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Ah, May. That wonderful time of the year when every baseball prospect fan begins to either plan their trip to see their favorite prospect in Cooperstown, or wonder if their favorite team will ever have a legitimate prospect come through their system again.

If you’re the latter fan, I’m here to help feed into that panic.

Yes, that’s a joke, but in every joke there’s a little bit of reality. Sometimes struggles are of the small sample size variety, but sometimes they’re a start of something bigger.

Here’s a look at five talented prospects who have gotten off to rough starts, and why — without adjustments — it could be a sign of things to come.

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Tim Anderson, SS, Chicago White Sox

2016 stats: .250/.275/.284, 0 HR, 3 BB, 25 K, 4 SB

Why you should be concerned: Anderson’s talent is unquestioned. He’s a double-plus runner who can square up pitches on any part of the plate and make loud contract to every part of the field. What can be questioned, however, is whether or not the approach will allow him to maximize those gifts. That 8.3 strikeout-to-walk ratio is less than ideal, especially when your slugging percentage is a bad on-base percentage.

Scout take: “I don’t think there’s a more athletic shortstop that I’ve seen in the last couple of years, but man, that approach is rough. He doesn’t appear to recognize any secondary pitches, and when he does make contact with them, it’s pretty weak. The speed and defense make him really intriguing, and I love the BP, but goodness gracious he’s gotta get better mentally at the plate if he’s going to be a first-division guy.”

Sean Newcomb, LHP, Atlanta Braves

2016 stats: 2.64 ERA, 25.1 IP, 17 H, 17 BB, 24 K

Why you should be concerned: There’s actually a lot to like about those stats. ERA is fine, strikeouts are right in line with what you’d expect from a pitcher with two out-pitches, not giving up a ton of hits. It’s that walk number that should give you pause, as you just don’t see frontline starters who cause that much self-inflicted damage.

Scout take: “You just can’t be efficient when you put that many guys on via walk, especially in this day and age where pitch counts are so important. I see that he’s averaging only five innings per start, and that has to have at least something to do with the fact that he’s adding pitches because of his walks. I see some mechanical stuff he can do to fix it, mostly balance stuff and doing a better job of finishing the delivery. Until he does that, though, there are going to be concerns about whether or not he’s a starter long-term.”

Matt Olson, OF/1B, Oakland Athletics

2016 stats: .147/.259/.324, 3 HR, 11 BB, 22 K

Why you should be concerned: No one has ever expected Olson to have an elite hit tool. It’s always been about the power and the ability to get on base via walk. So far in 2016 he’s shown a little bit of both, but not enough to justify that enormous amount of swing-and-miss in his profile, and as you’ll see in the quote from Mr. Scout, it may not ever.

Scout take: “He’s way too passive. Walks are great, they give you a chance to score runs, but there are way too many at bats where he’s just going up there looking for them, and when you are strong as this kid is, you should be up there looking to drive the ball. The swing is really long so the strikeouts are going to come no matter what, but I’d really like to see him go up there looking to hit, not to walk. There’s aggressive and there’s assertive. I want to see Olson be assertive.”

Jack Flaherty, RHP, St. Louis Cardinals

2016 stats: 6.10 ERA, 25 H, 8 BB, 23 K

Why you should be concerned: Flaherty’s stats are a bit misleading, as he had one start where he gave up seven runs and got exactly one hitter out. That’s bad. Even so, there are reasons for concern. He doesn’t have any pitches that flash plus on a consistent basis, which puts a lot of pressure on his command. Early on, that command hasn’t been where it needs to be.

Scout take: “I’ve seen a lot of good, but I’ve seen some stuff that really makes me wonder what kind of upside we’re talking about here. Most of the starts I have he’s been just a tick above average with the stuff, and even though there haven’t been a ton of walks, it’s not like he’s just painting out there. I think he’s going to be a nice back-end starter, but I think some people think he’s the next great Cardinals pitcher. I don’t see that happening.”

Carson Fulmer, RHP, Chicago White Sox

2016 stats: 5.47 ERA, 24.2 IP, 21 H, 11 BB, 17 K.

Why you should be concerned: I’ll be honest, I’ve been the low man on Fulmer since he was a prep, and so far as a professional, I haven’t seen anything that suggests I should stop. Yes the stuff is electric, and the ceiling is obviously high. That floor, however, is scary low.

Scouts take: “There’s just a lot more going against him than people seem to think. He’s small, he has a ton of effort in his delivery, and like we talked about with Newcomb, there’s just no chance he can be efficient pitching the way he does. If you moved him to the bullpen he’d be the best relief pitching prospect in baseball. As a starter, I see the type of guy who is going to thrill you one start and make you slam your head the next.”

***

Again, it’s early, and all five of these players mentioned are legitimate top-100 prospects, but just because there’s a lot of baseball left doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have some concerns with early results, especially when there are legitimate reasons for why they’ve struggled.

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MrPops
5/04
A little surprised not to see Devers (.140/.245/.279), currently suffering through a 7-65 slump, not mentioned. Though his 17-K vs. 12-BB reduces the urge to panic by at least a little bit.
MatternK
5/04
Maybe because Devers is just 19 years old in a league with 21-22 year olds with 12 walks?
Theman3983
5/04
Yeah, scouts don't seem too concerned, and because I'm a huge fan of groupthink, neither am I.
sebaker
5/04
FWIW Anderson was fighting through a wrist injury in early April, that'll make for some weak contact. He's over .300 for his last 10 games--still low on power and high on Ks, though.
davinhbrown
5/04
I really liked this kind of article/series. Would enjoy more of it.
MatternK
5/04
Yes, this is good stuff!
hansen06
5/04
^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ agree with these gentlemen!
Theman3983
5/04
Really appreciate that!
richkraetsch
5/04
Christopher, do you think sooner rather than later the White Sox should test the waters with Fulmer as a bullpen arm? Of course you want to give him as many opportunities as possible to figure it out as a starter but you also have a super competitive big league club and many (myself included) believe he can be an asset out of the pen.
Theman3983
5/04
Because of the cost, I give him a chance to start. I just have serious doubts about whether or not it'll happen. I really hope I'm wrong, he's a lot of fun.
chapmantime
5/04
Fulmer first two starts 7.2IP 7H 9R/ER 8BB 3K Fulmer next three starts 17IP 14H 6R/ER 3BB 14K Does this even qualify as a poor start? You couldn't find a pitcher with a run of uniformly bad outings with this sample size? Looks like a course correction to me, and ye olde bias at work when selecting your quintet of subjects. ;)
chapmantime
5/05
You know who'd make a great candidate for this? Francis Martes. Even his lone good start featured a 1:2 K:BB, and he's been increasingly worse as time wears on. Or how about Giolito, who's under-achieving pretty massively? An account of what's wrong with those two would be extremely helpful as opposed to yet another retread of Fulmer's delivery issues.
Theman3983
5/04
Yep. Struggling for sure. Too early in his career to be TOO concerned, but really rough start.
sdsuphilip
5/05

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