What’s Next For These Underachievers?

As we begin to climb higher on the ladder of our rankings of the top 500 players in baseball, we’ve seen similarities between groups begin to emerge. The 401-500 section contained a lot of middle relievers, #5 starters, and utility infielders. In the 301-400 section, we found a lot of aging former stars hanging on as role players and trying to squeeze a bit more life out of the end of their careers. And now, today, in looking at the group from 201-250, one common theme stands out among the many names on the list – underachievers.

This list is full of guys who have, at some point in their careers, flashed the potential to be stars. Many of these players are former top prospects, and some even have had success in the big leagues, but they’ve never become what they were supposed to be. For players like Delmon Young, the clock is now working against them, and we have to assume that they’ll never live up to the expectations that they generated early in their careers. For four others on this list, however, 2012 is their make or break year – they’ll either become what they were supposed to be or enter camp next year fighting for a spot on a big league roster.

Colby Rasmus, CF, Toronto – #202

Given that Rasmus has been an above average player in two of his three seasons in the big leagues, it might seem unfair to label him as an underachiever, but it’s hard to find one thing he’s improved upon since getting to the big leagues, and he’s already managed to alienate himself out of one organization. His mid-season trade to Toronto was supposed to be his chance to start over, but instead he hit .173/.201/.316 for the Blue Jays, and showed little progress in making contact or closing his holes against left-handed pitching. Rasmus generated excellent results in 2010, but even then there warning signs, as his strikeout rate and extreme fly ball tendencies suggested his batting average was due for a crash. It’s hard to be a star as a .240 hitter, and Rasmus has yet to prove that he can be the all-around performer he was billed as.

Ricky Nolasco, SP, Miami – #214

In 2009, Nolasco posted an ERA of 5.05 but an excellent FIP of 3.35, suggesting that he allowed far more runs than you’d have expected for a pitcher with his underlying peripherals, and that improvement was to be expected in 2010. He did get better the next year, but only slightly, and his 4.51 ERA remained well north of his 3.86 FIP. Last year, he completed the trifecta, and posted a 4.67 ERA that was more than a run higher than his 3.54 FIP. For whatever reason, Nolasco has simply not been able to get his results to line up with what you’d expect from a pitcher of his skills, and he’s running out of time to prove that he can finally prevent runs at an above average level. While large ERA/FIP discrepancies generally narrow over time, Nolasco is running out of chances to blame his ERA on outside factors.

Rick Porcello, SP, Detroit – #233

When Porcello – a highly rated high school phenom – fell to the 27th spot in the 2007 draft due to signability concerns, the Tigers pounced, and eventually signed Porcello to a Major League contract worth $7.3 million, the largest ever for a high school pitcher up to that point. He was routinely compared to Josh Beckett, and was supposed to develop into a front-line starter, only he just never learned how to strike anyone out. Instead, Porcello has become a decent pitcher who throws strikes and gets a good number of ground balls, but he wasn’t drafted with the idea of being the next Jake Westbrook. Still just 23, Porcello is young enough to continue developing, but if he’s ever going to live up to the hype, he’s going to have to start throwing the ball past hitters occasionally.

Dexter Fowler, CF, Colorado – #242

In 2008, Dexter Fowler was an absolute force in Double-A, hitting .335/.431/.515 and looking like the second coming of Kenny Lofton. He made contact, drew walks, drove balls into the gap, and could run like the wind. He had all the makings of a prototypical five-tool center fielder, and as a prospect headed for Coors Field, it was easy to imagine him putting up some gaudy numbers at the top of the Rockies line-up for years to come. Unfortunately, since arriving in the big leagues, the only things Fowler has been prolific at are striking out and getting caught stealing. He’s struck out at least 100 times in each of his first three seasons in the big leagues, and despite enjoying the benefits of hitting at altitude, he’s only managed 15 career home runs. Fowler’s physical gifts are still present, and his ability to draw walks suggests that he could develop into a quality top-of-the-line-up hitter, but he’s probably on his last chance to prove to the Rockies that he’s still their center fielder of the future.

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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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