In a perfect world, every top prospect would fulfill his potential and turn into a big league star. But as we are all well aware, things don’t always turn out as planned.
Sometimes it’s injuries that derail a promising career. Sometimes it’s because, well, baseball is really hard. And projecting a young player's future is far from an exact science.
Over the course of baseball’s history, there are scores of once highly touted and ranked prospects who never reached their ceiling. The following is a snapshot of some of those disappointments, a prospect from each team who failed to live up to his lofty expectations in the past decade.
AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST
Blue Jays: Kyle Drabek, RHP -- The son of former big league pitcher Doug Drabek, Kyle was taken with the 18th overall pick in the 2006 Draft by the Phillies, who traded him to Toronto in the 2009 trade for Hall of Famer Roy Halladay. Drabek would make his big league debut the next year and climbed up to No. 12 on MLB Pipeline’s Top 50 Prospects list in 2011, only to have his career sidetracked by Tommy John surgery in ’12. The 30-year-old right-hander wasn’t the same after the injury and totaled just 12 2/3 big league frames over the next four years.
Orioles: Brian Matusz, LHP -- The No. 4 overall pick in the 2008 Draft subsequently became one of baseball’s top pitching prospects, ranking as MLB Pipeline’s No. 5 overall prospect in 2010 after debuting with Baltimore the previous year. Yet, Matusz never found success as a big league starter, and after registering a 5.61 ERA over 357 2/3 innings across 69 starts, he was permanently moved to the bullpen in 2012. The southpaw revived his career in the new role, compiling a 3.47 ERA in 171 innings, though he hasn’t seen any big league action since 2016.
Rays: Tim Beckham, INF -- The No. 1 overall pick in the 2008 Draft’s climb through the Minors was a mixed bag of underwhelming production and off-the-field issues, but he still managed to reach the Majors with Tampa Bay in 2013 before emerging as a near-everyday player in 2017. He clubbed a career-high 22 homers that year between the Rays and Orioles and produced double-digit homers in each of the past two seasons for Baltimore and Seattle, respectively. But even though Beckham’s power ticked up in recent years, gains in other aspects of his overall game have been limited, and he’s set to miss the first quarter of the 2020 season after receiving an 80-game PED suspension in August.
Red Sox: Henry Owens, LHP -- The 2011 Draft turned out to be a very successful one for the Red Sox, with a list of big leaguers led by Mookie Betts and Jackie Bradley Jr. Owens was taken 36th overall that year and while he did reach the big leagues briefly in 2015 and 2016, his command issues (5.0 BB/9 in the Minors) kept him from ever reaching his potential. He pitched in independent ball in 2019.
Yankees: Manny Banuelos, LHP -- Signed in March 2008, Banuelos enjoyed a meteoric rise through the Yankees system and finished ’11 on the cusp of the Majors as a 20-year-old in Triple-A. But a left elbow injury limited Banuelos to just six starts the following year, and he ultimately lost all of 2013 as well after undergoing Tommy John surgery. A trade to Atlanta after the 2014 season set the stage for Banuelos’ big league debut the next year, and after spending all of 2016-18 in the Minors with three different teams, the southpaw found new life in the White Sox rotation early in ’19, albeit while pitching to mixed results.
AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL
Indians: Adam Miller, RHP -- Miller’s heyday as a prospect came before the decade as one of the top pitching prospects in the game in what was supposed to lead to an era of dominance in Cleveland. Injuries never let that happen, as Miller touched Triple-A with a number of organizations, but was out of baseball after the 2015 season.
White Sox: Courtney Hawkins, OF -- The No. 13 overall pick in the 2012 Draft created a buzz by doing a back flip at the Draft but unfortunately never could harness that exuberance on the field consistently. He was No. 68 on the Top 100 in 2013, but couldn’t get past Double-A with the White Sox. He did touch Triple-A with the Reds in 2019, but ended up back in the California League with the Giants and has also spent parts of the past two seasons in indy ball.
Royals: Bubba Starling, OF -- Yes, he did make it to the big leagues in 2019 (with a .572 OPS in 186 at-bats), but it’s safe to assume all involved expected more when Starling, an exciting two-sport star in high school, was taken No. 5 overall in 2011 Draft. Starling has struggled offensively, with a .709 OPS and 26.5 percent strikeout rate in his Minor League career, though he did hit better in Triple-A in 2019, leading to his call up.
Tigers: Jacob Turner, RHP -- Turner was viewed as a potential front-of-the-rotation complement to Justin Verlander when the Tigers made him the No. 9 overall pick in the 2010 Draft, and he appeared to be on his way toward reaching that potential when he made his big league debut two years later at age 20. But the three-time Top 100 prospect -- he was ranked No. 15 overall in both 2011-12 -- struggled during his time in Detroit, and the Tigers dealt him to Miami ahead of the ’12 Trade Deadline. And while Turner did bounce back with a career-best season as a starter in ’13, ongoing control problems forced his relegation to the bullpen the next year, and he’s pitched only sparingly in the Majors since a right shoulder injury wiped out his entire 2015 campaign.
Twins: Alex Meyer, RHP -- Meyer did make it to the big leagues with the Twins in 2015-16 and the Angels in 2016-17, but the 2011 first-round pick and two-time Futures Game participant never found a way to completely harness his power stuff, either as a starter or reliever. Shoulder woes certainly held him back and he officially retired in June 2019 after multiple surgeries and rehab attempts.
AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST
A’s: Michael Choice, OF -- Choice hit the Top 100 in 2012 with the A’s and in 2014 with the Rangers, the year he got the bulk of his big league time (253 at-bats). But the No. 10 pick in the 2010 Draft never took off and ended up playing in Korea in 2017 and 2018 and Mexico in 2019.
Angels: Kaleb Cowart, INF -- The Angels took Cowart No. 18 overall back in 2010 and he reached as high as No. 67 on the Top 100 list in 2013 as a power-hitting third base prospect. And he has gotten big league time in each of the last five seasons, but has a .176/.238/.292 line to show for it in 406 plate appearances. A two-way star in high school, Cowart did return to the mound in 2019 to give the Angels perhaps another dual threat player.
Astros: Mark Appel, RHP -- Appel was the No. 1 overall pick of the 2013 Draft a year after the Pirates took him No. 8 overall but he opted to return to Stanford for his senior year. The hope was that he’d get to the big leagues in a hurry. Instead, he struggled, posting a 5.06 ERA in the Minors with the Astros and Phillies and stepping away from the game after the 2017 season, becoming just the third No. 1 pick in the history of the Draft to fail to make it to the big leagues.
Mariners: Alex Jackson, OF/C -- Jackson was seen as perhaps the best pure hitter in the 2014 Draft, a big reason he went No. 6 overall. The Mariners moved him to the outfield to let that bat play, but it never really has. He’s hit .233/.317/.433 in the Minors and the Braves moved him back behind the plate once they got him and he did make it up to the big leagues as a catcher in 2019.
Rangers: Mike Olt, 3B -- Olt certainly looked the part of a prototypical slugging third baseman when he first reached the Majors in 2012, but the UConn product never found his footing offensively in the big leagues and ultimately produced a .168/.250/.330 line with 16 homers and 143 strikeouts in 135 games for the Rangers, Cubs and White Sox. He’s spent time in both the Padres and Red Sox systems since his last Major League action in 2015 and played just 32 total games last season between the Mexican League and the independent Atlantic League.
NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST
Braves: Kevin Maitan, INF -- The hype behind Maitan when he was the top international prospect in the 2016-17 signing period was palpable, drawing comparisons to Miguel Sano and Miguel Cabrera, and the Braves signed him for $4.25 million in July 2016. He wasn’t a Brave for long as he was declared a free agent in November 2017, part of the penalty levied against the Braves for violating international signing rules, and signed with the Angels. He’s still only 19, so there’s time for him to turn it around, but he’s hit just .229/.288/.347 thus far and hasn’t come close to looking like the guy who was once No. 32 on the Top 100.
Marlins: Tyler Kolek, RHP -- Taken with No. 2 overall pick in the 2014 Draft after he lit up radar guns with a 102 mph fastball as a Texas high school senior, Kolek struggled to harness his power stuff early in his career before Tommy John surgery wiped out his ’16 campaign and derailed the trajectory of his career. The now-24-year-old has worked only 33 Minor League frames (10.10 ERA) since the surgery and has yet to reach Double-A.
Mets: Gavin Cecchini, INF -- Though Cecchini, the 2012 Draft’s No. 12 pick, reached the Majors for the first time at age 22 in 2016 -- the same year he ranked as MLB Pipeline’s No. 87 overall prospect -- he batted just .208 over 32 games with the Mets the following year, and the club designated him for assignment after an injury-plagued campaign in ’18. The 25-year-old infielder saw limited action at Triple-A Syracuse in 2019 and became free agent in November.
Nationals: A.J. Cole, RHP -- While the former fourth-round pick has enjoyed a respectable big league career, posting a 4.86 ERA with 181 strikeouts in 174 innings while primarily working as a long reliever, Cole’s overall performance has been a disappointment considering he appeared on MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 Prospects list for four straight years (2012-15). His struggles were especially pronounced in Washington, where he registered a 5.32 ERA and allowed 22 homers in 110 innings spanning four seasons.
Phillies: Jon Singleton, 1B -- While most think of Singleton from his Astros days, he was originally drafted by the Phillies back in 2009. He was No. 30 on the Top 100 list as a Phillie in 2011 before being traded to Houston in the July 2011 Hunter Pence trade. He put up some numbers in the Minors, and the Astros even gave him a lengthy contract, but a combination of lack of productivity and failed drug tests led them to release him in 2018.
NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL
Brewers: Jed Bradley, LHP -- The second college pitcher taken by the Brewers within the first 15 picks of the 2011 Draft, Bradley, a Georgia Tech product, repeatedly struggled during parts of five seasons in Milwaukee’s system before going to Atlanta in a June 2016 trade. The left-hander made his big league debut later that season, appearing as a reliever in six games, but was designated for assignment in early September and announced his retirement the following spring.
Cardinals: Shelby Miller, RHP -- MLB Pipeline ranked Miller -- the No. 19 selection in the 2009 Draft -- as the sport’s No. 5 overall prospect ahead of ’12, the same season that he made his big league debut as a 21-year-old September callup. He was a staple in the Cardinals’ rotation from 2012-14, a stretch during he posted a 26-18 with a 3.33 ERA while amassing 370 innings, and netted the club Jason Heyward when they dealt him to Atlanta that offseason. Traded to the D-backs in the widely panned Dansby Swanson trade after just one season with Atlanta, Miller went on to record a 6.35 ERA in 139 innings across parts of three seasons (2016-18) in Arizona.
Cubs: Brett Jackson, OF -- Jackson, the Cubs’ top Draft pick (No. 31 overall in 2009) hit the Top 100 list at No. 46 in 2011 and climbed to No. 33 in 2012 as an outfielder with an exciting power-speed combination. He made it to Chicago in 2012, but hit .175/.303/.342 in that stint and saw just seven more big league at-bats with the D-backs in 2014. He last played in 2015, logging 51 games in Triple-A with the Giants organization.
Pirates: Alen Hanson, 2B/OF -- Hanson arrived on the prospect map with a very successful jump to full-season ball in 2012 and landed at No. 54 on the Top 100 in 2013 as a result. He was at No. 67 in 2014 and he made his big league debut in 2016. The speedster has spent considerable time in the big leagues every year since, topping out with 110 games in 2018 with the Giants, but the lack of refinement in approach (145/26 K/BB ratio in 585 at-bats) has kept him from making a real impact.
Reds: Juan Francisco, 3B -- Francisco put up some monster power numbers in the Minors, leading to him ranking No. 48 overall on the prospect list in 2010. He looked like the Reds’ third baseman of the future when he first got to Cincinnati, but his swing and miss tendencies kept him from really tapping into his power potential. He last played in the big leagues with the Blue Jays in 2014, his last year in baseball.
NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST
D-backs: Braden Shipley, RHP -- A first-round pick (No. 13 overall) in the 2013 Draft out of Nevada, Shipley ranked as high as No. 39 (2015) during his three-year run as an MLB Pipeline Top 100 Prospect before making his big league debut with Arizona in July ’16. The right-hander showed promise while pitching to mixed results as a rookie, but ultimately he compiled a 5.49 ERA and 1.60 WHIP across 100 innings from 2016-18 before failing to reach to the Majors in ’19. Shipley elected to become a free agent after the season, and the Royals signed him to a Minor League deal in December.
Dodgers: Zach Lee, RHP -- A multi-sport standout as a Texas prep, Lee was widely regarded as one of the 2010 Draft’s premier athletes before going to the Dodgers with the No. 28 pick. He ranked as MLB Pipeline’s No. 45 overall prospect in 2012, the first of his three-year stay on the Top 100, but had lost much of his prospect luster when he finally debuted in July 2015. Since then the 28-year-old right-hander has logged just eight innings in the Majors -- all coming with Padres in 2017 -- while bouncing from team to team on Minor League deals.
Rockies: Riley Pint, RHP -- Pint was hitting triple-digits as a high schooler and went No. 4 overall in the 2016 Draft as a result. He still has the premium fastball and was on the Top 100 in 2017 and 2018, but had trouble staying healthy, missing nearly all of the 2018 season, and struggling to find the strike zone. He’s thrown just 156 pro innings and has walked 7.2 per nine. He’s still only 22, but the clock is ticking.
Padres: Casey Kelly, RHP -- Kelly entered MLB Pipeline’s Top 50 Prospects list at No. 28 in 2010, two years after the Red Sox made him a first-round pick (No. 30 overall). He climbed to No. 22 on the list the next year, after Boston sent him to the Padres in the offseason Anthony Rizzo trade, and reached the Majors for the first time in 2012. Overall, Kelly spent five straight years on an MLB Pipeline Top 50 or Top 100 list. Now 30 years old, he’s reportedly being considered for a contract this offseason by numerous big league clubs after pitching to a 2.55 ERA over 180 1/3 innings last year in the Korean Baseball Organization.
Giants: Christian Arroyo, INF -- A first-round pick in 2013, Arroyo enjoyed a steady a climb through San Francisco’s system, hitting well at every stop en route to his big league debut in ’17. Since then, however, Arroyo has twice been included in trades, as he was shipped to the Rays in the December 2017 for Evan Longoria, then flipped to the Indians in a smaller deal before the 2019 Trade Deadline. Altogether, the 24-year-old has compiled a .215/.280/.342 batting line with six homers in the Majors (70 games).