This week's theme: prospects who disappointed in 2013.
Gary Sanchez, catcher, Yankees (Double-A Trenton)
We ranked Sanchez 47th in baseball coming into the season, and 26th overall in the mid-season update, but the latter had more to do with the promotion and attrition of his contemporaries than with his rising star. Sanchez is a frustrating prospect, one who possesses a high ceiling that comes at a high risk, and his performance in 2013 gave us a taste of both outcomes. The 20-year-old has the type of impact potential in the stick to warrant the high-6 OFP grade, but the makeup continues to produce mixed response, and despite owning some defensive skills, the overall projection behind the plate is cloudy. While it’s true that Sanchez is still extremely young and attempting to develop into a dual-threat player, the red flags in his game could limit his promise, both in the field and at the plate. He’s still a top 100 prospect in the game—and you can make a case for continued inclusion in the top 50—but his stock has slipped. —Jason Parks
Bubba Starling, outfield, Royals (Low-A Lexington)
I’ve been highly critical of Bubba Starling all season, starting with his poor showing in camp and continuing throughout his full-season debut. My biggest complaint about Starling is his pitch recognition skills [read: his ability to pick up the ball early out of the pitcher’s hand and react to the offering accordingly]. Starling’s athletic ability is no joke, which gives him a high ceiling and justifies the extreme bonus he received as a high first-round pick. But I really question Starling’s ability to hit a baseball, and that’s the one carrying tool that can make or break his career. His second-half performance offered a stronger pulse than his early season flat-line, but unless his bat-to-ball ability is a dormant monster waiting to erupt, I don’t see Starling developing into the type of the talent the Royals thought they were paying for when they dropped $7.5M back in 2011. —Jason Parks
Lewis Brinson, outfield, Rangers (Low-A Hickory)
Before the season, I wrote this about Brinson: “He has the skills to be the top prospect in the Rangers system next year, and at least 50 spots higher on the 101 list. He’s a high-risk prospect, so let’s not start exchanging promise rings yet. But the tools are loud and the projection extreme, so when and if it clicks, it has a chance to be disturbingly good. A role 7 (all-star) future isn’t a drug-fueled hallucination. Everything else I write that is non-baseball related might be, though. Just a heads-up.” Brinson flashed this role 7 talent during the season, showing natural ability in center field and impressive raw pop, but the swing-and-miss in his game was grotesque, as the 19-year-old struck out 191 times in only 122 games. That’s so ugly that I’m at a loss to think of another high-end prospect that produced so much whiff in Low-A and still managed to carve out a successful major-league career. Can you think of one? Without a more controlled swing and better contact, Brinson’s offensive upside will suffocate, and the visions of his role 7 future will be of the hallucinogenic variety after all. —Jason Parks
Courtney Hawkins, outfield, White Sox (High-A Winston-Salem)
We didn’t rank Courtney Hawkins in the pre-season 101, and several Texans questioned my loyalty to the state and requested to see my documentation. The bat-to-ball ability was always a red flag –especially against arm-side pitching–and the better the off-speed stuff, the less likely Hawkins is to make contact. Like Starling, pitch recognition could be a big issue, the type of neurological action that could doom his offensive attack before the ball even reaches his bat. The raw power is very big, and the big Texan played the entire year at an advanced level at the age of 19. But the contact ability and approach are very legit issues, and without substantial improvement (the kind I’m not sure are even possible given the specific nature of the issues [themselves]) Hawkins looks like a candidate to bust and not a candidate to bust out. —Jason Parks
Francisco Lindor, shortstop, Indians (Double-A Akron)
Before the bell that would trigger the exchange between second and third period, I slipped out of class to drop a special note to a special man, a perfectly folded dissertation of hope and happiness dropped into a locker located just off the main quad. While it’s hard to find a fatal flaw in his on-the-field game, Lindor’s failure to respond to my essay was the biggest disappointment of the 2013 season, one that left me stranded in an emotional purgatory. Despite suggestions to the contrary, I didn’t require his full acquiescence to my purported charms and opportunities of chance; rather, I only asked for an acknowledgment of receipt, a look, or a smile, or a paper memory that says, “Hey, I got the note. I really appreciate it. I am that excellent. Thanks for understanding that. I also love my smile.” Instead of a casual salute, I received the silent noir of nothing, and I’ve been a disconnected man as a result. That’s very disappointing. I just want to be whole. —Jason Parks
Kaleb Cowart, 3B, Double-A Arkansas (Angels)
The 21-year-old Cowart entered this season as the Angels’ top prospect but is unlikely to maintain that status after hitting a punchless .221/.279/.301 in 132 Double-A games. Despite this year’s poor performance, it’s too soon to write him off as a bust; he opened 2013 as the Texas League’s fourth-youngest player and still has perhaps the top tool-based ceiling in a thin Angels system.
A switch-hitter with a strong 6-foot-3 frame, Cowart has good bat speed, and he’s known to show a strong hit tool from the right side with plus raw power from the left. While he hit .279 as a righty this year, he was a harmless .202/.263/.277 as a lefty. One scout questioned Cowart’s pitch recognition and hand-eye coordination while adding that “he’s a tough one because his tools are better than he plays. He’s a talented player who just isn’t hitting.”
Cowart didn’t appear overmatched by Double-A pitching when I saw him in April––he was just a tick off-balance and wasn’t making solid contact. Whatever was wrong, the prospect will spend this offseason looking to right the ship and enter 2014––likely back at Arkansas––with a clean slate. —Jason Cole
Tyler Skaggs, LHP, Triple-A Reno (Diamondbacks)
The Diamondbacks expected bigger things out of Skaggs this season, hoping the 22-year-old southpaw would grab a full-time rotation spot and make an impact on the NL West race. That didn’t quite happen, as a poor spring training performance followed by a rocky campaign at Triple-A Reno led to only seven major-league starts in 2013. While Skaggs’ year wasn’t at all disastrous, he fell into some bad habits and didn’t take the step forward his club anticipated.
Despite Skaggs’ 4.73 ERA between Reno and Arizona this season, none of the evaluators I’ve spoken with is worried about him over the long haul; most still peg him as a mid-rotation starter. Skaggs still flashed good stuff this season, including an upper-80s/low-90s fastball, swing-and-miss curveball, and average-or-better changeup. His fastball command was inconsistent, however, and multiple scouts noted that he wasn’t being aggressive enough with the pitch.
Skaggs relied more heavily (too heavily, according to the scouts) on his off-speed stuff and didn’t attack like he has in the past. While his fastball isn’t a knockout pitch, his usage and location of it early in counts is key to setting up his quality secondaries. It’s not a complex adjustment to make in the grand scheme, and given the fact that Skaggs still shows a clean delivery and strong command profile, there isn’t much reason worry about his overall future. —Jason Cole
RHP Casey Kelly, RHP Joe Wieland, LHP Cory Luebke, San Diego Padres
The Padres have been short on starting pitching depth all season, and that’s largely because three of the club’s top young arms––Kelly, Wieland, and Luebke––were lost to Tommy John surgery. Kelly went under the knife on April 1, while Wieland and Luebke had their surgeries in 2012. San Diego expected the latter two to return during the second half of this season, but minor setbacks have pushed them to potential winterball stints or spring training 2014.
When healthy, all three pitchers should make an impact in the San Diego rotation. That especially includes Luebke, who appeared to be coming into his own as a mid-rotation starter with three plus offerings just prior to his injury in 2012. Kelly and Wieland are both pitchability righties with solid-average stuff who should slot comfortably into the back-end slots. Getting zero innings out of the trio was a blow for the 2013 Padres, but all three should be intriguing to watch next season. —Jason Cole
Trevor Story, SS, Rockies (High-A Modesto)
Story entered the year with a successful first full season under his belt. The reports highlighted a well-rounded tool set that was advanced for his age and showing progress. The baseball skills and feel for the game stood out, while the right-handed hitter had also begun to scratch the surface on translating his raw into game power. It was more than enough to put the 20-year-old shortstop at the top of Colorado’s system and also snag the 34th slot in our 2013 Top 101 Prospects. With a placement in the offensive paradise known as the California League awaiting Story, things seemed to be lined up for the offense to continue to swell and for the hype to be justified.
The body of work for Story in 2013 has proved to be a disappointment, however. The weaknesses and concerns in the prospect’s game entering the season have played at the forefront. The advanced tools have been behind the curve in High-A, especially Story’s hit tool. The swing-and-miss in the righty’s stroke was magnified to the tune of 183 strikeouts. The concerns about him expanding the zone and struggling with better soft stuff came true. Even his defense, which should be good enough to stick at the position, was scattered. The strides forward weren’t there, and the year can be seen as a step back. Now, we’ll have to see how well the young hitter can adjust, in what should be a repeat of the level in 2014 rather than a step up to Double-A. —Chris Mellen
Trevor Bauer, RHP, Indians (Triple-A Columbus)
Fourteen months ago everything appeared to be going according to plan. Trevor Bauer, just 120 innings into his pro career, had arrived in Arizona with a chance to establish himself as a mainstay in the Diamondbacks’ rotation. Despite his rapid ascension to Phoenix, Bauer’s brief tour through the minors hinted at areas that would require improvement in order for the former UCLA Bruin to find long-term success at the big league level—namely a walks-per-nine rate north of four and an almost obsessive desire to rack up strikeouts at the expense of pitch counts and at the risk of extending, and even giving away, at-bats.
These issues persisted at the major-league level and Bauer struggled to find even minimal success in his four-start cup of coffee with the Snakes. Worse, a growing rift between the young righty and the organization became public, with teammates, front office personnel, and ownership calling into question Bauer’s makeup while blaming his failures on his refusal to alter his personally-designed training regimen or incorporate instruction from the organization. Bauer returned to Triple-A Reno and once again enjoyed high strikeout rates and unimpressive walk rates while helping the Aces to a Triple-A championship. Even ending on that high note, the shadow of his MLB struggles remained through the offseason.
The rift had grown past the point of possible mending, and Bauer was shipped out of town in a three-way deal that brought a young defensive-minded shortstop (Didi Gregorius) and two throw-ins to Arizona. Arizona had given up on its “ace of the future” less than two years after spending the third overall pick in one of the most loaded draft classes in recent history, a signing bonus of $3.1 million, and a major-league deal worth north of $4 million over four years on the former Golden Spikes winner.
Fast forward to today, and the change of scenery has done little for Bauer. At the time of this writing he has managed just four starts with the Indians, again with abysmal results, and has additionally struggled even to repeat his previous Triple-A success. Bauer’s performance at Columbus this summer was worthy of a future middle reliever, with his continued strike-zone-phobia handcuffing evaluators wishing to project a future ability to turn over big league lineups. Further, Bauer saw a step back in his execution and production, with his strikeout rate dropping to less than a strikeout per inning, and his walk rate climbing above five walks per nine.
In short, 2013 could not have gone much worse for Bauer. Thought by many to be close to major-league ready upon drafting, he has now failed spectacularly in two brief stints, and appears to have at least temporarily stalled out, developmentally, at Triple-A. It’s time for Bauer to hit the reset button and perhaps reconsider his approach—not just on the mound, but to the game altogether. While his mechanics and preferred sequencing have worked for him against lesser hitters, it’s debatable whether his athleticism is up to the task of repeating such a complicated motion pitch-after-pitch, and if he isn’t routinely executing his offerings they are unlikely to hold much utility against discerning big-league bats. There is still a potential mid-rotation starter waiting to emerge—whether the Indians can find a way to bring that pitcher to the forefront is anybody’s guess. —Nick J. Faleris