Evaluating prospects is a difficult task. Alex Rodriguez was drafted No. 1 overall -- but so was Mark Appel. Twenty-four players went ahead of Mike Trout in the 2009 Draft. Albert Pujols was a 13th-rounder.
It's tough for those of us in the media, too. Between us, we've been rating prospects for more than five decades. We like to think that we've gotten a lot of players right, but we also know that we whiffed on some future stars and touted some can't-miss guys who missed.
Now that we've just released the latest edition of MLB Pipeline's Top 100 Prospects list, we thought it would be instructive to look back on some of our biggest misses.
Bieber led UC Santa Barbara to its first College World Series in 2016 while ranking among the NCAA Division I leaders in strike throwing for the second straight year, but he also sat around 90 mph with his fastball and had ordinary secondary pitches. A fourth-round pick that June, he led the Minors with a 162/10 K/BB ratio in his first full pro season and reached Cleveland in his second, yet never ranked higher on our Indians Top 30 Prospects list than ninth.
Bieber transformed himself into an All-Star in 2019 and a Cy Young Award winner in 2020 by dramatically improving his stuff. He has developed a high-spin fastball that averaged 94 mph last season, learned a curveball from former college teammate Trevor Bettencourt that is now among the game's best, also added an upper-80s cutter and upgraded his changeup.
Prior to the 2010 season, Brown was No. 14 on what was then our Top 50 Prospects list. Before 2011, he had climbed to No. 4, looking like a surefire run producer. He had jumped on the map when he reached Double-A in 2009 and really broke out with a .327/.391/.589 line in Double- and Triple-A in 2010 that led to a spot in the SiriusXM Futures Game and his first big league callup with the Phillies.
Brown spent more time in Philadelphia in 2011 and 2012, though he couldn’t gain a lot of traction. That seemed to change in 2013, when the outfielder was an All-Star and finished with a .272/.324/.494 line to go along with 27 homers. He was a regular again in 2014, but the power didn’t show up as much (10 home runs). He played 63 games with the Phillies in 2015 and never returned to the Majors again. He spent two seasons in Triple-A with the Blue Jays and then the Rockies in 2016-'17 before heading to Mexico for a couple of years.
The right-hander never got higher on our Mets Top 30 than No. 12 prior to the 2013 season. To be fair, deGrom flew under the radar before exploding onto the big league scene in 2014. A shortstop for much of his college career at Stetson, he threw just one inning prior to his junior season and wasn’t taken until the ninth round of the 2010 Draft. He then needed Tommy John surgery after his debut summer, wiping out his 2011 campaign.
More of an 88-91 mph pitcher who could throw strikes when he was drafted, deGrom was cranking it up to 98 mph upon his return to baseball in 2012. He was pretty hittable, allowing 10.2 hits per nine innings across three levels in 2013, providing little hint he’d become one of the most dominant pitchers in the game, winning back-to-back Cy Young Awards in 2018 and 2019 while finishing third last year.
Donaldson is the classic case of a late bloomer, one who has shown up when we’ve re-ranked the top 20 prospects both in 2010 and 2011. Back then, however, he was a supplemental first-round pick from the 2007 Draft who was stalling at the upper levels of the Minor Leagues. Drafted by the Cubs, he was sent to the Athletics in the July 2008 Rich Harden trade and made his big league debut in 2010.
Donaldson wouldn’t return to Oakland until 2012 and didn't break out until the following year, when he finished fourth in American League MVP voting. He earned the first of three All-Star nods in 2014 and won the MVP and the first of two Silver Slugger Awards with the Blue Jays in 2015. He’s amassed 41.5 bWAR heading into the 2021 season, all from a guy who wasn’t even on our A’s Top 10 list in 2011 or our A's Top 20 in 2012.
More of an infielder in high school and his first two college seasons at San Francisco, Foppert became a full-time pitcher after starring in the Shenandoah Valley League in the summer of 2001 and became a second-round pick of the Giants a year later. In his first full year as a pro, he led the Minors in strikeout rate (11.7 per nine innings), advanced to Triple-A and gained recognition as the best prospect in baseball.
Foppert made San Francisco's rotation in early 2003 and had his ups and downs, posting a 5.03 ERA but also winning eight games with a pair of double-digit strikeout efforts in 23 starts. He blew out his elbow in August, however, had Tommy John surgery in September and never regained his mid-90s fastball, nor his nasty slider and splitter. He pitched in just four more games for the Giants before his career ended in 2009.
Though he starred on The Woodlands (Texas) High national championship team in 2006, scouts projected Goldschmidt as a guy with a decent bat who wouldn't be able to stay at third base. He won back-to-back Southland Conference Hitter of the Year awards at Texas State in 2008-09 and topped NCAA Division I with 87 RBIs in the latter year, but lasted until the eighth round as a right-handed-hitting first baseman whose bat would really have to carry him.
Goldschmidt led the Rookie-level Pioneer League in homers (18) and slugging (.638) in his pro debut, then won California League MVP honors in 2010 while topping the Class A Advanced circuit in doubles (42), homers (35) and slugging (.606). All that earned him was a No. 10 ranking on our D-backs prospects list, as scouts worried about his swing-and-miss tendencies, so-so defense and well below-average speed. Yet he was tearing up the Majors by the end of 2011, launching a career that has seen him bat .293/.392/.522 with 249 homers, a surprising 128 steals and three Gold Gloves.
It was an exciting time in the Dodgers system before the 2004 season began. That was the first year we started doing prospect rankings and Los Angeles had two pitchers in the overall top five in Miller (No. 3) and Edwin Jackson (No. 5). Miller, a supplemental first-round pick in 2002, had set the Minors on fire in his first full season, pitching his way to Double-A at the age of 18.
Shoulder troubles erased Miller's 2004 season and he was never the same upon his return. The Dodgers moved him to the bullpen and he continued to miss bats (career 9.6 K/9 rate), but he couldn’t find the strike zone (6.4 BB/9). He pitched his last affiliated game in 2009 and appeared in a handful of independent league games four years later before retiring for good.
Montero was Gary Sánchez before Sánchez, a slugger with arm strength and questionable catching skills in the Yankees' system, and he was considered a much better pure hitter than Sánchez. Montero's offensive ability landed him at No. 19 on our 2010 Top 100 and then at No. 9 in 2011 and No. 12 in 2012. He hit .328/.406/.590 in his 18-game big league debut at the end of 2011, stoking more excitement before New York sent him to Seattle in a four-player deal for Michael Pineda in January 2012.
Montero hit .260/.298/.386 as a rookie with the Mariners in 2012, but accrued only 230 more at-bats in the Majors over the next three seasons. He fell out of favor after getting overly aggressive at the plate and paying little attention to his conditioning or defense. He bounced around Triple-A with the Blue Jays and Orioles in 2016-'17, played briefly in the Mexican League in 2017-'18 and was in the Venezuelan League this winter.