a 5.30 mark this year in 23 appearances as his season ended early with biceps tendonitis. Lambert's primary issue is the lack of a consistent breaking ball. At times, his curveball is a plus pitch, and he dominated on plenty of nights, allowing one or zero runs in six-plus innings seven times this year. The problem is that when it's off, he's totally lost. Take those seven starts away, and his ERA was a preposterous 7.82. At least he's showing flashes of ability at times, so there's something positive to find here if one looks hard enough.

Trevor Plouffe, ss, Twins (20th, $1.5 million)

Plouffe has pulled a bit of a Lubanski in each of his full seasons. Last year, he hit .223/.300/.345 for Low Class A Beloit, and that was just because he hit .256 with a .396 slugging after July 1. This year, his line was just .246/.333/.347 at High Class A Fort Myers, with his season saved by a .304/.385/.461 August performance. His defense continues to get good reviews, his walk rate is acceptable, and despite the low batting averages, so is his strikeout ratio. There's still potential here, but Double-A will be an enormous test for him, as it will be that much harder to recover from a third consecutive slow start.

Greg Golson, of, Phillies (21st, $1.475 million)

Golson was about six weeks away from whispers of the 'B word' (rhymes with Cust). At Low Class A Lakewood for the second straight season, Golson was seemingly going nowhere, batting .220/.258/.333. Sent to High Class A Clearwater, some things finally came together and he hit .264/.324/.472 in 40 games, with 19 of his 42 hits going for extra bases. Maybe it was the change in atmosphere, maybe it was a change in coaching, and maybe it was just a fluke. We just won't know until next year. What is undeniable is that Golson is a still a five-tool athlete with a very high ceiling, but so little of it has translated into baseball abilities. Fixing his laughable 160/30 K/BB ratio is the first step.

Landon Powell, c, Athletics (24th, $1 million)

Powell played all four-years of college at South Carolina, which means he was 22 years old when he was drafted, and then in what was easily the worst possible scenario, he suffered a knee-injury that cost him all of 2005, meaning he entered 2006 as a 24-year-old player with 38 games of professional experience. He began the year at High Class A Stockton and hit .264/.350/.439 in 90 games, as he got plenty of days off to rest the surgically repaired joint. Not bad numbers by any measurement, but there is certainly still and age/level adjustment to be made, despite circumstances out of Powell's control. The bigger issue here is conditioning. The reason Powell played all four years of college is that teams shied away from him after his junior year when his weight ballooned to the 260-270 pound range. A year away from the game and unable to exercise, he's back to that size, and there was little no sign of his conditioning improving throughout the year. He's a switch-hitting catcher with patience, power and defensive skills, but if he's that big, it doesn't mean squat.

Matt Campbell, lhp, Royals (29th, $1.1 million)

Draft Rule #482. Do not select college lefthanders without power stuff unless their breaking stuff and command are absolutely top of the line. Few teams but the Royals saw Campbell as a first-round talent, though it's hard to blame Kansas City for everything that has gone wrong here. His full-season debut was marked by a significant drop in velocity and control, and by the end of June he was on the surgeon's table getting a torn labrum repaired. Expected to be ready by mid-season, he instead missed the entire year rehabbing. He'll be 24 in December, he's significantly damaged goods, and he's ready for no more than a return engagement to Low A. He's closer than anyone on this list to being a total write-off.

Grant Johnson, rhp, Cubs (66th, $1.26 million)

Since undergoing labrum surgery while in college more than three years ago, Johnson has never been the same. Last year, he had a 3.82 ERA at Low Class A Peoria, but a leg injury delayed his season and he pitched just 73 innings. This year at High Class A Daytona, he found himself banished to the bullpen after ten starts and finished with a 4.70 ERA and just plain awful ratios, including 108 hits allowed and just 56 strikeouts in 92 innings. The Cubs had no first-round pick in 2004, so they drafted Johnson in the second round, then turned around and gave him late-first round money, despite the fact that nobody saw him as a first-round talent. You'd think the Cubs would learn from overpaying Notre Dame pitchers for no apparent reason, but then there is this year's Jeff Samardzija shenanigans.

Matt Tuiasosopo, 3b, Mariners (93rd, $2.29 million)

Various free agent signings in 2004 meant the Mariners didn't pick until 93rd overall, and they tried to make up for it by taking Tuiasosopo and giving him the seventh highest bonus in the draft to sway him away from playing quarterback at the University of Washington. In his first 20 pro games, he hit .412/.528/.721 for Seattle's complex team in Arizona, and was the flavor of the month for a short time, but he's done little since. Drafted as a shortstop, everyone knew the big-bodied player would have to move to third base, but his power potential was very high, and it was thought that the bat would play. He hit just .276/.359/.386 for Low Class A Wisconsin in his full-season debut last year, but 2006 started with some promise, as he hit .306 in 59 games for High Class Inland Empire. The problem was everything else looked like a line from Omar Moreno without speed, including just one home run and 14 walks in 232 at-bats, which meant an OPS of .738. As Seattle did with so many players this year, Tuiasosopo was inexplicably promoted to Double-A San Antonio for the second half of the season, and it was, as expected, not good. In 62 games, he hit .185/.259/.218. In 216 at-bats he had five extra-base hits. While he's only 20 and has been unduly rushed through the system, this is nonetheless a player for whom power is his calling card, yet he has eight home runs over 857 at-bats in the last two seasons. He needs to start 2007 back in the California League, but looking at the Mariners way of doing things, he's just as likely to be at Triple-A Tacoma.

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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