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Case Study: Justin Wayne

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Case Study of a Failed Prospect: Justin Wayne

I am going to start a series of Case Studies of Failed Prospects, focusing on players who were strong prospects but for some reason didn't develop. The first one will be Justin Wayne.

Justin Wayne was the fifth-overall pick in the 2000 draft, by the Expos. The first-ever native Hawaiian drafted in the first round, Wayne had been very successful in college baseball for Stanford. In his freshman season, he posted a 6-0, 3.78 mark out of the Cardinal bullpen, with a 75/25 K/BB in 81 innings, picking up six saves. Converted to the rotation for his sophomore year, he went 10-1 with a 135/43 K/BB in 118 innings. His ERA was deceptively high at 4.96, but the components were very strong. His junior year he went 15-4, 3.21 with a 153/44 K/BB in 143 innings, 121 hits allowed. Wayne had a decent fastball at 88-92 MPH in college, but his curve, slider, and changeup were all major league quality, and he had superb command and competitive instincts. He was considered to be one of the safest picks in the draft, a very polished college pitcher who would move rapidly to the majors.

Wayne signed for $2.95 million. He made five starts for Jupiter in the Florida State League after signing, and did not pitch very well, going 0-3, 5.81 with a 24/11 K/BB in 26 innings. He appeared somewhat tired after the long college season, and no one was really worried about it. I gave him a Grade B in my 2001 book. I should also note that I picked him as the second-overall pick for my Minnesota Twins Mock Draft, preferring Wayne to Cal State Fullerton righthander Adam Johnson, the guy who the Twins really picked.

Wayne began 2001 back at Jupiter and did very well, posting a 3.02 ERA in 42 innings with a 35/9 K/BB. Promoted to Double-A Harrisburg, he went 9-2, 2.62 in 14 starts. However, his K/BB was just 70/34 in 93 innings. The strikeout rate was lower than I wanted to see. I was also disturbed by reports that his fastball had slipped. Instead of throwing 88-92 like in college, he was throwing 86-90. He also missed a couple of starts at the end of the season with a "tired arm." I gave him a Grade B again, thinking that he could be an inning-eater in the majors, not a Mussina-like ace.

Wayne returned to Double-A to start 2002, going 5-2, 2.37 in 17 starts. But his K/BB was weak at 47/32 in 99 innings. Something wasn't right, note the sharp drop in K/IP. In mid-July he was traded from the Expos to the Marlins in the Cliff Floyd/Carl Pavano deal. The Marlins sent him to Double-A Portland, where he went 3-3, 5.84, then to Triple-A Calgary where he made two mediocre starts, then to the majors for five starts at the end of the season. He went 2-3, 5.32 in those five starts with a 16/13 K/BB in 24 innings. Oddly, during the minor league season he was throwing 86-88, but in the majors his fastball bumped up to 90-92, possibly an adrenalin effect. The slippage in his components worried me enough that I lowered his grade to B- in the 2003 book.

Wayne spent most of 2003 at Triple-A, going 4-12 although his 4.24 ERA was very good for the PCL/Albuquerque environment. His K/BB was 82/40 in 136 innings, good control but again the low strikeout rate. I saw him pitch late in the season and his fastball was just 85-88 MPH, without a lot of movement. He still had a good slider, curve, and changeup, but while his command was good, it wasn't great. I lowered his grade all the way to Grade C in the 2004 book.

Everything fell apart in 2004. He posted a horrible 6.58 ERA in 66 innings for Albuquerque. He spent two months pitching garbage relief in the Marlins bullpen, posting a 5.79 ERA with a 20/18 K/BB in 33 innings. He spent two weeks on the DL with a sore shoulder, and by the end of the season was virtually a forgotten man.
Wayne showed nothing in spring training in 2005 and was released in March. He pitched briefly in independent ball, but hasn't pitched professionally in two years.

Justin Wayne went from college ace and fifth-overall pick, to out of baseball, in five years. In his case there was no obvious catastrophic injury, no outbreak of Steve Blass Disease. But something went wrong here. Was it a makeup issue? Wayne was renowned for his intelligence and work ethic, although some scouts believe he tended to outthink himself and may have been a bit too intellectual for his own good. This doesn't seem to be a case of a player who stopped trying. Why did his velocity drop? Was he ridden too hard in college? Did he simply use up his arm too quickly?

Remember, he was the "safe bet" in the 2000 draft. But where pitchers are concerned, even the "safe bets" carry substantial risk.