Right now, Deolis Guerra is a major-league pitcher in a huge market having a fine season. He’s a serviceable reliever, which makes him probably the best reliever left on the Angels’ active roster, with the sort of overall pitching stats that made Edward Mujica briefly a closer and earned Edward Mujica briefly $5 million per year:
What’s interesting about this is that Guerra is probably not actually as famous right now as he was in the winter of 2007-2008, when he was an 18-year-old pitcher coming off a full season in High-A, and the lottery ticket going to Minnesota in the Johan Santana deal. Back then, Guerra wasn’t “sort of like, in a small sample, Edward Mujica,” but A Prospect. He was a dude. Nobody called him a serviceable reliever; they called him “an easy top 50 prospect,” a finesse-pitching teenager who was expected to add velocity to a low-90s fastball as he grew into his 6-5 body.
Now he’s 27, and the fact that he’s relatively successful—with a 91 mph fastball and a changeup that he throws a whopping 46 percent of the time—came just in time for the purposes of this article, because this article is about the saddest Age 27 seasons. We’ve done this a few years, the premise being that even if Age 27 is not actually the year that players lose their post-hype sleeper potential, it is the year that we collectively quit paying even the slightest attention to a formerly famous prospect who hasn’t done anything yet. Or, as I wrote in the original Age 27 obit page,
It’s the year when, if you hit .253/.289/.418 in the PCL, smart people will probably quit writing Spring Training love letters calling you the comeback kid. Twenty-seven is the year that failed ex-prospects update their passports and start thinking about playing in Japan, or playing in Mexico, or playing in Korea, or backpacking in Europe. There are late bloomers in baseball, plenty of them, but they usually did something in their age-27 season.
Deolis Guerra’s age 27 is not sad. It’s salvation. Drink up, Deolis, but pour one out for your dudes:
10. Alex Wimmers
Top Line On His Resume: 21st pick in the 2010 draft, signed by the Twins for $1.33 million, then made four starts at High-A with a 0.57 ERA and 13 K/9. That’s what he carried around for his first offseason as a professional baseball player.
2016: Still in the Twins organization, he’s now a reliever who has split time between Double- and Triple-A. He has a 4.18 ERA and 8.7 Ks/9. The Twins are surely working with him to get that last number lower, though.
When his Annual comment turned: 2013. “So much for that.”
Words: Wimmers was probably the worst prospect on this list—guess that’s why he’s here at no. 10—but if there was anything that separated him from the busts to come it’s that he was “safe.” You know the type: Polished college arm with good secondaries and command (“Wimmers came up with a bat-breaking changeup that made him, as the Twins scouting reports all said, a latter-day Brad Radke”) who should move fast and eat unsexy innings. You also know the problem: It’s a myth. Wimmers missed most of the first three months of 2011 with the yips (he walked all six batters he faced in his season debut), then missed almost all of 2012 after Tommy John surgery (he felt elbow pain in his season debut). Then he missed almost all of 2013 after a second surgery.
So, anyway, now he’s a reliever, and he might still get a comment in a BP Annual someday (his first since 2013), but it’s not a safe bet. Nothing is.
Top Line On His Resume: No. 55 prospect in baseball in 2012; hit .288/.325/.509 as a 23-year-old in the majors.
2016: .111/.226/.111 in 31 plate appearances for the Brewers; has almost perfectly replicated (.282/.308/.508) his rookie season slash line, but at Triple-A, in Colorado Springs, as a 27-year-old.
When his Annual comment turned: 2015. “Middlebrooks looks born to play the part, with his boyish All-American looks and his easy, high school quarterback Texas swagger. He is Adonis on a baseball diamond, but every pitch with a modicum of movement serves as a new wild boar, laying waste to his beauty.”
Words: We expect minor leaguers to bust; they’re not, after all, actually good at baseball, they’re only good at baseball for their age. But Middlebrooks was all the way good at baseball, and succeeded for three months at the highest level. Then the league adjusted, and according to every profile of Middlebrooks since then, Middlebrooks didn’t bother to adjust back. He struck out in half his big-league at-bats with the Brewers this year before they placed him on the DL. By B-Ref’s WAR model, he’s been the most negative contributor in baseball over the past three seasons, edging out Ryan Howard. (Our WARP model is ever so slightly nicer.)
8. Blake Beavan
Top Line On His Resume: 17th pick in 2007 draft as prep arm who could touch 98.
2016: Pitching for Bridgeport in the Atlantic League, with 4.17 ERA and just under six strikeouts per nine.
When his Annual comment turned: 2010. “The only concern for his future was an ultra-violent delivery. The Rangers worked hard to clean up his mechanics, but after their tinkering his velocity never returned.”
Words: Beavan the high schooler struck out 124 batters and walked four in 66 innings. (I get the 124 strikeouts, but did nobody go up there with the plan of taking as many pitches as it took to get a walk? No matter.) Beavan joined indy ball after a disastrous season with Triple-A Reno last year. He threw 293 almost-passable innings in his career, and made $1.5 million on top of his signing bonus, but he’s a very particular type of bust, the type Kevin Goldstein feared way back in 2008: "The long list of players who hit their peak velocity while still in high school.”
7. Jose Tabata
Top Line On His Resume: Four times a top-100 prospect.
2016: Released after hitting a punchless .244 in Triple-A for the Dodgers, Tabata is now batting .326/.447/.413 in Mexico.
When his Annual comment turned: 2015. “Proof that life comes at you fast and not all team-friendly extensions pay dividends, Tabata is about to become the richest regular in the International League.”
Words: Tabata is the rare prospect who saw his official age adjusted and still remained a prospect; he’s also the rare player to get one of those super-early pre-arb extensions and have it turn out lousy for his team. This year marks the last that he’ll be paid under the six-year, $14.75 million pact; as it turned out, he spent enough time in the minors that he’d still be under team control at the end of it, assuming any team cared to control him.
Top Line On His Resume: The last player chosen before the Angels picked in the 2009 draft, and the no. 61 prospect in 2010.
2016: Released by the independent New Jersey Jackals of the Can-Am League; now playing for York in the independent Atlantic League.
When his Annual comment turned: 2015. “Simply put: He's got limited utility, he's not getting better, and he is getting older.”
Words: We’re getting to that point where it gets less fun and more depressing to litigate the first 23 picks of the 2009 draft. Mitchell is one of six players chosen before Mike Trout who has never made the majors at all, and who are unlikely to. Five of the first 23 picks—Alex White, Bobby Borchering, Chad James, Matt Hobgood and Mitchell—are either out of affiliated ball entirely or haven’t played at all this year, closing the books on what turned out to be some of the worst draft choices ever made. Not that any of those teams necesarily should have known better; in the winter after this draft, remember, Trout was only ranked no. 53 on BP’s top 101 (after a monster showing in the AZL), while Mitchell (who that spring would tear a tendon in his left ankle) was 61st, a negligible difference. The difference has since grown.
5. Billy Rowell
Top Line On His Resume: Ninth-overall pick in 2006 draft, no. 55 prospect before 2007.
2016: Unclear. He hasn’t played since 2012, after the Orioles released him some months following a 50-game suspension for a positive marijuana test (his second). At the time he was attempting the conversion to pitching, but he never pitched in a pro game. The most encouraging comment on his status in 2016 is a purchase, logged into public records, of a 2007 Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class. Those tend to last more than 10 years, so.
When his Annual comment turned: Never really did. His third, and final, comment started “Rowell has been a first-round bust so far, but it really is hard to write off someone who can't legally drink yet. His swing still impresses scouts.” He never got another comment.
Words: Rowell is the only player in the world who has suffered more than Jared Mitchell, Alex White, Bobby Borchering, Chad James and Matt Hobgood for Mike Trout’s superstardom. While each of them bears the blame of being the guy one team chose instead of Trout, Rowell goes down as the guy to blame for all the teams choosing somebody instead of Trout. Rowell, like Trout, was a prep hitting star from the cold-weather state of New Jersey; nearly every long article about the draft of 2009 (and there are many) brings up “Billy Rowell bias,” an industrywide sentiment that Rowell poisoned the well for New Jersey hitters. Probably not all that much truth to that, but it’ll be repeated for just about ever.
Top Line On His Resume: No. 18 prospect in baseball before 2007; top-100 prospect four years in a row.
2016: Inactive. Played in Mexico last year, but hit only .179/.207/286.
When his Annual comment turned on him: 2014. "For the fifth straight season, Fernando Martinez made the majors, more than most failed prospects can say. But the Astros traded Martinez to the Yankees in June for a 37th-round reliever, and he sat out most of the second half with a Biogenesis suspension.”
Words: Martinez was so young, and all the uncertainty that goes along with that went along with that. “Martinez elicits wildly divergent scouting reports, from potential MVP type to borderline starter,” we wrote in 2009, after he hit .287/.340/.432 as a 19-year-old in Double-A. But he was never healthy enough to develop, and arthritis in his knees (among other things) cost him all of his speed and explosiveness. Since 1993, 18 position players have collected at least 100 plate appearances in an age-20 season, as Martinez did. Fifteen of them made at least one All-Star team. Martinez, who very much didn’t, is the worst of all 18.
3. Mike Olt
Top Line On His Resume: The no. 30 prospect in baseball before 2013, his second year in the top 50; prize of the Matt Garza trade to Texas.
2016: .255/.373/.404 hitter in Double-A, for the Padres.
When his Annual comment turned: 2015. “The Cubs handed Olt the keys to the hot corner last spring, and the former Ranger promptly backed over Jimmy's tricycle.”
Words: Every rebuilding team's fans love the guys who come back in a veterans-for-prospects trade. They immediately slot into some mythical Five Years From Now lineup, which invariably looks stacked with future all-stars making the league minimum. Then five years pass and the guy’s not even on your roster anymore, having been benched, then demoted, then claimed off waivers, then released by that new team, then sent to Double-A. This is Mike Olt. This is Phillippe Aumont. This is Tim Alderson. These are the guys you get back when you Win The Trade, and then somebody writes about their misplaced career when they turn 27.
2. Gary Brown
Top Line On His Resume: The no. 18 prospect in baseball before 2012.
2016: Hitting .223/.276/.348 for Southern Maryland in the independent Atlantic League. He’s 8-for-14 stealing bases.. He’s also apparently a second baseman now.
When his Annual comment turned: 2015. “Notably, the Giants played four rounds in the postseason this year and Brown appeared once. In the 18th inning.”
Words: And then, even worse than the Olt/Aumont/Alderson, is the guy you don’t trade, who you hold onto, and the fans breathe a sigh of relief because now everybody is free from the fear that he’ll go off and turn into a superstar somewhere else. When the Giants wanted to trade for Carlos Beltran, Brown and Zack Wheeler were prospects 1 and 1a in the system. They kept Brown, traded Wheeler, and have been callously rooting against Wheeler ever since, probably.
Top Line On His Resume: Five times ranked in the top 52 prospects in baseball, and a solid no. 2 starter as a 23-year-old rookie.
2016: Undergoing his third Tommy John surgery.
When his Annual comment turned: 2016. “Even before this last setback, the list of starting pitchers to make a successful return from a second TJ—it's an admittedly small sample—is basically Chris Capuano.
Words: There really are none. Baseball is cruel, and it is not equally cruel to all, which makes it all the crueler still.
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