...that while there's great reason to be excited about Jason Heyward, Stephen Strasburg, Mike Stanton, Jesus Montero, Brian Matusz and all of the other elite prospects that reside at the top of prospect lists this spring, the list of elite prospect busts is shockingly long.
While it's premature to write off many recent disappointments considering their youth and talent, such as Joba Chamberlain, Alex Gordon, and Brandon Wood, most prospect evaluators certainly considered more from those guys by now. But they've failed to meet those expectations for a variety of injuries, including injuries, a lack of opportunities, and being moved around from role to role by their organization.
But still, when you go through the top of Baseball America or Baseball Prospectus' Top 100 lists from the past decade, the number of guys that we expected big things from that just didn't come through is pretty big. It's certainly not worth going into deep detail again, I'm sure that's been done in a variety of places, but I thought that I would just remind everyone of some of the great prospects of yesterday who will never be remembered as much more than that.
Now, I'm just going to focus on BA Top 5 prospects here, but it's worth noting that these weren't necessarily the consensus top five prospects at their respective times, and there were certainly arguments to be made for other prospects being more deserving of top five recognition.
We'll kick it off at the beginning of the decade, though, way back in the good ol' year 2000. Our top five, in order: Cardinals LHP Rick Ankiel, Phillies OF Pat Burrell, Cubs OF Corey Patterson, Blue Jays OF Vernon Wells, and Yankees 1B Nick Johnson. Now, it's tough to argue that Burrell, Wells and Johnson were necessarily disappointments. Burrell had numerous fantastic offensive seasons, Wells was good enough at one point to convince Toronto to give him $126M, and Johnson has a career OBP of .402 and multiple impressive campaigns under his belt. But Ankiel and Patterson? Ankiel looked like a potential ace after 2000, when he posted a 3.50 ERA in 175 innings for the Cardinals. But his control issues are well-documented, and of course he completely fell apart as a pitcher after the 2000 regular season. Patterson looked like a potential stud after posting 7.5 WAR total in his age 24 and 25 seasons, but he was constantly misused as a leadoff man and his lack of plate discipline eventually led to his demise.
2001 saw a fairly new top of the list, with only Patterson returned at No. 2 in the rankings, up a spot from the previous year. Joining him were No. 1 prospect Devil Rays OF Josh Hamilton, and rounding out the top five were Marlins RHP Josh Beckett, White Sox RHP Jon Rauch and Brewers RHP Ben Sheets. Beckett and Sheets have obviously had nice careers, with numerous ace-quality seasons between the two of them. Hamilton struggled to reach the majors due to drug addiction issues that nearly ended his career, but he's slotted in as an everyday outfielder in Texas now and has nearly unlimited potential. Alas, it's another Chicago prospect that failed to reach his upside, as Rauch is now battling for the closer role in Minnesota and has accumulated only 3.6 WAR in his seven years in the majors, split between four teams.
Beckett returned in 2002 as the No. 1 prospect, with new additions Cubs RHP Mark Prior, Rangers 3B Hank Blalock, Padres 3B Sean Burroughs (No. 6 the year before), and Athletics 1B Carlos Pena. This list looks a tad better, as we've already talked about Beckett. Prior and Blalock had impressive starts to their careers, but injuries led to ineffectiveness and neither one of them appears likely to make a major impact in 2010. Carlos Pena has found his niche as a big-time power hitter in Tampa Bay, with 116 home runs in the past three years and 202 for his career. Burroughs' power never developed as expected, and his other skills never quite made for it, although he did have two solid seasons with San Diego in 2003 and 2004. A career isolated power of just .078 just won't cut it at a corner infield position, though.
The 2004 and 2005 lists were both headlined by Twins catcher Joe Mauer, and I think that we can easily say that he's panned out by now. Other successes behind Mauer include both No. 2 prospects from the two respective lists, as Seattle RHP Felix Hernandez and Tampa Bay OF B.J. Upton, who didn't stay at shortstop but still looks to be an impact piece going forward, both are cornerstones of their respective teams. The No. 3 prospect happened to be the same both years, as Delmon Young maintained his ranking but has failed to break out as a five-tool beast in stints with both Tampa and Minnesota. Beyond those four, Dodgers RHP Edwin Jackson, Brewers 2B Rickie Weeks and Rockies 3B Ian Stewart all have established roles for 2010, but none of them has emerged as a star like the evaluators hoped. There's one big glaring weakness on the two lists, 2005's No. 5 prospect, Dodgers SS Joel Guzman. Guzman looked like a potential monster at shortstop with plus plus power, but he outgrew the position and was included in the 2006 deal that sent Julio Lugo to LA. He spent the 2009 season in the Washington organization, posting a .365 wOBA in Double-A. He's still only 25, but the lack of pitch recognition and plate discpline has all but sunk his status as a legitimate prospect.
2006 was headlined by Delmon Young once again, while No. 2 prospect Diamondbacks OF Justin Upton appears to be a major success even though he didn't stick at shortstop, just like his older brother. Beyond him, No. 5 prospect Stephen Drew has established himself as Arizona's everyday shortstop, and No. 3 prospect Brandon Wood appears to finally have a hold on the third base job in Los Angeles after being stuck in the upper minors for years. Marlins OF Jeremy Hermida looked like he would breakout after posting 2.6 WAR in 123 games with the Marlins in 2007, but contact issues and a loss of power led to a trade to Boston, where he's slotted in as Boston's fourth outfielder for the upcoming season.
It's tough to really say that any of the 2007 prospects are busts yet. No. 1 prospect Daisuke Matsuzaka was hardly a prospect when he arrived to the U.S., but his results as a starter have been pretty volatile during his time in New England. Alex Gordon, Phil Hughes and Homer Bailey have all shown flashes, and a breakout 2010 from any of them really wouldn't shock anybody. And then of course there's Delmon Young, who tantalized scouts for years but continues to not make the developments that everyone had anticipated that he would've made by now.
And the 2008 and 2009 lists appear to be doing well, with Evan Longoria, Colby Rasmus (the lone repeater on both lists), Jay Bruce, Matt Wieters, Clay Buchholz, David Price, Tommy Hanson, Joba Chamberlain and Jason Heyward all looking at major playing time in 2010, and I think that most talent evaluators would say that the future is bright for each of these young players.
So maybe with the increase in exposure, scouts and prospect evaluators are improving their ability to forecast the careers of young players. But for right now, I think that it's worthwhile to remember just how many of these guys end up being a fraction of what we hope and even expect. Because you really can't emphasize it enough, that for every Hanley Ramirez or Evan Longoria, there's a Joel Guzman or Sean Burroughs that we wasted so many words on.