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June 29, 2007

Future Shock

The All-Disappointment Team

by Kevin Goldstein

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One of the highlights of my job (and there are many) comes in the chats with our readers. (For example, here, here, here, and here.) They're always fun, I hope entertaining, and as a bit of gravy, they're good for column ideas. One topic that came up in my last chat was the concept of an all-disappointment team. You asked for it, and here it is. Some positions were much harder than others, and I tried my best to avoid injury problems. We're looking for players who haven't lived up to expectations...as opposed to those who simply haven't played.

Catcher: Jeff Mathis, Angels. Once one of the brightest catching prospects in the game, Mathis crapped the bed when he earned a big league job out of spring training last year, and he's gone nowhere but backwards since. Now 24, he's hitting a miserable .240/.293/.372 in the friendly confines of Triple-A Salt Lake, and on the road he drops to .202/.250/.298. The only good news is that he remains an excellent defender, nailing 40 percent of attempting base stealers.

Backup: Max Sapp, Astros. Last year's first-round pick was seen as an offense-first catcher whose best tool was his power, but he's homerless in 181 at-bats for Low-A Lexington, hitting just .260/.369/.337.

First Base: Eric Duncan, Yankees. With no obvious candidate, we offer up a lifetime achievement award to Duncan, a first-round pick in 2003. Duncan seemed to be turning it around following an MVP campaign in 2005's Arizona Fall League, but he did nothing last year and is doing even less this season at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, batting just .224/.315/.351.

Backup: Travis Ishikawa, Giants. The swing sure is pretty, but the results are horrible. Batting just .214/.292/.295 for Double-A Connecticut, Ishikawa is on the DL after slicing open his knee while making a diving catch, and the organization is talking about sending him down to the Cal League when he's healthy.

Second Base: Elliot Johnson, Devil Rays. Last year at Double-A Montgomery, Johnson did a little bit of everything, reaching double-digits in all three extra-base categories and swiping 20 bases. With 10 doubles, four triples and seven home runs at Triple-A Durham, Johnson has a good shot at repeating the feat this year, but a profound lack of singles has him hitting just .204/.277/.347.

Backup: Hernan Iribarran, Brewers. The Venezuelan native seemed ready for the big test at Double-A Huntsville with a career batting average of .330, but he needs to maintain averages like that because of his lack of secondary skills. Instead Iribarran is hitting just .257/.334/.325.

Third Base: Andy LaRoche, Dodgers. While LaRoche was given a shot to fill the team's big league opening at the hot corner, it wasn't exactly because he was tearing up at Triple-A Las Vegas, as he's hit the DL with more shoulder problems with a batting line of just .244/.336/.366.

Backup: Ronnie Borquin, Tigers. A second-round pick last year after leading the Big Ten in batting average, Bourquin hit just .192/.326/.218 in 26 games for High-A Lakeland and now finds himself back in the New York-Penn League.

Shortstop: Reid Brignac, Devil Rays. After winning California League MVP honors last year, Brignac looked like a sure-fire elite prospect with a .302/.340/.500 mark for Double-A Montgomery in April, but following a homerless May and a .229 June, his total line sits at a well-below-expectations mark of .246/.298/.399.

Backup: Elvis Andrus, Braves. Everyone is still waiting for the much-ballyhooed tools to turn into some kind of baseball production, as Andrus is hitting just .236/.321/.329 for High-A Myrtle Beach to go with 19 errors.

Outfield: Trevor Crowe, Indians; Carlos Gonzalez, Diamondbacks; Andrew McCutchen, Pirates. Crowe is likely the anti-MVP of this team, though a recent streak has him finally over the Mendoza line at .207/.303/.258. Gonzalez had a brief hot streak when Justin Upton joined him at Double-A Mobile, but now he's in the midst of a 5-for-33 slump and hitting just .252/.278/.418 overall. After showing power, speed and plate discipline in his full-season debut last year, McCutchen almost made the big league squad out of spring training but was instead jumped to Double-A, and the 20-year-old hasn't done much, sitting at .234/.296/.350 in 74 games.

Backups: Cedric Hunter, Padres; Daryl Jones, Cardinals. A third-round pick last year, Hunter opened eyes with a .364/.458/.469 pro debut, but the Midwest League has proven to be much tougher, as a lack of power and walks have him at just .276/.330/.346 for Low-A Fort Wayne. Jones seemed to be finally tapping into his tools last year in the Appalachian League, but like Hunter, the Midwest League has proven a far greater challenge, as Jones has looked lost at times--hitting just .199/.297/.282.

Left-handed starter: Donald Veal, Cubs. Veal still has control problems, but the fact that he's suddenly giving up hits (76 in 75 innings) has his ERA at 5.64 as he's hasn't shown the breaking ball that he made such sizable progress with last year. Good news: he had his best start of the year on Wednesday, striking out 11 while giving up just two hits in five innings.

Right-handed starter: Jeff Samardzija, Cubs. A disturbing double-dip for the North Side. After giving him a record deal to buy him away from an NFL career, the big righthander from Notre Dame has been far worse than his 5.22 ERA would indicate--allowing 93 hits in 69 innings with a ridiculously low 25 strikeouts. He could be on the way to being one of the biggest bonus mistakes in draft history.

Closer: Zech Zinicola, Nationals. Zinicola looked like a sixth-round steal last year when he reached the Eastern League in his pro debut and had a 1.65 ERA in 27 appearances. Back at Double-A Harrisburg, his control has abandoned him, as he has more walks (23) than strikeouts (19) in 29 innings to go with a 6.21 ERA.

Backup: Craig Hansen, Red Sox. It's time to face the facts and wonder if the former first-rounder will ever live up to expectations, or have any kind of significant big league career at all. Back at Triple-A Pawtucket, the former St. John's star is floundering with a 6.04 ERA in 24 games while allowing more than two base runners per inning.

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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