Last week, the BP Prospect Team worked long and hard to bring you the excellent Midseason Top 50 Prospect List. This week we’re doing something similar, and yet wholly dissimilar: ranking the top 50 prospect busts of the draft era, for your amusement.
As we begin, hand in hand, through this journey of disappointment, please keep in mind the following doctrines:
- The rankings of these players is mostly loose and entirely subjective, mostly because
- The concept of what is a “bust” is also highly subjective. Each author set their own bar, based on their own expectations, and then tried to explain them. High draft choice? Top-rated prospect? Costly trade acquisition? Anything can draw a line for a player, of which they can then fall short.
- Finally, remember that the idea of a bust is not only subjective, but relative. The players mentioned here, those who weren’t quite enough, were still at some point among the most talented athletes known. Most of them tried hard and worked through pain and listened to terrible music on buses. We do this not to make light of these men, nor really to praise them, but to remember them, remember the happiness we decided they owed us.
Thank you, and enjoy.
Why We Cared: He was the Mets' first round pick in the 1985 draft. In 1986, playing shortstop at three levels in his Age 18 season, he hit .353/.401/.549 and was named Baseball America Minor League Player of the Year. In 1987, at AA, he hit .367/.423/.598 and was again named Minor League Player of the Year. He was the next star to be added to the Gooden/Strawberry Mets dynasty.
What Went Wrong: Somebody unplugged the power cord at AAA Tidewater in 1988, as he hit an OK-but-not-sensational .282/.322/.395. Still, he turned only 21 that August, and he got Rookie of the Year votes in both 1988 and 1989. But after 465 games in Queens, marked by a .276/.332/.416 slash line and open feuding with his teammates, he was gone. He might have the best career of anyone on this list, but that’s just a reflection of how much hype he had to live up to. (Rob Mains)
Why We Cared: The Cubs shoved Ron Santo unceremoniously out the door in 1974, trading him to the White Sox in the final phase of their demolition of the Santo-Ernie Banks-Billy Williams-Ferguson Jenkins-Ken Holtzman Cubs, a team that never quite fulfilled its promise but that gave Wrigley fans their first taste of competitive baseball in 20-plus years. Santo hated it, hated being made to play for the crosstown rivals, and retired after one dreadful season there. The Cubs, as if not already sufficiently cursed, wouldn’t have another decent regular third baseman for 30 years thereafter. Kelton, though, had a chance to change that. He was a good enough athlete, and he had the arm for the position.
What Went Wrong: David Kelton hated playing third base. Truth be told, he never showed much interest in playing any defensive position, but he had a particular mental block about third. He wanted to play the outfield, where his bat was a bit less impressive. He moved to first base in 2002, at 22. He moved to the outfield corners in 2003. With each move, though, and with each step toward the big leagues (he played just a little there, in 2003 and 2004), his bat only went backward. (Matt Trueblood)
Why We Cared: The jeans! The jeans! Precious few of us could sell jeans, so Brown was our avatar, not to mention a flashpoint of the stathead movement. If he could make it, then so could we. Not as ballplayers, of course, because thighs or no, Brown is 10 times the athlete we ever were. No, if Brown could make it, then Paul DePodesta had made it, and then: so could we.
What Went Wrong: Turns out we never should have thrown out the defense with the bathwater. If Brown was going to catch like Stephen Vogt, then he needed to hit like him too. It's worth noting that Brown retired in 2008 due to "personal, off-the-field issues." He's no more a bust for this choice than Grant Desme is for his, but whatever it was he was on track to be in baseball, it's not what the A's thought they were drafting. (Jason Wojciechowski)
Why We Cared: I know what you’re thinking: one more solid season and his career would have been Willie Horton’s, whose number was retired. But if we agree that all prospect bustability is a function of expectation over performance, Higginson was not the prospect the Tigers expected.
What Went Wrong: As Trammell and Whitaker faded into Cooperstown case study, the Tigers faded into a black hole. Higginson was the one who stayed, at a hefty salary. Despite 27 career WARP, he never made an All-Star team and never received a vote award. Higginson-branded teams averaged 65 wins a year. He will embody the nadir of the franchise, even if it wasn’t his fault (it wasn’t) (but that doesn’t matter). (Matt Sussman)
Why I Cared: In the spring of 1991 I was obsessed with Upper Deck baseball cards and the Chicago Cubs. Instead of chasing the Chipper Jones, Mike Mussina, and Jeff Bagwell rookies I decided to trade everything for all the Gary Scott cards I could find. Since Ron Santo left in 1973, third base on the north side had been a revolving door with names such as Ken Reitz, Manny Trillo, and Vance Law. After destroying spring training pitching and being named the opening day starter, I was certain he would be a star.
What Went Wrong: Overpowered by velocity and fooled by offspeed, he struggled to hit .160/.250/.240 over the course of two seasons and just 175 major league at bats. There was a glimpse of what could have been in an epic 13-pitch at bat which resulted in a grand slam on national television. However, he was demoted just four days later, never to return to the major leagues. Now I’m stuck with a shoebox full of worthless cards. (Nathan Graham)
Why We Cared: Ages ago, the Brewers had such a gang of hard throwing pitching prospects that Baseball America ranked Nick Neugebauer ahead of Ben Sheets on an org Top 10 (!!!). Baseball Prospectus was more measured in their 2000 annual, citing mechanical flaws as a concern for the righty. The true outcome hurler was ahead of his time, however, as BP gave Brewers fans reason to drool over a prospect that could keep more than half of batters faced from putting a ball in play.
What Went Wrong: Unfortunately, the mechanics and injuries got the best of Neugebauer, who only made it through 14 MLB starts and could not fight his way back to become a rotation mate with fellow power pitcher Sheets. Every time you roll your shoulder joint and it doesn’t hurt, say a little prayer for poor Nick Neugebauer. (Nicholas Zettel)
44. Markerry Priorwood, RHP, Chicago Cubs (2001 and 1995, Pick 2 and Pick 4)
Why We Cared: Into the morass that was Cubs baseball of the early 2000's strode Mark Prior, he of the "technically perfect" delivery and $10.5 million contract. How could you not love a guy who threw the way he did, all polish and stuff and SoCal cool, and a perfect complement to the big Texan already pacing the Wrigley mound, Kerry Wood? The two men were going to lead the franchise to the promised land, and in 2003 — just Prior's second big-league campaign — they damn near actually did.
What Went Wrong: The same thing that always goes wrong with pitchers: They broke. Wood ended up having a pretty nice career, and retired a beloved Cubs legend, but Prior was out of baseball by 2006, never once coming close to the performance he flashed as a rookie and never once looking better than he did on the day that he signed. That's the sadder story of the two, I think. Prior now working his way back up through the ranks of the Padres organization, this time wearing a suit instead of a sling. (Rian Watt)
Why We Cared: The White Sox gave Borchard $5.3MM to convince him to leave Stanford and his dual-sports amateur career behind (he was a QB for the Cardinal). That signing bonus was an MLB record and would remain so until Justin Upton's $6.1MM in 2005. Baseball America had Borchard ranked 23rd, 12th, and 28th from 2001-03 based heavily on the strength of his lighttower power (47 home runs from '01-02), willingness to draw walks, and unsurprisingly strong arm. The question wasn't would he play, but where would he play in an outfield that already had Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Lee stashed in the corners.
What Went Wrong: Maybe those 297 strikeouts over his first two full seasons should have been a bigger red flag. Major league pitchers had zero problems exploiting this weakness and Borchard would go on to strike out in 27.8% of his career plate appearances. He still drew walks at a decent enough rate (9.3%) and his power never left him, but he couldn't make consistent enough contact for it to matter more than making him the answer to a trivia question when he managed to hit the longest homerun (504 ft) in Guaranteed Rate Field history in 2004. He was flipped to the Mariners for Matt Thornton in 2006 and was out of MLB a year later. (Mark Primiano)
Why We Cared: The left side of the Red Sox's infield was lacking anything concrete in the early 2010s, and Will Middlebrooks looked like he'd be a building block. WMB launched WMDs in the minors, showing good plate discipline with prodigious power. A broken wrist halted his impressive 2012 campaign, where he posted a .279 TAv with decent defense at the hot corner.
What Went Wrong: His discipline and health vanished. 2012's good stats covered up a terrible K/BB, and it – along with his defense – worsened in 2013. Middlebrooks peaked with a 3 HR game in early April, and then succumbed to a series of injuries throughout 2013 and 2014: strained back, strained calf, broken finger. The outside part of the plate continued to confound him, his contact rates dropped, and in December of 2014, the Red Sox traded him for Ryan Hanigan. He didn't make them regret it. (Brett Cowett)
41. Juan Cruz, RHP, Chicago Cubs (1997, Free Agent)
Why We Cared: Long before I knew the term, I saw Cruz good in the Midwest League in 2000. That was just his second pro season, and he was four steps from the Majors, but by the middle of 2001, he was there. I’ve never seen better raw stuff. He had a lowish arm slot and a high-effort but repeatable delivery. He could touch 96 when I first saw him, and 99 by the time he established himself in MLB. His slider was at least a 70. He threw his changeup with good arm speed, and out of the same slot as his harder stuff.
What Went Wrong: Cruz’s 2002 Baseball Prospectus Annual comment is chock-full of drooling praise, but the one passage that remains most relevant is: “He can throw his mid-90s heat, changeup, and slider for strikes at any point in the count.” If true, that would have made him roughly Pedro Mar-frickin’-tinez. That’s why he was sixth on Baseball America’s Top 100 that year. It, uh, was not true, and the notion was, in hindsight, preposterous. Cruz walked or hit 15.5 percent of opposing batters in 2000, and 13.2 percent of them in 2001, and 15.5 percent again in 2002. Lefties hit him hard, too, because the changeup never really came along. He ended up a fine middle reliever, but “fine middle reliever” is a sad end to a story that begins like Cruz’s. (Matt Trueblood)
Why We Cared: In a sport that often obsesses about ‘the next’, Clyde was the next Sandy Koufax. Like Koufax, he was good enough to go straight to the majors and he won his debut less than a month after his high school graduation, despite issuing seven walks. He was an instant celebrity whose starts became events in Texas and around baseball.
What Went Wrong: Clyde’s misfortune was being good enough to have some major-league success while being too young and naïve to deal with the circumstances and personalities that brought him down. Though the original plan was to give him only a couple of starts in the majors, Rangers’ owner Bob Short got greedy and saw the young pitcher as the answer to the relocated franchise’s attendance struggles. Clyde stayed in the majors and made 12 of his 18 starts at home in 1973. More than a few people credit Clyde with saving the Texas franchise; attendance almost doubled in 1974 and the team has never looked back. In that 1974 season, Clyde got caught in a power struggle between Short and manager Billy Martin and never really recovered. He hung around, mostly in the minors, but was out of baseball by 1981. (Scott Delp)
Why We Cared: If you're not an everyday Brewers fanatic, you may not know the best positional lore in baseball, namely "Who will play 1B?" and its punk little brother, "The Brewers never develop homegrown 3B." For years, Gamel seemed the answer to the latter issue until the glove at him away, and after Prince Fielder enjoyed free agency, Gamel became the clearest answer to the first question.
What Went Wrong: A serviceable stint over 148 PA in 2009 fueled confidence in a gamble that favored Gamel's success as a development play at first, but that stunning hit tool and power never came around again. For current Milwaukee fans, Gamel may remain a cautionary tale about the Top 10 List, but there is no doubt that the ex-prospect remains the most valuable attempt at answering two player development riddles in recent memory (and certainly the last 1B prospect in Milwaukee history: see LaPorta, Matt). (Nicholas Zettel)
Why We Cared: The thing about Dustin Ackley was, he was the safe pick. We were told we didn't have to worry. His junior year at UNC, he hit .417/.517/.763. His trip through the minors was middling, but for the first two months with the big league club, he hit like the guy, nay god, we thought he was when he was drafted. He was supposed to turn things around. He was supposed to be the future. He was supposed to be worth $7.5 million. Then July came.
What Went Wrong: Grappling with Ackley meant remembering, at intervals the regularity of which spoke to how broken you were, that the Mariners could have drafted Mike Trout. But the Dustin Ackley Rock Bottom came years later, after seasons spent watching one of the best college hitters of all time roll over weak grounders to second, when you began to fixate not on whether it was a mistake to pass on Trout, but whether the Mariners would have broken him, too. (Meg Rowley)
Why We Cared: Prodigious power and a .992 OPS in his full-season minor league debut as a 19-year-old. That power, combined with his future home, actually somehow sent his home runs forward in time to count during his pro career. In fantasy, he gave owners hope by holding onto middle infield eligibility; he probably still does.
What Went Wrong: He went from a slugger to not being bad at anything without being really good at anything to being good at nothing at all. Couple a poor work ethic with an inflated sense of self, and that’s what happens. (Eric Garcia McKinley)
Why I cared: In one of the more fun quirks in Cape Cod League history, McDonald made one start for the Orleans Cardinals in July of 1989 after being drafted first overall by the Orioles, in an effort to stay fresh while some young whippersnapper named Scott Boras went about turning the top of the draft into a seven-figure affair. And all seven-and-a-half years and 45 pounds of me was in the house for it, along with the kind of screaming throng usually found only in grainy footage of early stateside Beatles concerts.
What Went Wrong: After throwing an 85-pitch, six-hit Maddux in his first big-league start, he was just…kinda…there? For a while? That’s actually a wildly unfair characterization, of course, as he did manage to log six separate seasons of three-plus WARP en route to a career 78 DRA- across nearly 1,300 innings in The Show. That's a better career than like 90-something percent of players in Major League history. Yet he never quite lived up to the “greatest amateur prospect in history” billing, which is a cruel way to judge anyone a failure. And yet, here we are. A bum shoulder forced him out of baseball before his 30th birthday. (Wilson Karaman)
Why We Cared: Son of Garth and nephew of Dane, the sturdy Canadian had all the makings of an All-Star for Detroit because, well, he looked like one. We’ve heard this story. Scouts across the league were envious of his talents, and were sure he’d be a big league shortstop (given the defense) and was going to hit eventually.
What Went Wrong: Maybe it was the two years away from professional baseball to go on a Mormon mission. Maybe it was that he was pushed to fast into full-season ball after that. Maybe it was the .215/.267/.336 career minor league slash line. We may never know. Today he is a mortgage officer in Atlanta, where he helps others secure their futures. Makes sense. (Matt Sussman)
Why We Cared: In the first half of the 2013 season, Dom Bombs carpeted Philadelphia—including a blistering ten of them in one twelve-day stretch—and it felt like hope on the heels of a disappointing 2012. Some big trades and the Ryan Howard contract had already wrung out much of the optimism for the immediate Phillies future, but the promise of Domonic Brown destroying baseballs at Citizen’s Bank Park was something to look forward to.
What Went Wrong: A few injuries slowed Brown down after his trip to the All-Star game in 2013, and though his average remained roughly the same across for the second half, the power flickered. Across Brown’s final two seasons in the Phillies’ organization, he never came close to replicating that 2013 surge, and he hasn’t played in the majors since 2015. Maybe more consistent playing time earlier in his Phillies tenure would have made a difference in Brown’s development and success. Maybe it was simply time for the Phillies to begin their long wandering in the desert. (Holly M. Wendt)
Domonic Brown, RF, Philadelphia Phillies (2006, 20th Round) (Yes, again, it was that scarring)
Why We Cared: There's a reason why his 2013 spring training batcrack was my phone's notification sound for three-and-a-half years. Once called the "Total Package" by Ryan Howard himself, Brown was a later pick the Phillies were always high on, going well over slot to sign him. He was projectable with raw athleticism and gosh darn it, he looked like he could continue the homegrown talent movement the Phillies had rode to a World Series. Brown birthed a hashtag movement — #FREEDOMBROWN — and hope that maybe, just maybe, the Phils could still keep that window open.
What Went Wrong: A broken hamate bone in Spring 2011 sapped the power. A trick knee in 2012 hurt the speed. It turned out that yes, whoever wrote the 2009 Annual comment on Dom was right to be wary — his Darryl Strawberryness was a mirage, not the least because he looked lost in the outfield. Being jerked around by the front office early didn't help matters, leaving him to slowly fade away like his team, a dead cat bounce in 2013 notwithstanding. (Sean O’Rourke)
Why We Cared: You rarely see fifteenth-rounders start their minor league careers at Triple-A, but Ainge spent his first summer at Syracuse–after completing his freshman year at Brigham Young, where he was All-WAC at basketball, leading his team in points and assists. He debuted for Toronto in 1979 after he helped lead BYU to the NCAA Tournament, the year Magic Johnson's Michigan State beat Larry Bird's Indiana State. Baseball was riding the ascendant NBA's coattails, taking a collegiate star and making him theirs!
What Went Wrong: The whole baseball thing. He played 211 games for the Jays and hit .220/.264/.269, a .196(!) TAv, with -6.5 FRAA contributing to his -3.4 WARP. His departure to Boston Celtics after the 1981 season came after litigation. His entry in the 1982 Bill James Baseball Abstract, in which he was ranked 26 of 26 third basemen, said simply, "Dribble, dribble." (Rob Mains)
Why We Cared: He was a prep lefty with an advanced repertoire and a mature approach to his craft. That’s literally all anyone remembers about him now; he was promising, in some vague, sepia-toned way.
What Went Wrong: Matzek slogged through the minor leagues while battling anxiety, which had the ability to completely shatter his command and confidence. He had successful rookie season in 2014 before it fell apart again, pitching on back fields away from the crowds and lights, hoping to find his way out of his own mind. He’s out of baseball now, but we still care. (Eric Garcia McKinley)
Why We Cared: The Orioles have had some names in their history of third baseen, and Rowell certainly looked the part. He was a tall, projectable high school third baseman, and responded well to pretty much everything demanded of him in his first two years in the minors, be it in rookie ball, low-A or hi-A. He was a 6’5” 18-year-old by the end of the 2006 season, and it looked like he just needed to put on some muscle to become a productive Major Leaguer.
What Went Wrong: The power just never came in Rowell’s six seasons in the minors, and he didn’t get beyond AA Bowie. The O’s even considered turning him into a pitcher in 2012, but due to a drug suspension and injury that year, it didn’t play out. By the way, not that this was exactly his fault, but picks six through 11 in that 2006 draft: Andrew Miller, Clayton Kershaw, Drew Stubbs, Rowell, Tim Lincecum, Max Scherzer. (Victor Filoromo)
Why We Cared: LaRoche burst on the scene early on in my days of following prospects. He checked in at 74th on Baseball America's 2005 list, 19th in 2006, before landing in top-20 spots in BP's 2007 and 2008 lists. He initially stuck in my mind as a piece of trivia — a 39th rounder who became a top prospect. It's not as romantic as it sounds: Logan White and the Dodgers bought him out of a school commitment for a cool million, and it looked like a suave investment for a good while.
What Went Wrong: It started, as these things do, with a freak injury. LaRoche tore the UCL in his thumb–not as Mike Trout did, sliding into a base–but rather when an attempted pickoff glanced off a runner and into his throwing hand. This cost LaRoche the start of the season, and he was eventually included as a significant piece in the deal that landed Manny Ramirez in LA. He showed moderate promise in 2009 before fading quickly thereafter. Supplanted as the most-mocked member of the LaRoche clan by Drake, the former piece of trivia now only surfaces when discussing the broken, busted, and trivial. (Craig Goldstein)
Why We Cared: It was many things, not the least of which was that unfamiliar concept of hope. He would scrape at 96 from the left side. His command could calibrate the Hubble Space Telescope from 353 miles away. He was the second number-two pick in three years, and one of three heads affixed to the monster of a body set to guard Safeco’s mound for the foreseeable future
What Went Wrong: In some mythic accounts, it was Hercules who finally dragged Cerberus back to the pit of hell. Either way, the whole thing ended before any battle could even be fought: perhaps, we spent too much time focusing on the head rather than its set of shoulders. Achilles, you’re an amateur. (Matt Ellis)
Why We Cared: He was the Pirates' first round pick. Steadily moving up the Pittsburgh farm system, he had a sensational 1984, going 19-3 with a 2.97 ERA in the PCL, where the league average ERA was 4.58. He was Baseball America's Minor League Player of the Year.
What Went Wrong: He was drafted the last year the Pirates won the World Series, and he won the BA award the first year the Pirates finished last since the start of divisional play in 1969. So was he supposed to rescue the franchise? Yes, he was. Did he? After three seasons with losing Pirates teams, and a 10-17 record, 4.65 ERA, and 1.51 WHIP, we can safely say he did not. (Rob Mains)
27. Ty Griffin, 2B/OF, Chicago Cubs (1988, Pick 9)
Why We Cared: Griffin was ranked #22 on Baseball America’s top prospect list prior to 1990, and he was the Cubs’ first-round pick after not signing with the Orioles out of high school. He had won a gold medal with the USA team at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, and, as a switch-hitting second baseman with some pop, he was touted highly at a time when the Cubs’ org was churning out good players. Griffin fascinated me personally as a young child with his “#1 Draft Pick” Topps card (see link), as I couldn’t figure out why a Cubs player would be wearing a Georgia Tech jersey.
What Went Wrong: His age-21 season at Peoria and Charlotte was good, featuring an .813 OPS and 13 homers. As he moved up the ranks, though, his bat left him: a fine OBP couldn’t mask his disappearing power. The Cubs swapped Griffin for Scott Bryant, a former Dick Howser Trophy winner in the Reds’ system, but neither player ever reached the majors. Griffin hit well in independent leagues until he was 29, save for a brief spell at Double-A Arkansas with the Cardinals, but no major-league team took another chance on him. So much for replacing Ryne Sandberg at the keystone. (Zack Moser)
26. Rey Quiñones, SS, Boston Red Sox (1982, Free Agent)
Why We Cared: “Oh, Quiñones,” former Mariners GM Dick Balderson once said. “He broke my heart. He had the potential to be the best in the game, but what a strange guy.” Few players were as physically gifted a Quinones, a shortstop with range and power, who once threw a baseball from home plate over the center field fence. If he could just work to shore up the occasional errors and mental lapses, he could make himself into a star.
What Went Wrong: He did not. Quiñones lost interest in practice, stopped getting in front of balls, looped throws to first. He was unavailable to pinch hit one game because he was in the clubhouse, beating world 8-4 of Super Mario Bros. He threatened to kill a beat writer for a story written by a different reporter for a different newspaper. He claimed to have visa problems one spring from his native home in Puerto Rico. Quiñones grew tired of baseball, and baseball quickly reciprocated. (Patrick Dubuque)
Why We Cared: Thirty years ago, the Mariners drafted a guy named Ken Griffey, Jr. with the first pick in the draft. The Pirates took their backup choice in Merchant, another five-tool high school outfielder. Merchant possessed everything you’d want in a prospect except that one invisible trait: health.
What Went Wrong: Nagging injuries initially slowed his development and then began to erode his skills; a broken ankle robbed him of his premium speed, and the bat never came around. The Pirates gave up on him and shipped him to Seattle in a five-player trade; by never reaching the majors, he had the most valuable career in terms of WARP of the five. One of the other four was Rey Quiñones. (Patrick Dubuque)
Why We Cared: Zach Lee was tabbed to be either the Dodgers’ next ace or a solid number two option behind Clayton Kershaw. Armed with a formidable 93 mph four-seam fastball and three other pitches, Lee had the necessary oomph to complement Kershaw’s nastiness, allowing Dodger fans to dream of a second coming of Koufax and Drysdale
What Went Wrong: Lee has spent most of the last seven seasons stuck in the minors, failing to capitalize on his arsenal and make the necessary adjustments to reach the majors. The lack of an effective out pitch and poor control forced the Dodgers’ hand, trading him to Seattle for 2017 success-story Chris Taylor. He never pitched a game for the Mariners. (Martin Alonso)
23. Daniel Bard, RHP, Boston Red Sox (2006, Pick 28)
Why We Cared: He ranked 97th on BP’s Top 100 Prospects list in 2009 and was named Red Sox Minor League Pitcher Of The Year that season. After transitioning from starter to relief pitcher, Bard exploded onto the scene as the next coming of Jonathan Papelbon, minus the dancing. GIFs of his pitches still dance across the corneas of computer-literate fans.
What Went Wrong: Bard lost command of his fastball late in 2011, becoming the largest (by WPA) contributor to the infamous Red Sox collapse. The following season, he decided to transition back to starter, a move making him perhaps the largest casualty of the shrapnel-laden Bobby Valentine era. Though still largely unable to throw a strike, he is trying to rehabilitate his career in the Mets minor-league system, bless his soul. (Mary Craig)
22. Garin Cecchini, 3B, Boston Red Sox (2010, 4th Round)
Why We Cared: His swing was so pure, his approach so good, his makeup so pure, his stats so encouraging. He passed the numbers test. He passed the eyes test. He passed the “what people say about him” test. He taught me how to double-down
What Went Wrong: The power never came. The glove was never plus. The swing grew a hitch. The numbers went south, the reports went south, the rankings went south. Only the makeup remained, but in this unjust life, that’s not always enough. He taught me how to say “oops.” (Ben Carsley)
21. Bryan Bullington, RHP, Pittsburgh Pirates (2002, Pick 1)
Why We Cared: On October 14, 1992, the Pirates were eliminated from the NLCS for the third year in a row, the last game Barry Bonds played in a Pirates uniform. Two days later, Bryce Harper was born, and he would reach the playoffs with the Nationals before the Pirates would make it back in 2013. During those two decades in the wilderness, the Pirates made their share of draft blunders–Brad Lincoln, John Van Benschoten, and Daniel Moskos send their regards–but Bullington was the number one overall pick. Number one!
What Went Wrong: Bullington was always more of a "safe" pick than anything else, but taking him ahead of Melvin Upton, Jr. (and Prince Fielder and Zack Greinke) raised eyebrows even at the time. As the Pirates' punishment for chasing mid-rotation arms at the 1-1 slot, Bullington's velocity dropped after arriving in pro ball and within a few years he underwent labrum surgery. To his credit, he soldiered on and managed to throw ~82 replacement level innings in the majors, which is a huge accomplishment for a human being but a crushingly bad result for the number one overall pick. (Nick Schaefer)
20. Kyle Drabek, RHP, Philadelphia Phillies (2006, Pick 18)
Why We Cared: If the Space Jam aliens constructed an ideal pitching prospect, it would look a lot like Kyle Drabek. The six-foot-two, 205-pound right-hander checked all of the prototype boxes from a raw physical standpoint, and boasted a three-pitch mix, headlined by a 95 mph fastball. Nobody had more pedigree: the son of a notable former big-league pitcher, a first-round pick, and a native Texan. Drabek’s inclusion as the centerpiece of a deal that shipped Roy Halladay to Philadelphia in late 2009 and his ranking as a top-20 prospect in the 2010 and 2011 BP Top 101 prospect lists amplified the expectations. Simply put, it was hard to envision a scenario where Drabek didn’t at least turn into something at the major-league level.
What Went Wrong: Control. The Blue Jays gave Drabek plenty of opportunities (30 starts over a three-year period from 2010 to 2012), but he failed to solve the control issues that emerged once he made the jump from Double-A to Triple-A. In 167 major-league innings, he posted a lackluster 5.34 ERA with nearly as many walks (107) as strikeouts (110). Just like that, it was over. Since 2012, Drabek has thrown just 12 2/3 innings at the major-league level, all of them in relief. His final appearance came in Arizona last April, and it served as the perfect microcosm for his entire career: four walks in two innings. If this was truly the end for Drabek, I can’t think of a better final moment. #Redemption (George Bissell)
Why We Cared: We cared because as Mets fans in the mid-90s, we needed something to care about while the team floundered. A brash lefty who said “You’ll never find another of me”–they did, his name was Jason Isringhausen–and ripped the minors to shreds looked to be the next Seaver or Gooden, only left-handed. All the great Mets teams in history were built on the backs of powerful starting rotations, and Pulsipher was to be the herald of Queens’ third mighty squad.
What Went Wrong: Pulse shredded his elbow ligaments, lost his control after Tommy John Surgery, and battled depression and anxiety issues … basically a three-part cocktail of pitching prospect turmoil that sent him chucking in Mexico and Long Island just to stay in the pro game. But what went wrong is also what went right; today his son Liam is a talented high school pitching prospect with his father’s genes and leg kick and confidence. Perhaps the elder Pulsipher’s destiny was to be the forerunner for his son: mentor and cautionary tale–perhaps he had to fail so another could succeed. (Bryan Grosnick)
18. Lastings Milledge, CF, New York Mets (2003, Pick 12)
Why We Cared: With Jose Reyes and David Wright anchoring a young Mets infield in the mid-2000s, Milledge was going to carry the outfield with his quick bat and speed on the bases. A flashy player who consistently hit over .300 and stole bases throughout the minors, Milledge was ranked by Baseball America as the #9 prospect heading into the 2006 season.
What Went Wrong: Milledge was a clubhouse pariah in New York and never escaped the pre-draft questions about his maturity and makeup. Within weeks of arriving at the show in 2006, Milledge made enemies for his over-the-top home run celebrations and a blase attitude that made veterans question his work ethic. (His circuitous outfield routes didn't help matters.) The tabloid fodder only continued into 2007 and beyond, and his development plateaued. After several additional seasons as a journeyman in MLB, Milledge was forced to find work in foreign leagues. (Dan Rozenson)
17. Matt LaPorta, 1B, Milwaukee Brewers (2007, Pick 7)
Why We Cared: LaPorta was the crown jewel of Cleveland's return in the C.C. Sabathia trade along that included Zach Jackson, Rob Bryson, and a player to be named later (that turned out to be some dude named Michael Brantley). A former top-10 pick, LaPorta raked for the Indians in Triple-A to the tune of .299/.388/.530 while striking out and walking at relatively similar rates.
What Went Wrong: Upon his call-up, the walks all but dried up. More importantly, his power disappeared as well, leaving LaPorta as a defensive liability that also couldn't really hit. The cautionary tale of Matt LaPorta confirms the old adage that there is No Such Thing as a First Base Prospect Unless His Name is Cody Bellinger. (Mark Barry)
16. Greg Reynolds, RHP, Colorado Rockies (2006, Pick 2)
Why We Cared: Rockies fans had no choice. He was a supposedly safe and polished college pitcher, as reasonable a solution as any to the thin, thin air. It also forced folks in Denver to imagine what a polished starting pitcher might look like.
What Went Wrong: Forget the draft position. Reynolds didn’t even come close to meeting what should have been his actual expectations as a back-end starter, or as the 2007 annual put it, the “Sam Bowie of the 2006 draft.” Blame the utter inability to strike batters out. (Eric Garcia McKinley)
Why I Cared: The third overall pick in the 2009 draft snuck onto the first BP 101 I encountered, where his name was forever seared onto my brain as the very first Number 101 I ever knew.
What Went Wrong: Despite possessing elite athleticism and flashing five potential plus tools, Tate couldn’t stay healthy, and he struggled with drug and alcohol addiction over a period of several years after turning pro. He was twice slapped with weed-related “drug of abuse” suspensions, and even when he did make it onto the field he never figured out how to develop the feel for hitting that some scouts feared he would never figure out how to develop. He was out of baseball by 2014, before attempting an ill-fated comeback in 2015 and 2016. In one of the cooler sports stories of 2017, the now-26-year-old is currently walking onto the Arizona Wildcats’ football team to play quarterback. (Wilson Karaman)
Why We Cared: Starling was the picture perfect representation of unlimited athletic potential. He was the number 6 ranked QB recruit for the 2011 recruiting class as well as the number one baseball recruit in the nation and was on his way to Nebraska to play both sports for the Huskers. But the Royals erased that future when they ponied up and gave Starling a $7.5MM signing bonus, the second highest bonus of all time. Starling had more tools than a Lincoln frat bar and had a fantastic debut season in 2012, slashing .275/.371/.485 with 10 home runs and 10 steals as a 19 year old. BP would rank him as high as 27th in 2012.
What Went Wrong: And that would be the best season Starling would have in the minors. Starling's strikeouts began skyrocketing, his contact cratered, and it started getting harder and harder to just write it off as him being young for the league. The nadir of his career came last season with a combined .534 OPS between AA and AAA. While he's still only 24 and could make his way off this list in time, hitting .250/.296/.373 in the PCL while getting thrown out on half his stolen base attempts doesn't exactly bode well. (Mark Primiano)
13. Shawn Abner, CF, New York Mets (1984, Pick 1)
Why We Cared: Shawn Abner was a two-sport stud in high school in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania (yes, the other sport was football) that the Mets expected to follow in the vein of Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden, but not in the bad ways, in the good ways. They took him first overall in the magical year of 1984 after basically locking onto him as a high school sophomore. It was the 80’s, and neither putting “can’t miss” labels on prospects nor scoping out 15-year-olds had the appropriate level of stigma yet.
What Went Wrong: Despite some clear early signs that his power was not actualizing in any real way, the Mets promoted him at age 21, and exposed him to sporadic unsuccessful stints in major league ball before trading him to San Diego for Kevin McReynolds. But as a youngster on the Southside of Chicago, my exposure to Abner didn’t really come until he was a 26-year-old post-post-post hype on the 1992 White Sox, who didn’t hit enough to make his athletic corner outfield defense interesting.
It was his eagerness with the glove that produced one of my earliest childhood memories, a withering rant launched against him by my father, when a diving attempt at a bloop resulted in the ball ricocheting off Abner’s face as it skittered by him.
My late father, the non-competitive poet. Who tolerated sports because I loved it so. Who watched the career of Frank Thomas, and decades of my Sox suffering through a crossword puzzle he kept propped in front of his face rather than watch the game. Who when my youth soccer team would blow out the opposition, would start cheering for the other team, just so they wouldn't get too discouraged and yell things like "That's ok! You're ok!" after egregious own goals, saw Shawn Abner let a fly ball hit his face, and launched into a rant about how he must suck. (James Fegan)
12. Josh Vitters, 3B, Chicago Cubs (2007, Pick 3)
Why We Cared: Before Cubs fans knew that 2016 was coming, the 2003 team captured the nation's attention both for its exciting young talent and dramatic crash out of the NLCS. The Cubs looked like they could eventually snap their World Series drought–after all, it was the trendy thing to do at the time, following the '04 Red Sox and '05 White Sox. Enter Vitters, taken with the #3 overall pick–ahead of the much-hyped college stud Matt Wieters–a high school third baseman whose pretty swing vaulted him onto BP's Top 50 prospects list from 2008-2010, cresting as high as #31 globally. Okay, Mark Prior didn't work out, we told ourselves, but it seemed certain that he and Brett Jackson would join the talented group that made the playoffs in '08 and '09 and bring the Cubs to the promised land.
What Went Wrong: Vitters stalled out at Double-A, because although his swing was pretty, his pitch recognition and approach were atrocious. Pair that with his glove cratering and suddenly his strong Triple-A season in 2012 was the first sign of hope for an organization desperate for good news. Unfortunately, it proved to be a mirage, as Vitters posted a .395 OPS in his 109 major league plate appearances, never to return again. So even though he somehow won't turn 28 until next month, Vitters is currently OPSing .481 with an .877 fielding percentage at third for the Sioux City Explorers in the American Association, while being comfortably outhit by his teammate Tony Campana. (Nick Schaefer)
11. Danny Goodwin, C, California Angels (1975, Pick 1)
Why We Cared: Goodwin remains to this day the only player to ever be drafted 1-1 twice. A left-handed hitting high school catcher out of Peoria, with the kind of power schoolyard legends are made of, He supposedly hit a 400+ ft home run into a swimming pool with a wooden bat. The White Sox took Goodwin with the top pick of the 1971 draft but he rejected their offer and went to Southern University instead. The Angels would take him with the same pick four years later and scouts referred to him as "the Black Johnny Bench."
What Went Wrong: Goodwin ruined his right arm shortly after reporting to minor league camp after being drafted. He never had surgery for the injury, but his arm was dead and he'd never catch a single inning in the majors. He did manage to hit .286/.347/.488 over 82 games for the Angels and the Twins from '78-'79 but could only manage .214/.289/.314 over the next three seasons before winding up in the Braves' front office and ultimately running their charitable foundation, helping underprivileged inner city children. Not every bust's story has an unhappy ending. (Mark Primiano)
10. Joel Guzman, 3B, Los Angeles Dodgers (2002, Free Agent)
Why I Cared: By the century's turn Pedro had triggered an interest in Dominican baseball deep in the cockles of my heart, and 2001 marked the first second day of July that I focused at least some nominal attention on the whims and decisions of teenagers from that country. And there to receive the largest signing bonus in Dominican history was Joel Guzman.
What Went Wrong: After PECOTA fawned over him as the next Alex Rodriguez, he outgrew his ability to control his long frame, and by most accounts he didn’t ever really quite develop a requisite taste for making adjustments or attempting to improve himself as a player. He never managed to bring his absurd raw power into games consistently, he got abused by high-minors pitching, and he was off to Japan before his 27th birthday. He’s still only 32 years old, and currently hitting .191 for the Sugar Land Skeeters in independent ball. (Wilson Karaman)
9. Lars Anderson, 1B, Boston Red Sox (2006, 18th Round)
Why We Cared: Lars Anderson, how do I remember thee as a prospect, who once had the High-A Lancaster effect propel you as a potential top star, only to falter in Double-A? My Red Sox Lars Anderson shirsey remains unworn, sad—a reminder of my 17-year-old self discovering prospect lists and Minor League Baseball for the first time. Though pitching in Double-A Tulsa, years removed from the label of "potential top star," I'll remember fondly.
What Went Wrong: It's true, very few parks like Lancaster can replicate the high altitude, the high winds, the high average and home run rate. It just wasn't sustainable, both the hitting and the title of being a top prospect, and the Eastern League can break you or make you as a prospect. (Jen Mac Ramos)
Why We Cared: Because as a 20-year old shortstop in 2005 Wood spent the summer in strip mall-laden Rancho Cucamonga, the Angels High-A affiliate. He hit .321/.383/.672, in the process hitting 43 HR, and 51 doubles. In a late season promotion to Triple-A Salt Lake, he hit two doubles and a triple, giving him 101 extra-base hits on the year.
What Went Wrong: The strikeouts were always high, even as Wood obliterated the Cal League. The defense moved him off shortstop quickly, and as Wood debuted in the majors, the strikeouts remained, while the power disappeared. After a 36 wRC+ in 751 MLB plate appearances, Wood retired in 2014 after 25 games in Independent League baseball. He was hitting.098 at the time. (Nathan Bishop)
7. Fernando Martinez, LF, New York Mets (2005, Free Agent)
Why We Cared: Potential, potential, potential. At 16, Martinez was inked to a $1.4 million dollar contract–an amount of money that made even Mets fans used to the team’s free-spending ways stand up and take notice. His physique and the scouting reports promised everything: five loud tools and a Darryl Strawberry career. Even now, on the hot days in March, any time a young Latin kid steps onto the field in Port St. Lucie and rips a ball over the right field fence you can hear the wind whisper: “Fernando.”
What Went Wrong: It’s easy to say that injuries were the culprit, and they were in part–the missed development time and the wounds rusted his tools one by one. The knee surgeries and hamstring strains sapped his defensive chops and pushed him to a corner, the broken hamate and hand injuries could be why his hit tool and approach never came around. In New York, expectations always exceed possibility and it’s a rarity when someone achieves the highs promised them. Potential, potential, but nothing more. (Bryan Grosnick)
6. Sidd Finch, RHP, New York Mets (1985, Free Agent)
Why We Cared: Well, he could have changed the game to the greatest extent since Babe Ruth. Only God knows what a kid with a 168 miles-per-hour fastball could have become.
What Went Wrong: It turned out that Sidd Finch didn’t exist in the first place. He was an euphoric perfection our inner dreamers created. He was too good to be real. But, how is that different from other players on this list? (Kazuto Yamazaki)
Why I cared: I cared because I grew up a die-hard Red Sox fan, and I knew Rivera was an awe-inspiring prospect, and I hated that because #%&@ the Yankees – especially the late-90s version thereof.
What Went Wrong: Rivera turned out to possess the maturity of a Twitter egg, and he never quite figured out how to translate the immense tools into sustainable big-league talent. His career bottomed out when he got caught stealing and selling Derek Jeter’s glove out of the locker room. He’s actually gone on to have himself a monster professional career, socking over 430 minor-league and international home runs and stealing over 330 bases for pretty much everyone but the Yankees. (Wilson Karaman)
Why We Cared: For all you kids out there, the Yankees weren't always dominant. Brien Taylor was the first player picked in the draft. He was selected by the Yankees, who'd gone 67-95 the year before, the worst record in the American League. Baseball America named the high schooler the No. 1 prospect in baseball prior to his first season, at high-A Ft. Lauderdale in 1992, and No. 2 prior to his second year at Double-A Albany-Colonie in 1993.
What Went Wrong: In the 1988 movie Bull Durham, Crash Davis says, "When you get in a fight with a drunk you don't hit him with your pitching hand." Maybe Taylor didn't see the movie because it was rated R and he was 16 when it came out, or maybe he failed to generalize Davis's comment to mean, "If a team is willing to pay you $1.55 million out of high school, you should probably avoid fights altogether." In December 1993, Taylor got into a fight and fell on his pitching shoulder, suffering an injury that his agent, Scott Boras, initially called a bruise but his surgeon, Frank Jobe, who's probably the more reliable source in this case, said, "This is the worst rotator cuff tear I've ever seen." Taylor missed the 1994 season and was cover-your-eyes awful in parts of five more minor league seasons, none above A-level: 111 1/3 innings pitched, 184 walks, 59 wild pitches, 2.66 WHIP, 11.24 ERA. (As for the Yankees, the picked another high school kid with their no. 6 overall pick in 1992, but that one worked out better.) (Rob Mains)
3. Delmon Young, RF, Tampa Bay Devil Rays (2003, Pick 1)
Why I Cared: In my home fantasy league I once shipped an in-his-prime Manny Ramirez and some rookie starter named Jon Lester to a rival for a package headlined by the consensus best prospect in baseball, who still managed to remain the third best prospect in baseball the winter after he hurled his bat at an umpire. He was, of course, Da Meathook’s younger brother. And as such, I reasoned at the time, he was entitled to da benefit of at least several of da doubts.
What Went Wrong: Or maybe not. It turned out that maybe the bat-hurling incident was sort of a little bit important as a window into the character and temperament of the player. He played all 162 as a 21-year-old in 2007, and even posted a top-ten MVP season for Minnesota at age 24. But a bunch of demons, an expanding waistline, and a prematurely-declining skill set led to his bouncing around the league for much of the next half-decade, during which time he posted a more or less even-up WARP tally on the field. Off of it things've gotten dark: he’s been arrested twice, once for a drunken hate crime, and once for choking another man in what was also apparently a drunken hate crime. (Wilson Karaman)
2. Jesus Montero, C, New York Yankees (2006, Free Agent)
Why We Cared: Montero was ranked as the best power hitter and best player available in the 2006 international free agent class as a catcher. That alone is enough to drive the hype train into dangerous territory before even accounting for the Yankees Prospect Effect. BP had Montero ranked 4th in 2010, 3rd in 2011, and 7th in 2012 right as he was traded to the Mariners for Michael Pineda.
What Went Wrong: Montero made the Opening Day roster for Seattle in 2012, but only managed to put up a .685 OPS over 135 games. He would never match either of those numbers in the majors again. The following June he tore his left meniscus, then was hit with a 50 game suspension for his involvement in the Biogenesis scandal. He showed up for Spring Training in 2014 40 lbs overweight and got into fight with a scout over an ice cream sandwich and hasn't sniffed the majors since 2015. Not exactly the ending you'd have expected for someone Brian Cashman said "may well be the best player I’ve ever traded". (Mark Primiano)
1. Drew Henson, 3B, New York Yankees (1998, 3rd Round)
Why We Cared: Henson demanded attention due to his special potential and circumstance. His physical tools attracted outlandish comparisons and statements, all the while earning him a spot on four consecutive Baseball America top-100 lists (including the 2002 edition that saw him ranked ninth overall). Henson’s athleticism lent itself to playing quarterback, tooâ€•a position he filled at the University of Michigan and later in the NFLâ€•and the threat of quitting baseball as a youngster enabled him to finagle $17 million from the New York Yankees. Basically, Henson was big and strong, rich and famousâ€•and all those things before he ever played in the majors.
What Went Wrong: Henson couldn’t hit and quickly took a mulligan on playing football. As previously mentioned, he entered 2002 ranked as the ninth-best prospect in the game. He spent most of that season in Triple-A, where he struck out nearly 30 percent of the time and posted a .736 OPS. Henson repeated the level in the following season, and though he improved upon his strikeouts, his OPS dipped to .703. He retired from baseball thereafter, finishing his big-league career one-for-nine with a single. His subsequent NFL career saw him complete 11 of his 20 passes. (RJ Anderson)
Thank you for reading
This is a free article. If you enjoyed it, consider subscribing to Baseball Prospectus. Subscriptions support ongoing public baseball research and analysis in an increasingly proprietary environment.Subscribe now