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August 2, 2010

Future Shock

Prospects Who Have Stalled

by Kevin Goldstein

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The minor league regular season has about one month left; as a result, you can't call bad performances "slow starts" anymore. Instead, they're bad seasons. Here are 10 guys who entered the year with high expectations and have seen those expectations plummet.

As we normally do with minor-league reports, we present these names in alphabetical order:

Phillippe Aumont, RHP, Philadelphia Phillies
The return from the Seattle Mariners for Cliff Lee has led to nothing but injuries and poor performances—and Aumont is arguably the biggest disappointment. The Mariners converted the 2007 first-round pick into a reliever last year, hoping he could move quickly as a closer candidate, but the Phillies switched him back to a starter. He's struggled mightily this year with his delivery, which scouts say looks different nearly every time he pitches. After putting up a 7.43 ERA at Double-A Reading, he's shown some signs of life since a demotion to High-A, but he's still missing the strike zone far too often with his plus-plus sinker. Is it time for a return to relief?

Tim Beckham, SS, Tampa Bay Rays
It's hard to criticize anything that the Rays have done organizationally of late, but one glaring mistake occurred in June 2008. The Rays had the first overall pick in the MLB draft and went with Beckham rather than Buster Posey, who's now slapping balls all over the field for the possibly playoff-bound San Francisco Giants. Beckham, meanwhile, is in High-A and hitting just .247/.343/.358 (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage)—and that's only because of a recent hot streak in which he has gone 12-for-26 in his past seven games. Certainly Beckham still has tools, but two years after signing for a $6.15 million bonus, the Rays hoped more of those tools would have morphed into skills by now.

Aaron Crow, RHP, Kansas City Royals
As we approach the signing deadline for 2010 draft picks, here's hoping that Crow serves as a cautionary tale. After not signing with the Washington Nationals in 2008, Crow ended up getting less money from the Royals a year later. The time off, minus a handful of indie-league outings, has clearly affected him. Because Crow began the season as a 23-year-old with no pro experience, the Royals hoped he could handle a Double-A assignment, but instead he put up a 5.66 ERA and was recently sent down to High-A. He might actually be further away from the majors than he was since the impasse with Washington two years ago.

James Darnell, 3B, San Diego Padres
Darnell had a breakout season in 2009; he was exactly the kind of prospect who tends to prove that a California League performance is for real. With a good approach plus raw power and impressive athleticism, all signs pointed up. Instead, he's seemingly hit a wall in the Texas League this season with a line of .230/.314/.358. A series of minor injuries haven't helped his cause, as scouts note a much slower player both in terms of running and bat speed, which is cause for much great concern.

Aaron Hicks, OF, Minnesota Twins
It was surprising to see Hicks return to the Midwest League this year. Even though he hit an uninspiring .251/.353/.382 for Beloit in 2009, his tools stood out as the best in the Midwest League, and it seemed as though the 2008 first-round pick would be ready for a bigger challenge. Instead, he's back with the Snappers, and his .270/.388/.411 line is only a modest improvement and mostly the result of a nice run to start the second half. The tools and ceiling are still every bit where they were going into the year, but so is the gap between what he is and what he can be.

Jio Mier, SS, Houston Astros
Mier was the talk of the Astros system last year; he went out and hit .276/.380/.484 in the Appalachian League while shocking scouts with his power and unsurprisingly showcasing fantastic glove work. He remains a gifted defender, but his full-season debut has been nothing short of a nightmare, as even five hits in his past two games leave his averages for Low-A Lexington at .223/.310/.297. After hitting seven home runs in 51 games last season, he has just one in 367 Sally League at-bats.

Derek Norris, C, Washington Nationals
Although recovery from a major wrist injury is a mitigating factor, that alone can't wipe away Norris' strange line of .240/.415/.397 for High-A Potomac. An offense-first catcher, Norris has remained an absolute walk machine, but the wrist issue has made him almost too passive. His ability to hit for average and power has slipped away. Because of his defensive shortcomings, he can't afford to be a one-trick pony at the plate, and an expected 2011 assignment to Double-A could be a make-or-break season for Norris, at least in terms of his reputation as one of the better catching prospects in baseball.

Josh Reddick, OF, Boston Red Sox
When the Red Sox needed an outfielder this past weekend, they called on Ryan Kalish, who has seemingly leapfrogged Reddick on the Boston depth chart. A .167/.205/.321 line in 88 big-league plate appearances hasn't helped, but Reddick consistently put up numbers in the minors until this year, when he's struggled at Triple-A Pawtucket. His line there is .231/.276/.391, and that includes a 12-for-25 surge in his past six games. Scouts have noted a tentative, at times visibly frustrated Reddick this year, and it's a funk he needs to snap out of to regain his prospect status.

Jordan Walden, RHP, Los Angeles Angels
It certainly made sense on paper. With Walden, the Angels had a big righty with mid-90s heat but also ugly mechanics, a history of arm troubles, and no changeup. Turning such a prospect into a closer seemed like a no-brainer, but the results have been worse than expected at Double-A Arkansas. With 21 walks in 41 innings, Walden still struggles with his control. His slider is inconsistent, too; some days it's utterly unhittable, but other days players are mashing it all over the field. Some thought that with the conversion, Walden might be able to help out the big-league squad as early as September. At this point, next September might be a more reasonable goal at best.

Chris Withrow, RHP, Los Angeles Dodgers
Despite being a first-round pick in 2007, Withrow had just 13 innings of experience heading into the 2009 season because of hand and elbow problems. He quickly made up for lost time by reaching Double-A, striking out well more than a batter per inning and getting into the upper 90s with his fastball. He came into the 2010 season as the highest ceiling arm in the system. Back at Double-A, Withrow has been consistently inconsistent. The big-league heater is certainly there, but he has trouble commanding it. Even more strike-zone issues arrive when he throws his power curve; he tends to bounce those pitches in the dirt. With a 5.05 ERA and 51 walks in 98 innings in 20 starts for Chattanooga, he's slipped in the eyes of many scouts. It's possible they were too high on him in the first place.

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

Related Content:  Indie League

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

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How are there no Cubs on this list? They're all stalled.

Aug 02, 2010 12:13 PM
rating: 0

If you're targeting Josh Vitters with this comment, remember that he's still a 20-year-old playing at the AA level, even if he's struggled there. Quite a number of current major leaguers would have been quite happy to have been "stalled" like that. Yes, the Cubs' farm system is disappointing (unless you're a Cardinals fan...), but a sense of perspective is needed on this particular disappointment.

Aug 02, 2010 12:20 PM
rating: 2

A number of Cubs prospects have done well this year--Andrew Cashner, Trey McNutt, Brett Jackson--and others have gotten notice (Hak-Ju Lee, hitting pretty well but very young for his level). I agree that Vitters had a tough time of things prior to his injury, but otherwise the farm's done well.

To a Cubs fan, it seems like any prospect is really just another Gary Scott or Brooks Kieschnick and you'll never ever have a real prospect (ever). Except for when you do have real prospects (Soto, Marmol, Marshall, Castro, Colvin (maybe); hey, Theriot had his moments, although I don't think many people would have thought of him as a big prospect; I'm leaving a lot of people out).

Aug 02, 2010 13:49 PM
rating: 0

Nice. Love this kind of performance-in-context article. How about a companion piece, 'Prospects Who Weren't', i.e. the formerly second and third shelf kids who've done the most to elevate themselves this year?

Aug 02, 2010 12:20 PM
rating: 2
Benjamin Harris

I'd be surprised if that wasn't already in the works.

Aug 02, 2010 12:35 PM
rating: 0


Aug 02, 2010 15:19 PM
rating: 0

Copied over (more or less) from ESPN ... The Beckham pick obviously looks bad in retrospect, but I don't remember him being considered an overdraft at the time, like a Matt Bush or Bryan Bullington, and I've heard nothing but positive things about his work ethic. Am I wrong? Did the scouts miss something? Or is this just one of those "you never know" deals?

Aug 02, 2010 12:21 PM
rating: 2

To piggyback on this point, Beckham has shown improvement as a 20 year old in high A ball. He is walking more, making fewer errors and stealing bases at a better rate than in the past. While he is not outstanding in any category, I don't think it is time yet to say he has stalled. Although his K rate has worsened some, his walk rate has more than doubled and his SB% has risen from 57% to 68%. One result is that while his doubles power is also down (albeit not his home runs and triples), his OBP has risen from .297-.328-.343.

All in all, while Posey certainly appears now to have been the better selection, and Beckham has disappointed, given his reported work ethic and tools, I think optimism is still reasonable and thinking he has stalled overlooks some important growth.

Aug 02, 2010 13:53 PM
rating: 1

I think that's the case, yeah. I think at the time, some wondered if the Giants took Posey too high, since he was just projected as an average regular at the major league level.

Aug 02, 2010 13:54 PM
rating: 1

Josh Reddick is doing almost as poorly as Jordan Schafer...and methinks that Schafer would be a candidate for your list

Aug 02, 2010 12:25 PM
rating: 0

Schafer has 167 big league ABs so no longer a prospect.

Aug 02, 2010 12:58 PM
rating: 0

Was going to mention Schafer myself; somehow I didn't realize he played that much last year. But the larger point remains, even with the injuries, he's been beyond disappointing.

Aug 02, 2010 22:53 PM
rating: 0

It seems like Hicks is focused mainly on drawing walks this year. An admirable goal, but perhaps it is slowing the development of his other hitting skills?

Aug 02, 2010 12:26 PM
rating: 0

Which two from the list do you think goes on to the best MLB career?

Aug 02, 2010 12:34 PM
rating: 0

My instinct tells me that it may be easier for a pitcher to "put it all together" if we assume that everyone on the list is potentially capable of being a Major League talent.

I am going with Walden and Withrow, because I think those two organizations have shown the most competence in developing arms.

Aug 02, 2010 12:54 PM
rating: 0

Is Fernando Martinez not here because he's not stalled or because he's been stalled for so long it's not list-worthy anymore? I assume B.

Aug 02, 2010 12:44 PM
rating: 0

KG, this might be nit-picking, but in your Aumont write-up you seem to imply that all the prospects have been disappointments. J.C. Ramirez has over a 3 to 1 K/BB ratio this year in High-A and AA as a 21-year old. Seems to me he's actually been somewhat of a bright spot. Are the scouting reports not very good on him so far this year or something?

Aug 02, 2010 13:11 PM
rating: 1
Dan W.

How does Norris compare now to other NL catching prospects like Mesoraco and Rosario?

Aug 02, 2010 13:13 PM
rating: 0

I find this article so strange because of the seeming reluctance to chalk up Norris' season to the hamate bone injury, which has a pretty strange effect on most players for up to 12 months after having surgery. Dustin Pedroia had a .260/.311/.365 line through the middle of June 2008 after having surgery in November 2007, then hit .375/.422/.588 the rest of the year. Ryan Zimmerman in the same year after November surgery was at .259/.300/.414 on July 29 and went .311/.370/.474 for the rest of the season and improved even more in 2009.

Norris has hit 8% line drives this year and 65% flyballs, including a 19% IFFB rate. The first two would lead the majors by far, the third would be 4th in the majors. All those rates are really far off his career averages and last year's numbers.

So, given the pretty obvious (and likely real) reason staring everyone in the face, why jump to the conclusion that anything else is wrong with him when his strikeout rate and walk rate are still fine?

Isn't it possible that he's making strange contact as he adjusts to his new wrist?

Aug 02, 2010 13:22 PM
rating: 6

Oh, not to mention the fact that even during a year with an injury that's supposed to sap your power for a year, he has a .157 ISO. Which doesn't indicate "power slipping away" since it's higher than 6 or 8 qualifying major league catchers this season.

Ummm, with a missing bone in his wrist. Even his MLE ISO is higher than 3 of the 8 catchers.

Plus, unless stats mean nothing, his defense certainly seems to have improved this season, at least in his passed balls and CS%.

Aug 02, 2010 13:57 PM
rating: 0

How about Christian Friedrich? He was ranked higher in your preseason list than any of these guys, and he's really struggled. What's the deal with him?

Aug 02, 2010 13:23 PM
rating: 1

Jeurys Familia, rhp, Mets
almost one walk per inning....I guess "stalled" would be too kind as its a clear regression in a system with next to no pitching talent whatsoever.

Aug 02, 2010 14:03 PM
rating: 0

Plenty of people talk about Aaron Hicks' patience playing into his high strikeout rate. Is he taking a high number of called third strikes because he is looking to be patient?

I would like to see the splits on how many times he has struck out swinging compared to looking.

Aug 02, 2010 14:38 PM
rating: 1
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anyone want to add Matt Wieters to this list?

Aug 02, 2010 14:40 PM
rating: -6
Matt Kory

No, Wieters is in the majors.

Aug 02, 2010 14:56 PM
rating: 1
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