These Ex-Prospects Face Watershed '10
Prospects often arrive in the big leagues with impossibly high expectations. Some of them never pan out, and some are instantly successful. Others hit some bumps in the road early in their careers, making it unclear what the future holds.
There are several young players around Major League Baseball right now that have yet to truly arrive and reach the potential so many forecasted for them. Some of these players have shown flashes of brilliance and look to be on the verge of stardom, while others have completely lost their way. Either way, these players have something to prove in 2010.
Alex Gordon, 3B, Kansas City Royals
Before you think about hyping the next great young hitter in baseball, just remember Gordon. The young Royals third baseman is not officially a bust, at least not yet. But he is a reminder of just how difficult it is to go from prospect to star player in the major leagues.
Gordon made definite progress in 2008, but injuries knocked him off course in 2009. So, what does the left-handed hitting third baseman need to do to live up to all that hype? He uses the whole field well, something you look for in a young hitter. However, he's going to need to prove he has the ability to pull the ball with some authority in order to keep pitchers out of patterns. He has been susceptible to the breaking ball in his career, but showing he can consistently turn around the power fastball on the inner half would make a world of difference for the 26-year-old.
Phil Hughes, RHP, New York Yankees
We finally saw the Hughes scouts and fans were waiting for in 2010. He was a far different pitcher last year -- more aggressive and comfortable in every way -- and it showed not just in his performance but also in his raw stuff.
It's easy to attribute that simply to his move to the bullpen, but his growth goes well beyond that. Hughes became a three-pitch pitcher, had more confidence in his fastball command like he had previously shown in the minors and tightened up his loopy breaking ball. Bullpen or no bullpen, we saw the real Hughes start to shine through in 2009. If he can stay healthy in 2010, he should be ready to make a significant impact as a starter for the Yankees. It's easy forget that he is still just 23.
Carlos Gonzalez, OF, Colorado Rockies
Gonzalez isn't so much an example of a former prospect who has struggled as much as he is a player on the verge of stardom. Scouts have long been aware of Gonzalez's immense talent, and some have compared him to Carlos Beltran. He's been traded twice already, though, making it easy at times to forget what a tremendous talent he is.
The left-handed hitting outfielder is a 25-homer threat and has grown in leaps and bounds as an all-around player since arriving in the big leagues. His easy swing and ability to turn on the inside fastball makes him an especially difficult out for opposing pitchers. His rare combination of speed and power could make him one of the elite players in the game, so if you are looking for a breakout star in 2010, look no further than Gonzalez.
Chris Davis, 1B, Texas Rangers
Following a very promising big-league stint in 2008, expectations were extra-high as Chris Davis entered his first full season last year. Unfortunately, 2009 was mostly a disaster for the young first baseman. The power was still there -- he slugged 21 home runs -- but he simply did not make enough contact to be an effective offensive threat. So, with top prospect Justin Smoak nipping at his heels, where does Davis go from here? For one, he's going to need to prove he can hit the fastball up in the zone. Davis showed some length in his swing last year and was routinely beat by good fastballs up in the zone. He hits mistakes well and, for the most part, didn't have serious problems hitting the breaking ball, but his swing will need to shorten up in order to make him a viable major league hitter.
Ian Kennedy, RHP, Arizona Diamondbacks
If Kennedy has had one problem early in his career, it has been simply getting his season off the ground. He had trouble gaining any traction for a length of time in the Yankees' rotation, and then of course he was hit hard by injury in 2009. He is healthy now, however, and will get a legitimate shot in the Arizona rotation.
Kennedy is not overpowering but he has better stuff than he is given credit for by many talent evaluators. When he's right, he sits around 90-92 mph with the fastball and can spot it with the best of them. He runs into trouble when he begins to nibble. He is sometimes wary of pounding the strike zone, a trait that has plagued him to this point. If he learns to be more aggressive in the zone, he has the arsenal and command to be a solid mid-rotation pitcher at the major league level.
Homer Bailey, RHP, Cincinnati Reds
Once upon time Bailey was widely considered baseball's best pitching prospect. His talent and potential has not changed since then. In fact, he's a classic example of the early struggles any young pitcher can face in the big leagues, no matter his ceiling. Fans were quick to jump off the bandwagon, but Bailey gave them good reason to jump back on in 2009. He could finally break out in a big way this year. Bailey's fastball regained its life in 2009, and he also showed improved command of his slider. He's still 23 and still learning on the job at the highest level. Few pitchers have his stuff, so this is the type of arm with which a team should remain patient.
Jay Bruce, OF, Cincinnati Reds
The second ex-prospect from Cincinnati on this list that has been plagued by high expectations, Bruce could be ready to take the next step. As of now, he is following a very typical path. He arrived in the big leagues with a bang, and then the league made adjustments. Now, it's his turn to adjust. The good news is he is the type of talent who can do so successfully.
The swing mechanics and bat speed are there, now it's going to be about learning pitchers and the patterns they are using to get him out. Bruce crushed fastballs when he burst onto the scene in 2008, so the fact that he saw more off-speed pitches in 2009 doesn't come as too much of a shock. Pitchers also tied the left-handed slugger up on the inner half. Most of his power comes on pitches out over the plate. Adjusting to the pitch inside will be high on his to-do list this spring.
Frankie Piliere spent the last three seasons working as a scout, most recently in the professional scouting department for the Texas Rangers in 2009. He now serves as the National Baseball Analyst here at FanHouse.