Top 10 Reasons Prospects Don’t Pan Out


Jul 28, 2009

Top 10 Reasons Prospects Don't Pan Out The Red Sox have been hesitant to give up Clay Buchholz in the past, and as of now, it looks like they won’t be giving him up anytime soon. Now that could all change by Friday, but every year, players and prospects are deemed untouchable by their teams at the deadline, only to never pan out the way they were projected. And in many circumstances, a deal involving those players would have landed their organization a superstar in return.

It happens every single year, and it is almost 100 percent guaranteed to happen again. Some prospect will be held onto but never make it in the bigs, or some team will overvalue a player, give up a sure thing and be let down later on. There's no stopping it, and there's no preventing it either. Judging the talent of players with only a handful of major league games under their belt or only minor league experience isn’t an exact science.

For a chance to win the World Series, it is worth giving up “what could be” for “what already is” nearly every single time. Only once in a while does a Bartolo Colon-for-Grady SizemoreCliff Lee-and-Brandon Phillips deadline move happen, and it’s not too shocking the man who made that move currently runs the Mets — but we’ll get into that more later.

Prospects and young talent are unproven. Therefore, it’s unknown what level of success they will have or what sort of future injury issues they will endure. Up until the trade deadline, hundreds of minor league names will be tossed around in an attempt to land a true season-changing player. Here are 10 reasons why you can’t trust what you see, hear or read about prospects, and why can’t-miss players miss all the time.

10. Age
Former Nationals general manager Jim Bowden can tell you a little about this. Fake birth certificates and identifications have become a rampant problem in baseball in recent years. Well, they have been a problem for years, but only really identified as a problem recently. Players claiming to be 16-year-olds are really 19, and dozens of John Smiths pose as John Does. GMs can never be sure what they are getting themselves into when they venture into other countries to sign and draft talent. And once those players make it through the system, there’s no telling how they will develop since there is no telling just how old they are.

9. Steroids
The Steroid Era in baseball is far from over, but with the new testing policies, it’s hard to beat the system. However, that doesn’t stop prospects in the minors from trying to slip through the cracks, though it has settled down. In 2005, when the penalties were a joke — which some believe they still are — 83 minor leaguers were suspended for using performance-enhancing drugs. In 2009, only 10 players have been handed the since-changed 50-game suspension for a first-time offense. But players likely are still using PEDs, and who knows who is and who isn't, especially for drugs that are can’t be traced through testing (HGH, cough, cough).

8. Trouble with the law
The "sex, drugs and rock and roll" approach is one way to live your life. For prospects attempting to take it to the next level, it’s probably not the best lifestyle to choose, but still some do. Former first-overall pick Matt Bush was recently arrested again and is still just 23 years old. Sure, he floated around the Mendoza Line during his minor league career and didn’t exactly turn out to be worthy of a No. 1 pick, but the trouble with the law certainly didn’t help his situation. Bush goes down as one of the biggest position-player busts ever due to his draft position, but there are plenty of cases of players and prospects ruining their careers with extracurricular activities.

7. Money/Agent
Scott Boras can guarantee you a lot of money. It might cost you a few spots in the draft, but he will get you the most money possible. Still, he can’t guarantee you will get to the bigs — then again, no agent can. While agents have the right intent for their clients, sometimes their game plan to put their client in the best possible position to succeed actually puts them in a bad position. Time and time again, players sit out for money and waste development years over monetary issues, or their agent advises them not to play with the team that drafted them and hold out for the next draft class. The goal of every drafted and signed player is to play in the majors, but sometimes, the agent’s personal motives (dollar signs) can derail those plans.

6. Change of scenery
It can be a big adjustment for a player just breaking into the professional ranks, playing baseball for a living for the first time, and, more importantly, living away from home for the first time. Making the adjustments to a new lifestyle on the road and playing the game as a job can be scary enough — and it certainly doesn’t help when an executive vice president takes off his shirt and challenges you to a fight like it's Saturday night outside the Hong Kong at Faneuil Hall.

5. Being in the Mets’ farm system
If you are in the Mets’ farm system, there’s a good chance you won’t make the majors, or at least that you won’t be successful once you do. And if you are in the Mets’ system and eventually do experience success in the majors, it’s probably because they traded you in a mind-boggling deal that set their franchise back another five years. Maybe it’s unfair to give the Mets a low blow a day after their own GM delivered one to New York Daily News writer Adam Rubin. But nevertheless, the Mets make another Top 10 list and not for a good thing. Whether it’s trading Scott Kazmir for Victor Zambrano in 2004 or overvaluing Lastings Milledge for years while he tried to get on Hot 97 with his raps rather than get on base, the Mets seem to never get it right when it comes to homegrown talent. Sure, there is David Wright and Jose Reyes, but every squirrel finds a nut now and again. Don’t be surprised to see the Mets make a monumental move this week, the kind of monumental move that gets people fired.

4. Coming from a different country
This goes somewhat along the lines of “Change of scenery,” but there is a lot of emphasis placed on can’t-miss prospects from other countries, mainly Cuba and Japan. Hideki Irabu, anyone? Jose Contreras? Those two might have World Series rings, but had they been drafted and forced to work themselves up the minor league ladder without already being owed bags of money, there is a very real chance they would never have made the majors. Foreign players usually have immediate success (Hideo Nomo, Daisuke Matsuzaka) but fail to make the adjustments necessary to remain successful in the majors. Getting into a bidding war over a player whose numbers and reputation were built in the Central League or in some obscure professional league is never worth it. At least it hasn’t proven to be yet.

3. Injury
The majority of prospects that teams seek in deadline deals are pitchers, and there are many pitchers who never live up to their potential because of injury. Some of those injuries come from non-related baseball activities (see: Brien Taylor), but many times, they do. With the success rate of Tommy John surgery growing dramatically, there will be little cause for concern in the future over elbow injuries, but  fixing shoulder problems is nowhere near as advanced. Mark Prior and Kerry Wood — two absolute phenoms just six seasons ago — are perfect examples of that.

2. Talent
Sometimes, players dominate high school or college but can't hit a lick in the low levels of the minors. And sometimes those who dominate the minors can’t put it together in the majors. But there’s nothing you can do about it. At some point, being athletic just won’t cut it in baseball since there is much more to becoming successful than being strong and fast. It’s the front office’s job to try and project the path of their prospects as accurately as possible. However, it doesn’t always work out as planned.

1. Hype
In today's world with the media being as omnipresent as it is, it's nearly impossible for a big-time player to fly under the radar on his way to the majors. And if he plays for a major market team, it is impossible. Players in New York and Boston are celebrities before they ever take the field for the first time, and the anticipation is so great that the fan bases expect Steve Nebraska to take the mound and throw a perfect game each time out. But the reality of that is just ridiculous. Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain and Clay Buchholz were household names in the Northeast before they first took to a major league mound. And now Austin Jackson and Lars Anderson are on that same path. It’s unfair, but it's part of the game now. Clubs just hope at the deadline that they hang on to those who can deal with it, rather than receiving those who can't.

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