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Hot Stone League

Larry Stone gives his take on a wide array of baseball issues and weighs in about the Mariners, too.

February 10, 2012 at 12:17 PM

Prospects lists not always predictive of future success

snelling.jpg

(Chris Snelling, shown here after scoring on a Raul Ibanez double in 2006, was the 46th-ranked prospect by Baseball America in 2002. Seattle Times staff photo).

If I had been writing a blog in 2002 (I’m pretty sure I didn’t know what the word meant back then), I’m sure I would have had a post trumpeting the fact that the Mariners had five players in Baseball America’s list of top 100 prospects that February. Much like yesterday’s post, in fact, which noted the exact same thing regarding Keith Law’s ESPN list.

In light of all the prospects lists that have come flooding out in recent weeks, it got me thinking about just how well they highlight players who indeed turn out to be stars. Or even productive players. So I decided to go back 10 years and look at Baseball America’s Top 100 list from 2002. You can find it here, along with all their other Top 100 lists (not sure if that’s behind a pay wall or not). I figured that 10 years was the perfect amount of time to assess the careers of the prospects, since even the youngest of them in 2002 should have made their mark in the major leagues by now.

The Mariners, as mentioned, had five players on that list. Ominously, not one of the five had a significant impact on the ballclub, and four of the five were washouts. Here they are: LHP Ryan Anderson, No. 14; RHP Rafael Soriano, No. 30; OF Chris Snelling, No. 46; SS Antonio Perez, No. 52; and RHP Clint Nageotte, No. 72. That’s pretty similar to this year’s ranking of C Jesus Montero at No. 9, RHP Taijuan Walker No. 24, LHP Danny Hultzen No. 30, LHP James Paxton No. 51, and SS Nick Franklin No. 57.

Ryan Anderson, the famed “Little Unit,” is the saddest story. Targeted for stardom, he succumbed to arm injuries and, last seen, was a chef in the Phoenix area. Anderson never pitched a day in the major leagues.

Soriano has had a very solid career as a reliever, but only 116 of his 384 games have been with the Mariners. The M’s traded him to the Braves for Horacio Ramirez after the 2006 season. No need to dredge up the results of that deal.

Snelling was a cult favorite among Seattle fans and looked like he had the potential to be a future batting champion. But his reckless style of play led to a lot of injuries, and ultimately that’s what de-railed his career. Snelling played 59 games with the Mariners over three years and hit .237. He hasn’t been in the majors since a cup of coffee with the Phillies in 2008, and after a stint in the Mexican Leagues, is out of pro baseball entirely, as far as I can tell.

Perez was supposed to be a key piece of the Ken Griffey Jr. trade with Cincinnati, but the M’s sent him to Tampa Bay in the compensatory deal for manager Lou Piniella that brought Randy Winn to Seattle. Perez played four non-descript seasons from 2003-06, hitting .244 in 216 games.

Nageotte might be best remembered as the most prolific sweater (as in “perspirer”) ever to wear a Mariner uniform. He’s not remembered for his pitching (1-6, 7.78 ERA in 16 games from 2004-06).

It’s not an inspiring outcome for those five, but it illustrates vividly the pitfalls that can await prospects on their way to the major leagues. Looking at the overall top 100 list from 2002 shows the same thing. Here’s the first 10:

1, Josh Beckett, rhp, Marlins.

2, Mark Prior, rhp, Cubs

3, Hank Blalock, 3B, Rangers

4, Sean Burroughs, 3B, Padres

5, Carlos Pena, 1B, A’s

6, Juan Cruz, rhp, Cubs

7, Joe Mauer, c, Twins

8, Wilson Betemit, ss, Braves

9, Drew Henson, 3B, Yankees

10, Mark Teixeira, 3B, Rangers

Two out of the 10 (Mauer and Teixeira) became superstars, and Beckett has been something close to that. Prior was headed to stardom until his arm gave out, and he hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2006. Blalock was a two-time All-Star, so he did OK. Pena drifted for awhile but eventually forged a solid career. Cruz and Betemit have been journeymen, Henson was a bust and went back to football.

Among the second 10 are the likes of Joe Borchard, Anderson, Dennis Tankersley and Nick Neugebauer, none of whom made an impact, along with Austin Kearns, Nick Johnson and Angel Berroa, who made only a minimal one. But there’s also Josh Hamilton and Brandon Phillips, followed by Justin Morneau at No. 21. Great prospects, great major leaguers.

Looking at the rest of the top 100, only a handful became what I’d call a star: Jake Peavy (28), Adrian Gonzalez (31), Jose Reyes (34), Miguel Cabrera (38), Adam Wainwright (42), Carl Crawford (59), Jayson Werth (70), and Carlos Zambrano (80). Many other had good careers, but just as many were never heard from (Corwin Malone, No. 32; J.R. House, No. 41; Jimmy Journell, No. 44; David Kelton, No. 45; Mario Ramos, No. 49). Conversely, here are 20 great players who never appeared on a Baseball America prospects list.

This is one isolated year I looked at, but I think you could pick any random year from the past and discover basically the same thing: forecasting prospects is a very inexact science. We should all keep that in mind as we peruse all these fun lists.

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