In 2003 the Kansas City Royals drafted a highly-touted outfielder named Chris Lubanski out of Kennedy-Kenrick Catholic High School in Norristown, Pennsylvania.
Nearly a decade later, that once top-prospect is still toiling in the minor leagues—though he is no longer on any affiliated team. Rather, he is exhibiting his craft with the Chico Outlaws of the independent North American League.
It would be unfair to say that Lubanski fizzled in the minors like so many prospects do. In 2003, his first professional season, he hit .326. In 2005 he slugged 28 home runs while driving 116 runners home. As recently as 2007 he was named the fourth-best prospect in the Royals farm system by Baseball America.
But then something happened—Lubanski got promoted to Triple-A. In 2007 he hit .259 with 15 home runs for two teams—not awful as a whole, but he hit only .208 in 49 games for the Royals Triple-A team, the Omaha Royals. That’s not very good.
The following season his struggles continued at the highest level of minor league baseball, as he hit only .242. In 2009, he hit .272 overall…but only .227 for the Triple-A team.
But you said he didn’t fizzle, you’re thinking. Well, he really didn’t.
In fact, in 2010 he signed with the Toronto Blue Jays and spent the entire season with their Triple-A team, the Las Vegas 51s. That year he hit .293, with 17 home runs and 57 RBI in only 100 games. He finished third on the team in home runs, behind only Brett Wallace’s 18 and J.B. Arencibia’s 32.
Indeed, 2010 was an incredible career renaissance for Lubanski, who had from 2007 to 2009 seemingly faltered and lost his way. Unfortunately, bad news and bad luck followed Lubanski after his comeback year.
He became a free-agent following the season and was signed to a minor league contract by the Florida Marlins. Despite his resurgent 2010, he was released before the 2011 season began—and no new major league team came knocking.
Lubanski was never a bad player. He exhibited plus speed and plus power at all minor league levels, and as proven by his 2010 season, showed that he could bounce back well from extended struggles.
And yet that call from the big league club never came.
He fell victim to a curse that befalls quite a few minor leaguers. He performed well at the lower levels and faded when it really, really counted. And when he got his career back on track, it was too little, too late.
So today, Lubanski no longer plays in any major league organization. Instead he plays for an independent team, the Chico Outlaws—with whom he is hitting .284, with two home runs in 24 games.
And that call to the majors that this former top prospect was sure to receive at some point—eventually, one year—becomes more and more distant, and more and more just a dream.