Year after year players come into the league with all pundits and talking heads saying “I’ve never seen some one tear through the minors the way this guy has,” or “This guy’s command and use of all of his pitches are way beyond his years.” Sometimes we’ll even get the occasional combination of Babe Ruth and Jesus reference. But how often do these fellas live up to those accolades? Some never have, such as Todd Van Poppel and every good Mets pitching prospect since Doc Gooden. Some are like Ryan Braun and explode on the scene the moment they get to the bigs. For the most part, though, these players take a while to get accustomed to playing at the highest level and develop into solid players a few years into their big league career.
So let’s take a look at a few guys that came into the league supposedly holding the spark of Zeus’ lightning bolt, but the jury is still out on whether they will live up to it.
Stephen Strasburg – Washington Nationals
I figure since he is the first name that comes to everyone’s mind when the word prospect is mentioned, I’d talk about him first. One thing we know about Strasburg is that he certainly has the talent to be an elite Major League pitcher. He showed this in his first ever major league game by making the Pirates look like a bunch of high-school kids. Steve (it’s OK to call him that, he told me1) continued his brilliant form for the rest of his rookie season until an arm injury forced him to have Tommy John surgery. You know all this, why do I even type it? What you also know is how well he did last September after coming back from rehab. The fear here, obviously, is that we have another Josh Johnson type on our hands that dominates when he plays but can’t stay on the field. In this writer’s opinion, though, the surgery was an inevitability at some point in his career so it’s a good thing he got it out of the way early. Look for Steve to live up to the hype to its fullest.
Alex Gordon – Kansas City Royals
If we can all turn our clocks all the way back to 2007, let’s look at the hype that came along with young Alex. There weren’t enough sleeves to wipe the collective drool off the chin of the fantasy world when the Nebraskan third baseman that had 29 HRs and 20 steals in his first minor league season was mentioned. Over the next four years, though, we saw both offensive and defensive struggles from young Alex which ultimately led to an extended trip back to the minors coupled with a position switch to the outfield. Just when we were all about ready to write him off, we saw a 2011 season where Gordon burst back to MLB with a .303 average, 23 HRs, 17 SBs, 101 runs, 87 RBIs, and an OPS of .879. So where do we go from here? Well, the Royals lineup around him is getting better and maturing, and Gordon spent long stretches of last season as a pretty terrifying hitter with a consistent line drive swing. I see no reason why last season can’t be replicated or even improved on. We’ll probably never see the 35-40 HR power we once hoped for, but I wouldn’t say that a 28/20 season is out of the realm of possibility, and that is a pretty nice player if you ask me.
Pedro Alvarez – Pittsburgh Pirates
The scouting report on Pedro in 2009 said “Alvarez has a terrific combination of raw power and plate discipline. He can hit the ball out to all fields in any park, and is willing to work the count and take a walk.” The power part of this is unquestionably true, but so far in 582 Major League at-bats the plate discipline part seems to be a myth. Alvarez has racked up a Mark Reynolds-like 199 strikeouts in 169 games. Reynolds gets away with this because of consistent 35-plus HR and .800-plus OPS seasons. Unfortunately, Alvarez hasn’t been able to push his career OPS up over .700 yet, which includes a disastrous .596 OPS in 74 games last season. But will he? All signs are pointing to no. Rumor has it that he has lost some weight this off-season, but I think that for him to consistently hit Major League pitching he will have to shorten that swing a bit, which I fear he will never do.
Jason Heyward – Atlanta Braves
I think the best place we can start with Heyward is the scouting report, “There’s little Heyward can’t do. He’s got great bat speed with the ability to hit for average and power. He has an excellent knowledge of the strike zone. He’s got a plus arm from the outfield, runs well and is an excellent base-runner. His makeup is off the charts.” From what we’ve seen so far into his MLB career, all of these accolades are true, as he has shown us flashes of brilliance in all aspects of his game. So why aren’t we looking at an All-Star yet? A myriad of injuries and some lengthy slumps have really held him back. Heyward only has a .255 career average and saw a sophomore slump drag his average all the way down to .227 last year. It seems clear that the mental and physical strain of the Major League season takes a toll on Heyward. Is this something that Jason can overcome? Only time can answer that question, but anything short of a major breakout this season will leave us asking many more questions.
Matt Wieters – Baltimore Orioles
Thirty-one home runs, 102 RBIs, and a .940 OPS. This was the PECOTA projection on Matt Wieters coming into his rookie season. I think it’s safe to say that Wieters came into the league with way too much hype, and because of that a lot of people may be under the impression that he is not living up to his potential. This may not necessarily be the case; it may just be taking Wieters some time. Last year we saw Wieters’ HRs increase from 11 to 22 and his OPS increase by almost a hundred points up to .778. As a matter of fact, 2011 saw a hefty increase in every fantasy relevant category, and there is no reason not to believe this trend won’t continue. Wieters may not have put up the outrageous numbers that were expected of him his rookie season, but I believe he is more than capable of reaching those numbers sometime soon.
1 Stephen Strasburg never actually told me it’s OK to call him Steve.
Chad Miller is an amateur Writer, amateur Fantasy Baseball Player, and a Professional at being amateur. You can find him posting nonsensical jibberish at the Cafe under the name lastingsgriller.
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