The world of prospectdom can be a pain in the butt. When a highly-touted prospect rips through the minors and then arrives on the major league scene with high expectations heaped on him, I guess it's only natural for fans to spend lots of energy spewing invective and hatred if said prospect fails to immediately produce. We you're told by myriad scouting mavens and drunk loudmouths at the barstool that Joe Hotshot will be the new Ted Williams and guide your favorite team to the promised land, it's only natural to be disappointed if he comes up and struggles. That disappointment then turns into anger and feelings of betrayal. We fans are a fickle bunch.
However, a lot of talented players take some time to truly adjust to the big leagues. Not every player arrives and becomes an instant All-Star, like Ryan Braun or Albert Pujols. No matter how talented a player may be, sometimes it just doesn't click immediately, as even the jump from AAA to the bigs can be quite the difficult transition for some prospects. For certain players, it just takes a couple of years to get return on our emotional investment.
Take Alex Gordon. He was a super-prospect with the Royals after being drafted with the second pick in 2005, and he was touted as the next George Brett upon his arrival to the Show in 2007. He instantly struggled, was shipped back to the minors, then was shifted to the outfield. For four seasons, he didn't come anywhere close to living up to his promise, and for a bit it looked like it was too much to ask him to become the next Paul Schaal.
Of course, Gordon finally put it all together in 2011. Some prospects just take a bit of time to develop in the majors. You can include Brandon Phillips, Jay Bruce, Rickie Weeks, and Matt Wieters on this list. After the jump, five former star prospects who you shouldn't give up on just quite yet.
1. Justin Smoak
Smoak was one of the prizes in the Mariners' haul for Cliff Lee in 2010, a big first baseman with a good plate approach and developing power. After a hot month of April, Smoak's 2011 quickly degenerated into a year of hell, as he battled a couple of hand injuries and then lost his father to cancer during the summer. So yes, it's understandable that he may have had other things on his mind as he struggled through a crappy year at the plate.
Despite all that, Smoak did show some of the good plate discipline that he'd exhibited in the minor leagues, and he finished the year strong. Safeco will do him no favors, but it's easy to chalk 2011 up as a lost season and give this former Baseball America top 15 prospect a mulligan and let him prove that his ceiling is higher than "better than Mitch Moreland". He should combine with the newly acquired Jesus Montero to give the Mariners some much-needed offensive thump in the middle of their lineup.
Alvarez was horrible last year. There's no disputing that. However, take a look at this similarly gawdawful line for a sec, put up by another power-hitting third baseman at a similar age:
.194/.324/.373, 136 strikeouts in 447 plate appearances.
That was Mike Schmidt in 1973, his first full season in the big leagues. I'm not saying Alvarez is going to be anywhere near as good as Schmidt. No one is that insane. Well, almost no one. I'm sure Scott Boras will tell you that Alvarez is Mike Schmidt v.2, or possibly even bigger than Jesus. As a slugging prospect with contact problems, though, it is heartening to know that Alvarez does at least have elite company when it comes to talented players who sucked big time when first getting their feet wet in the bigs.
Alvarez is known best for the signing deadline shenanigans in 2008, but there's a reason the Pirates were willing to fight it out with Boras to keep him. He wasn't a lame signability pick like Bryan Bullington. His struggles with breaking pitches have stunted his growth so far, but he's still young and, again, sometimes it takes players with his skills longer to figure out good major league offspeed stuff. He's a legit power source who is probably a swing tweak away from becoming a legit fantasy third baseman, at least until he inevitably moves across the diamond to first.
Like Alvarez, Snider's struggles with breaking balls have eaten him alive thus far in his major league career. The best thing he has going for him is his age. It's hard to believe he'll only be 24 this year, but he broke in as a 20-year-old after completely destroying the minor leagues as a teenager. It's hard to imagine talent like that just magically disappears. If anything, his career thus far is proof that the guy in the white shirt was probably a bunch of baloney.
He may have been rushed to the majors, and scouts still like him, so think about drafting him late with the potential for a breakout. He has legit 30-homer potential if he can put it together. Now if only he'd shave off that ridiculous mustache.
4. Colby Rasmus
Rasmus's bout of Family Feud with Tony LaRussa in 2011 was well-documented, and that distraction may have led to Rasmus's down year. LaRussa's insistence on platooning Rasmus was stupid and self-immolating, but Rasmus struggled with the bat last year and was finally shipped off to Toronto. It was assumed that a change of scenery would revive him. It didn't. Rasmus was pretty bad after the trade, and had to watch from home as the Cards won the World Series without him.
Never mind that. Chalk his struggles with Toronto up to the vagaries of small sample size and prepare for a bounce back. He was awesome in 2010 and a full season with a clean slate should revive his bat. If he and Snider come back from the dead, the Blue Jays should put out one hell of a lineup in 2012.
5. Jed Lowrie
He isn't so young anymore (he's 28), but his career thus far has been so mangled by wrist injuries (and mono) that it's hard to tell exactly what he can do given a full season. He slugged .526 in an injury-plagued 2010 campaign for the Red Sox, hinting at what could be. The Astros will give him every chance to establish himself as a quality major league shortstop and I love his chances of at least becoming a good producer at a weak position. Provided, of course, he can stay healthy. Don't bet your house on that, but he's worth a late round pick if you're in need of a shortstop.