Prospect Retro: Brooks Kieschnick
The Chicago Cubs drafted University of Texas star Brooks Kieschnick in the first round in 1993, 10th overall. A successful two-way player for the Longhorns, he became a full-time outfielder for the Cubs. He hit .341/.388/.495 in a 25-game Double-A trial after signing, excellent performance coming right out of college, and was expected to advance quickly. I'd give a similar player a Grade B+ nowadays at a minimum. He wasn't the toolsiest guy in the world, but he could hit and he worked hard.
Returned to Double-A in '94, Kieschnick had an OK but not spectacular season: .282/.332/.438 with 14 homers. Eddie Epstein gave him a Grade C in the 1995 Minor League Scouting Notebook. I remember thinking that this was too low; I thought Grade B would be more appropriate given his college performance and overall pedigree. Scouts complained that he had problems handling inside pitches.
Promoted to Triple-A in '95, Kieschnick had a solid year, hitting .295/.370/.495 for Iowa with 23 homers and 58 walks. I saw him play several times and the inside pitch problem didn't look important to me. He hit just .224 against lefties though and there was concern that he might end up as a platoon player in the long run. I gave him a Grade B and projected that he would be a good hitter but not a star.
Rather than give Kieschnick a shot at a job in '96, the Cubs signed Luis Gonzalez as a free agent and sent Kieschnick back to Iowa. Frustrated, Kieschnick began trying to hit the ball for power more aggressively. . .he tried to pull the ball more. It backfired, as he hit just .259/.315/.431 for Iowa with a deterioration in plate discipline and a higher strikeout rate. Ironically, he hit great in a brief trial with the Cubs: .345/.406/.517 in 25 games. I wrote that "there isn't anything wrong with Kieschnick that a regular job or a change of scenery won't cure" but lowered his rating to Grade B- since he was now 24.
Sent back to Iowa for a third time in 1997, he continued to be overly power conscious, hitting .258/.323/.492...he hit 21 homers in 97 games, but he wasn't as willing to take the ball to the opposite field as he'd been earlier in his career and was clearly trying to hit homers if you watched him play, hurting his OBP and batting average. He got into 39 games for the Cubs and hit just .200/.294/.356. I lowered his grade to C+; he was selected by the Devil Rays in the expansion draft.
Kieschnick got hurt in 1998 and didn't play in the majors, getting into just 38 minor league games on rehab assignment and falling out of Tampa's plans. He then began a trek through Triple-A in the Angels, Reds, Rockies and White Sox systems 1999 through 2002, showing good power in Triple-A but struggling with nagging and poorly-timed injuries. He was used as a pinch-hitter by the Rockies in 2001 and hit just .238, but with a .548 SLG in 35 games.
Realizing that he was now typecast as a "minor league slugger," Kieschnick converted to mound work in 2002 and did well, posting a 2.59 ERA in 25 games for Triple-A Charlotte. He was a fairly effective middle reliever for the Brewers in '03 and '04, before slipping back into the minors in '05 and out of baseball in '06.
In the minors, Kieschnick hit .278/.338/.491 in his career. Although considered a "failed first rounder" by most, in the majors he hit .248/.315/.444 with 16 homers in 306 at-bats...that's a 30-homer pace in a full season of play. There is little doubt in my mind that if he had been given a fair chance to play that he would have been a useful major league hitter, not a star, but someone who could be a useful platoon outfielder/first base type. In an alternate universe somewhere, the Cubs let him play in '96 and '97 and he ended up having a decent career.