By the time a top prospect graces a major league field, avid fans can recite just about any detail regarding that player. Height, weight, round drafted (or country signed from), minor league stats, scouting reports, what he likes to eat for lunch..you name it, and it’s known.
With fantasy players going to CIA-like lengths to get the scoop, looking to identify The Next Big Thing before anyone else, expectations for those prospects soar. Sometimes, those players scuffle at first, get hurt or don’t get an opportunity to play every day. They fade from a person’s consciousness, as attention is turned to the next crop of “can’t miss” youngsters.
Today, I’d like to turn your attention back toward some names that everyone swooned over a few years back, but have yet to reach their potential for one reason or another. Here’s the Fallen Prospect Lineup, with CHONE projections for the 2010 season included.
J.R. Towles, Astros
CHONE: .252/.332/.409, .326 wOBA
Towles’ minor league track record suggests that he could be better than the average backstop with the bat, but a string of injuries, an ugly line in a small amount of big league playing time (largely the product of a .218 BABIP) and the presence of 2008 first-rounder Jason Castro have torpedoed his status within the organization. It’s difficult to find a guy capable of league-average offense at catcher, so the 26 year-old shouldn’t be written off just yet.
Jeff Clement, Pirates
CHONE:.264/.342/.460, .350 wOBA
Formerly a catcher, Clement was viewed as a franchise-type player when the Mariners selected him with the third pick in the 2005 draft. However, knee injuries and spotty receiving skills caused him to fall down the defensive spectrum. Now that he’s apparently through strapping on shin guards, Clement will need to slug his way to a big league career at first base. He’s a career .279/.368/.492 hitter in 1,500+ plate appearances at the Triple-A level. Clement, 26, figures to get his first crack at an everyday job if Pittsburgh feels comfortable with Garrett Jones in right field.
Sean Rodriguez, Rays
CHONE: .241/.327/.447, .338 wOBA
Snagged from the Angels in last year’s Scott Kazmir deal, Rodriguez has beat the bejesus out of the baseball in Triple-A (.298/.396/.620 line in 750 PA), though Salt Lake City (the Halos’ highest minor league affiliate) is a cozy place for a batter to take his cuts. The 25 year-old doesn’t have a clear path to everyday playing time, but he has experience at second base, shortstop, third base and in the outfield. With Tampa, Rodriguez will perhaps fill in at the keystone when Ben Zobrist plays the outfield, while catching an occasional start at other positions when a regular needs a breather.
Ronny Cedeno, Pirates
CHONE: .257/.303/.389, .304 wOBA
Slim pickings here. That CHONE projection would actually constitute a great leap forward for the former Cub and Mariner, who has a career .272 wOBA in the majors. Cedeno just plain hasn’t been able to handle big league fastballs to this point: per 100 pitches, he has been two runs below average when a pitcher reaches back and fires. He has hacked first and asked questions later, too, chasing 35.5 percent of pitches thrown outside of the strike zone (25% MLB average). Cedeno, 27, will “battle” Bobby Crosby in spring training for a starting spot.
Last we heard, both Ronny and Bobby are trying to board Oceanic Flight 815, hoping to crash on the “The Island” back in 2004. I’m not sure that even Jacob or The Man in Black could help these two, though.
Alex Gordon, Royals
CHONE: .267/.353/.435, .350 wOBA
The fervor surrounding Gordon never reached Wieters-esque levels, but the Golden Spikes Award Winner and Nebraska star was supposed to mash from the moment the K.C. home crowd gave him a standing ovation in 2007. Gordon’s ’09 campaign was marred by a hip injury, but it’s important to keep in mind that a “disappointing” major league performance to this point has resulted in a 98 wRC+ (two percent below the MLB average).
The 26 year-old lefty batter must show improvement versus breaking stuff, particularly of the southpaw variety, but CHONE projects an offensive showing that’s 14 percent better than the big league average next season (114 wRC+).
Wladimir Balentien, Reds
CHONE: .265/.342/.487, .358 wOBA
Traded from the Mariners to the Reds last year, Balentien is a hulking righty hitter who has impaled pitchers at Triple-A (.283/.359/.534 in 819 PA) and flailed in the majors (.221/.281/.374 in 559 PA, with a 72 wRC+). He hasn’t exactly crushed fastballs. But against curves and sliders, Wlad has looked like a beer league softball player who hit the kegs a little overzealously in the early innings. His contact rate to this point is a Custian 69.8 percent (80-81% MLB average).
Still, Balentien is a 25 year-old with a good record in the high minors. He’ll fight for playing time in left field with a laundry list of others, including Chris Dickerson, Jonny Gomes, and possibly Chris Heisey.
Delmon Young, Twins
CHONE: .305/.339/.454, .346 wOBA
Remember “Delmon Young, the next Albert Belle“? The first overall pick in the 2003 draft earned the adoration of prospect mavens by throttling pitchers at minor league levels where he was several years younger than the competition. Sure, his strike zone was expansive, but it was easy to dream of a day when he’d be an all-around force at the plate.
Now 24, Young enters the 2010 season with a career 95 wRC+ in the majors. The problems: a tendency to swing at anything from North Dakota to Wisconsin (career 40.4 Outside-Swing% and a four percent walk rate) and roll over the ball (50 percent groundball rate). It also doesn’t help that he has played DH-worthy defense (career -18.9 UZR/150 in LF). He’s not doomed yet, but there’s a good chance that he’s the next Jose Guillen instead of the next Belle
Lastings Milledge, Pirates
CHONE: .284/.345/.423, .338 wOBA
Once a premium center field prospect with the Mets, Milledge is now a left fielder on his third organization. His career wRC+ is just 93, as he has often strayed from the zone (31.6 Outside-Swing%) and rarely popped the ball over the fence or into the gaps (.132 ISO). The soon-to-be 25 year-old doesn’t project as a standout defender, so he’ll need to up the offensive ante in Pittsburgh. Jose Tabata and Gorkys Hernandez both have ETAs of late 2010 or early 2011.