The other day, I was having a conversation with my baseball-loving friend, affectionately known as Big Lar in our circle, about current New York Yankees centerfielder Aaron Hicks. The debate was whether or not Hicks stock as a player was looked upon more negatively because of his lofty prospect ranking prior to his debut. Hicks was a Top 100 prospect for three or four years, according to your preferred source, and his .233/.318/.378 slash line after six years in the bigs is hardly representative of that.
So, the debate turned to who’s fault is it? Why is Aaron Hicks, a kid who made his professional debut out of high school, a bust of sorts? Is he just an average player; were prospectors, dare I say, wrong for the better part of four years in their evaluation of Hicks? Was he in fact, ALWAYS just an average player?
Now, not everyone is going to be a Mike Trout, but there are certain expectations attached to a top 100, and more so a top 50 prospect. You seldom run into these issues in other leagues like the NFL or NBA because there aren’t years of development to watch (though this has changed somewhat with the G-League in the NBA). You get drafted, you play, and by the time your rookie contract is up you are either a value pick or a bust.
Let’s take a look back at the 2000s and some of the top prospects that didn’t pan out. And this isn’t picking on anyone or any source; these were consensus top prospects by EVERY outlet that could type a report. This isn’t simply a look at busts, but players who reached high prospect rankings and never performed that way. There won’t be, for example, a Tim Beckham on this list, who was somewhat a question mark being drafted first overall and not really ranked after his first season in the pros.
Today, we look at the first 10 (in no particular order, even though it may appear that way):
The No. 1 overall pick of the 2013 MLB Draft is out of baseball before his big league debut just six years later. The big righty was a consensus top 50 prospect in 2014 and 2015 (ok, John Sickels had him at No. 51 in 2014, but close enough), and he simply never met the expectations. He finished with a 24-18 record with an abysmal 5.06 ERA, 1.52 WHIP and 315:158 K: BB ratio in 375.1 minor league innings.
Burroughs rode his legendary Little League World Series run (back-to-back no hitters!) to elite prospect status. He was a top 10 prospect for three years in most everyone’s opinion. Burroughs played 528 career MLB games, slashing .278/.335/.355 slash line with a career .690 OPS. He pitched one career inning in the big leagues and allowed four hits and three runs.
I was sold the hype on Johnson hook, line and sinker. Johnson was widely viewed as a top 25 prospect for three or four years, and while his career was derailed more by injury than talent, he certainly never lived up to those expectations. He finished his career having never played a full season and over 125 games just four times with a .268/.399/.441 slash line and .840 OPS.
Another Yankees prospect, Henson was a true two-way athlete. Known for splitting time with Tom Brady at Michigan, Henson was a top 25 prospect a few times, before hanging it up to become a full-time NFL-er with just nine career big-league plate appearances.
Floyd certainly enjoyed a serviceable career, pitching for five teams over 13 years. But expectations are higher from a top 50 prospect and that’s exactly what Floyd was for nearly four years (he began 2002 at No. 56 in Baseball America before a three year run inside the top 50 by nearly everyone else). Floyd battled with injuries, but finished his career 74-76 with a 4.37 ERA, 1.23 WHIP and a 985:415 K:BB ratio in 1250 career innings.
Young was a top 3 prospect for four-straight years and Baseball America had him as high as No. 1 in 2006. They weren’t alone. Young was seen as a rare talent, twice a 20/20 player, both while hitting over .300. He hit over 20 home runs just once in his 10-year career and never came close to 20 stolen bases, stealing just 36 in his career, which is way less that the 75 he stole in his three-year minor league run atop the charts. Young put up a nice career slash line of .283/.316/.421 and a .737 OPS, but a lot more seemed to have derailed his career than talent alone. Last seen, he spent two months this year in the Mexican League before being released.
Twice a Top 20 prospect in baseball, Hermida also cracked the top 50 one other time. Our own John Sickels had Hemrida ranked the No. 2 bat in 2006, right behind Delmon Young, both with A grades (he later would give them a grade of ugh in his look back). By 2007, Hermida had a very nice season for the Marlins slashing .296/.369/.501 posting an .870 OPS with 32 doubles and 18 home runs. The problem was the next five years never came close and Hermida was out of the bigs by age 28.
His brother Adam cracked the Top 100 just once and turned out to be a pretty solid player. Andy was a top 50 prospect across the board two or three times, and played just one full season in the big leagues. His big-time power (he hit 53 home runs in his first two pro seasons) simply never translated at the next level.
Morales cracked everyone’s top 50 prospect list as a pitcher and did show signs of that talent emerging here and there in the bigs. Primarily coming out of the pen for four teams in 10 years, Morales numbers never equated to top 50 talent. He finished his career with a 4.56 ERA, a 4.70 FIP, a 1.44 WHIP and a 385:223 K:BB ratio in 490 career innings.
Snider was a big-time prospect that showed some big-time power and contact potential, but never turned into a starter at the big league level. He had some nice seasons as a role player and one year that he played 140 games, but his time in the bigs was only eight years. He finished with a .244/.311/.399 splits and a .709 OPS.