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Cast Study of a Failed Prospect: Sean Burroughs

One of the biggest prospect busts is recent years is Sean Burroughs.

Burroughs was drafted in the first round in 1998, ninth overall, out of high school in Long Beach, California. He was famous long before he was drafted: his dad was a major league slugger, and Sean himself was known for his play in the Little League World Series as a youngster. Scouts loved his bat, and also praised his defensive skills at third base. Despite his size, he didn't have a huge amount of present home run power, but most everyone expected it to develop as he matured. I didn't give letter grades to new draftees back then, but a Grade B would probably fit well.

Burroughs was assigned to Fort Wayne in the Midwest League for his pro debut in 1999. He hit .356/.464/.479. He hit just six homers, but knocked 30 doubles and showed exceptional strike zone judgment. He made 37 errors but most everyone thought his defense would settle down in time. And the lack of homers didn't worry anyone, officially anyway, given his size. It was assumed that the power would develop given his other hitting skills. I gave him a Grade A- in the 2000 book.

The Padres jumped Burroughs to Double-A Mobile in 2000. He hit .291/.383/.401 with just two homers. He maintained the excellent strike zone judgment, but where was the power? I still gave him a Grade A-. He was just 20 years old and hitting .291 in a tough league/park environment. My thinking was that even if he didn't develop huge home run power, that he would hit for a high average and challenge for batting championships down the line. His defense improved as he led the league in fielding percentage, another good sign.

Promoted to Triple-A Portland for 2001, Burroughs hit .322/.386/.467, boosting his power output and continuing to impress scouts with his defense at third base. I gave him a Grade A. He was 21 years old, showing excellent contact ability in Triple-A, hitting for a high average, and continuing to improve with the glove. Yes, the power was still marginal. . .but it was getting better, and there seemed no reason to think it would not continue to do so.

Burroughs split 2002 between Triple-A (.302/.380/.447) and the Majors (.271/.317/.323). He became San Diego's third baseman in 2003 and had a nice .286/.352/.402 campaign. By this time the doubts about his power were growing louder. I was thinking he could be a 10-15 homer a year guy by this point, with the high batting average, OBP, and defense. At age 22, hitting .286 in the majors, he should have had a bright future ahead of him in the batting average department at least. But it was not to be.

He hit .298/.348/.365 in the majors in 2004, a nice boost in batting average but with less and less power. Complaints were now being heard about his hitting approach. Nagging injuries were also taking their toll. In 2005 it all came crashing down. He hit just .250/.318/.299 and appeared totally punchless at times. The Padres gave up on him and traded him to the Devil Rays for Dewon Brazelton (another failed prospect). Injuries plagued him in '06 but even when healthy he was awful, hitting just .214 in 37 games for Triple-A Durham. He hardly played at all in 2007, limited by a shoulder injury.

What happened here? Injuries were an issue: he was hampered at various times by knee injuries, shoulder impingements, back pain, etc. Those didn't help. But the bottom line is that the power that everyone assumed was in his bat just wasn't there. Normally, a player showing his kind of hitting skill at a young age will develop along the age curve and improve as time goes on. But Burroughs didn't. He peaked very early. It's interesting to note that his father Jeff Burroughs was also an early-peaker, fading very quickly after the age of 27. Sean's age curve was even more extreme.

The lesson I take away from this one. When a guy is not hitting for power, but everyone thinks he WILL hit for power eventually, it's a good idea to remain a bit skeptical until it actually happens.