10 MLB Prospects Who Look to Be Taking a Step Back in 2014
Baseball enthusiasts can become obsessed with prospects. For every group of fans, regardless of payroll or market size, the idea of a special young player making the jump to the big league club is tantalizing. Despite the number of prospects that flame out on a yearly basis, the pursuit of the next Mike Trout or Bryce Harper is never-ending.
When publications like Baseball America, MLB.com or Baseball Prospectus release prospect rankings, the experts in charge of charting, scouting and analyzing young, undeveloped players are simply making educated guesses.
Sometimes, those guesses are prescient. After all, some of baseball's best and brightest stars were former highly touted prospects.
Of course, the guesses can also turn out to be very, very wrong. Due to a combination of natural regression, injuries and poor luck, prospects rarely take a straight path from the bottom of the minor leagues to the top of the majors.
Thus far in 2014, 10 well-known prospects are dealing with adversity and a noticeable dip in performance from last year. Six weeks of minor league statistics or poor play shouldn't drastically re-shape the future of any of these players, but more information can become instructive for their respective parent clubs.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and MiLB.com, unless otherwise noted, and accurate as of May 8, 2014.
Mark Appel, RHP, Houston Astros
2013 Stats: 10 GS, 38.0 IP, 3.79 ERA
2014 Stats: 4 GS, 13.0 IP, 6.23 ERA
The Houston Astros are baseball's most fascinating organization. Forget about the success of the St. Louis Cardinals, the payrolls in New York and Los Angeles and the highly-violate business operation in Miami for a second. Instead, focus on a systematic rebuild in Houston that has changed everything fans thought about how to revamp an organization.
When the Astros, led by general manager Jeff Luhnow, chose to pour all of their resources into player development and eschew the idea of fielding a competitive team, every draft pick became a crucial part of the future of the organization.
Unfortunately, last year's No. 1 overall pick Mark Appel is off to a difficult start in 2014. In this case, however, Luhnow is putting the blame on himself, not the star right-handed pitcher, per Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports:
It was really my fault. I made a decision to send him out to Lancaster to have him try and build up there, to try to catch up for the time he missed in Florida. He ended up pitching twice on a four-day cycle and then he skipped a start and pitched on an eight-day cycle. It wasn't like he was in the tandem for a month and couldn't handle it.
Maikel Franco, 3B, Philadelphia Phillies
2013 Stats: .320/.356/.569, 31 HR, 103 RBI
2014 Stats: .205/.268/.316, 2 HR, 10 RBI
Despite a recent hot streak from starting third baseman Cody Asche, third base has been a black hole for the Philadelphia Phillies thus far in 2014. From April 2 through May 5—a span of 25 games—Asche posted a .523 OPS as the primary third baseman in manager Ryne Sandberg's lineup.
With weak backup options like Jayson Nix and Freddy Galvis behind Asche in Philadelphia, the team had little choice but to play the struggling infielder.
Of course, if Triple-A third baseman Maikel Franco was crushing opposing pitchers in Lehigh Valley, the narrative might have changed quickly in the NL East. Early on in 2014, however, one of baseball's best minor league hitters of 2013 looks lost at the plate.
In early April, Franco's skipper, Iron Pigs manager Dave Brundage, didn't seem concerned and cited a need for adjustments from the 21-year-old, per Greg Joyce of the Express-Times. "He understands it's not time to get frustrated," Brundage said. "You've got a young kid trying to make progress, and it's a process here. There are adjustments to be made at every level."
Archie Bradley, RHP, Arizona Diamondbacks
2013 Stats: 26 GS, 152.0 IP, 1.84 ERA
2014 Stats: 5 GS, 24.1 IP, 5.18 ERA
The 2014 Arizona Diamondbacks will take bad news over horrible news; though top prospect Archie Bradley recently went on the disabled list with a mild flexor strain in his right elbow, the organization was happy to see him avoid Tommy John surgery after the major league club has seemingly been snake-bitten this season.
Snake puns aside, Diamondbacks general manger Kevin Towers spoke positively about Bradley, a pitcher whom the Diamondbacks may need in their late-season rotation, per Steve Gilbert of MLB.com. "Dr. Lee said this is probably very, very minor. It was very good news," Towers said. "Probably no throwing for two weeks and then start him back up again, and hopefully in a month he's back throwing in games."
Serious or not, Bradley's injured right arm clearly impacted his production in April. After dominating the minors last season, MLB.com's No. 4 prospect entering the season sported an early-season ERA well over three runs higher than his 1.84 mark from last year.
Jake Marisnick, OF, Miami Marlins
2013 Stats: .289/.350/.489, 12 HR, 46 RBI
2014 Stats: .218/.272/.323, 2 HR, 15 RBI
Over the last two decades, the Miami Marlins have confounded and infuriated baseball fans. A motley history consisting of two World Series titles, zero division titles, false hope of long-term contention and penny-pinching ownership tactics will do that, but it's time to give the Marlins credit for something they do as well as anyone in baseball today: identify young talent.
From Giancarlo Stanton and Jose Fernandez to Christian Yelich and Henderson Alvarez, the Marlins are loaded for the foreseeable future. If outfield prospect Jake Marisnick is able to put it all together in the minors, a potentially great outfield of Yelich, Marisnick and Stanton could soon emerge.
Thus far in 2014, production has alluded a player that spent time in the big leagues last summer.
Javier Baez, SS, Chicago Cubs
2013 Stats: .282/.341/.578, 37 HR, 111 RBI
2014 Stats: .169/.250/.313, 3 HR, 10 RBI
If the Chicago Cubs are going to turn the corner and become contenders in the near future, a stable of power-hitting threats must emerge from the minor leagues to become legitimate, productive hitters in the majors.
After smashing 37 home runs last year and becoming a must-see attraction during the 2014 Cactus League schedule, Javier Baez looked poised to force the Cubs into summoning him to Wrigley Field this season in hopes that he could provide a jolt for a bad baseball team.
Thus far, Baez's .563 OPS is far from good enough to warrant a ticket to Chicago. However, as Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal recently pointed out, any solid production from Baez would put pressure on the Cubs to add him to the 25-man roster immediately, even before June's arbitration cutoff date.
Kolten Wong, 2B, St. Louis Cardinals
2013 Stats: .303/.369/.466
2014 Stats (MLB): .224/.276/.268
No team in baseball is as widely respected as the St. Louis Cardinals, especially when it comes to player development decisions. On a yearly basis, unknown names and under-the-radar prospects emerge from St. Louis' minor league system to become valuable contributors on a winning major league club.
Last year—despite lasting memories of being picked off in the World Series—second baseman Kolten Wong earned a spot on the World Series roster and seemed poised to take off in 2014 as the unquestioned starter at a key up-the-middle position.
After starting the season with a .268 slugging percentage, the defending National League champions shipped Wong back to the minors for more seasoning. The future is still bright for Wong, but his progression won't be as clear-cut as fist thought.
Robert Stephenson, RHP, Cincinnati Reds
2013 Stats: 22 GS, 114.1 IP, 2.99 ERA
2014 Stats: 6 GS, 32.2 IP, 4.41 ERA
After posting a stellar ERA across 114.1 innings last season, Robert Stephenson looked poised to capitalize on an opening in the Reds rotation this season. Thus far, both Mat Latos and Tony Cingrani have hit the disabled list with injures in Cincinnati.
Unfortunately for Stephenson, his dominance from 2013 hasn't carried over into 2014. With an ERA nearly 1.5 runs higher than last season, the former first-round pick will have to find himself before the Reds come calling and promote him to the NL Central race.
Kyle Crick, RHP, San Francisco Giants
2013 Stats: 14 GS, 68.2 IP, 1.57 ERA
2014 Stats: 5 GS, 15.2 IP, 4.60 ERA
Last month, MLB.com's Chris Haft answered a question about the perception of San Francisco's farm system. During his explanation of why the system doesn't get enough respect, Haft referenced the team's abundance of high-upside pitching prospects.
Among them was Kyle Crick.
In order for the Giants to receive the respect that Haft believes they deserve, Crick will have to rebound from a poor start in 2014. After dominating minor league competition last summer, the former first-round pick must live up to his draft position in order to give the Giants system depth for future call-ups or to serve as trade bait for the NL West contenders.
Mason Williams, OF, New York Yankees
2013 Stats: .245/.304/.337, 4 HR, 28 RBI
2014 Stats: .203/.287/.281, 1 HR, 8 RBI
If Mason Williams' prospect status is falling, Baseball America certainly isn't the publication burying the New York Yankees outfielder. As Paul Franklin of the Times of Trenton pointed out, the publication ranked Williams was the No. 1 prospect in New York's system two years ago, and it currently ranks him at No. 3.
Despite the vote of confidence from the preeminent baseball magazine, Williams play on the field has declined on a yearly basis. With a .287 on-base percentage, the 22-year-old outfielder is struggling to find consistency at the plate.
Struggles aside, Williams believes in the process he's taking to succeed, per Franklin. “I’m not where I want to be, but I trust my work, I trust my craft,” Williams said. “I understand it’s a process. I’m putting more time in the cage, more time on the field."
Matt Davidson, 3B, Chicago White Sox
2013 Stats: .280/.350/.481, 17 HR, 74 RBI
2014 Stats: .165/.239/.320, 3 HR, 9 RBI
Matt Davidson is off to a poor start in 2014, but pressure to reach the big leagues as soon as possible isn't coming from his new organization.
Despite losing right-handed slugger Avisail Garcia to a season-ending injury in April, White Sox general manager Rick Hahn seems poised to allow his future third baseman to progress at his own speed, per Colleen Kane of the Chicago Tribune:
One thing that is extremely important to us is not rushing anyone or altering anyone's long-term viability simply for trying a short-term fix in Chicago. What happens with Avi Garcia has nothing to do with what happens to Matt Davidson or Micah Johnson or anybody else. The young guys who will be here will arrive here when they force the time frame and not when others do.
If Davidson owned an OPS similar to his .831 mark of 2013, perhaps Hahn would be forced into making a move.
Which struggling prospect are you most worried about?
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