So it is official, Stephen Strasburg will face the Pirates next week. Everyone is screaming like John the Baptist to prepare for the way of the great Strasburg
And do you know what? He’ll probably do just fine.
Who knows? He might even be as advertised.
But beware… there have been pitchers hyped as the next big thing and they have fallen far short of the ace expectations of Strasburg of Nazareth. The pitchers who all hope was pinned upon… who not only didn’t become an ace but failed to become even an effective big league pitcher.
Their teams expected Bob Gibson and they got Debbie Gibson.
So let’s take a cringe worthy stroll down memory lane and take a look at each team’s Can’t Miss Ace that missed badly.
When compiling this list I decided to NOT include those pitchers who did fulfill their expectations for a brief period before injuries took their toll. (Dwight Gooden, Jack McDowell, Mark Prior and Steve Avery come to mind.)
I’m also not including those who may not have become aces, but had long and productive careers in the big leagues nonetheless. (Think Mike Morgan, Greg Swindell and Bobby Witt)
And I decided to not include David Clyde, who had no business being in the big leagues as a high school student and his career was derailed by the front office’s stupidity.
So be happy Washington fans… but have your guard up. ALL 30 TEAMS have a story of heart break. Don’t believe me? Read on
30 CAN’T MISS ACES WHO MISSED!
Arizona Diamondbacks – JOHN PATTERSON
Originally drafted by the Expos in 1996, the Texas All American prep star became a free agent because of a ticky tack technicality. (The Expos sent him a contract that wasn’t on team stationary.) The Diamondbacks swooped in and paid $6.075 for the future ace.
He pitched 23 games for Arizona to a 5.04 ERA. He had one decent year in Washington but was out of the game after 6 seasons.
Atlanta Braves – BRUCE CHEN
Chen, a Panamanian of Chinese decent (you following?) was brought up to be the next Braves ace. He had John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux and Kevin Millwood to take him under their wing and had Leo Mazzone’s guidance in 1999, when Baseball America called him the #4 prospect in all of baseball. He never became the ace. In fact he barely became a decent reliever as he has been passed around to 10 teams over the years, each thinking THEY’LL unlock his potential.
Baltimore Orioles – ADAM LOEWEN
The 4th pick in the 2002 draft, Loewen was the highest pick of any Canadian prospect in history. And he made a whopping $4.02 million with his first contract. And he looked the part of an ace when he pitched well for Team Canada in the 2006 WBC. But then again, he was pitching against players going through the motions. He pitched over three seasons with the Orioles, going 8-8 with a 5.38 ERA. He was done in 2008 at the age of 24, but is attempting a comeback as a outfielder with the Blue Jays.
I was going to put Matt Riley but this spot belongs to Loewen
Boston Red Sox – KEVIN MORTON
In 1989, the Red Sox were planning for the 1990s with star power and native New Englanders. They had Jeff Bagwell in their system and they drafted two Seton Hall stars who were natives of Connecticut. Mo Vaughn worked out. Kevin Morton looked like he was the real deal when he threw a complete game victory in his first outing… but it was a fluke.
He lasted one season with big club, going 6-5 with a 4.59 ERA.
California Angels – JOE TORRES
The Angels drafed the Bronx native #10 overall in 2000 and gave him a $2.08 Million bonus, which at the time was the highest ever given to a high school player. He was projected to be in the big leagues by 2003. It’s 2010 and he has yet to throw a game in the show.
Nope. I couldn’t find a picture of him on the internet!
Chicago Cubs – DREW HALL
The Cubs had the #3 pick over all in the 1984 draft and that day picked a Hall of Fame ace with Greg Maddux… in the SECOND round. In the first round they used the third pick for Morehead State star left hander Drew Hall.
The Cubs tried him as a starter, then a reliever, then as a toss in to Texas with Rafael Palmeiro. He last pitched in the bigs in 1990. Meanwhile wo other second round pitchers, Tom Glavine and Al Leiter, fared a little better.
Chicago White Sox – SCOTT RUFFCORN
A #1 pick in 1991 out of Baylor, he was a mainstay on Baseball America’s top prospects list over three seasons. He dominated the Florida State League. He dominated AA hitters. He dominated AAA pitchers. There was no reason to believe he couldn’t do the same in the bigs.
Over 4 seasons for the White Sox, starting in 1993, he pitched 12 games… total. His ERA over those 12 games stretched out over 4 years? 9.68. His lifetime record in the bigs (including 18 games with in 1997 with the Phillies)… 0-8.
Evidently Ruffcorn posed for his first Topps card at the prom.
Cincinnati Reds – PAT PACILLO
The original American Olympic baseball team had a bunch of future stars on the squad. Mark McGwire, Barry Larkin and Will Clark all were on the roster. Pat Pacillo was one of the best pitchers on the team and the Reds scooped him up with the #5 overall pick after the 1984 L.A. games, thinking they had a stud. In 1985 and 1986, he put up big numbers in the minors, but it didn’t translate when he made the big club in 1987 and 1988.
He sent off to Montreal in 1988 but didn’t make the Expos big league roster and never got to call THAT Olympic Stadium home.
Cleveland Indians – JEREMY SOWERS
Sowers was a high school star, throwing 4 no hitters and winning every award in Kentucky. He was a first round pick but went to Vanderbilt and somehow IMPROVED his stock.
The Indians made him the #6 overall pick in 2004 and forked over $2.475 million for his services.
In the minors he looked like a Cy Young candidate in waiting, winning 23 of his first 28 decisions with a sub 2.00 ERA. Then he threw back to back shutouts in the big leagues as a rookie in 2006. Everything was going perfectly.
And nothing has gone right since. The next 3 years he went 11-26 with an ERA in the high 5’s and hasn’t been able to pitched his way out of AAA. And now at 27, he might be past the whole “Big time prospect” window.
Colorado Rockies – DAVID NIED
It might seem unfair to put a 14th round pick on this list, but hear me out. By the early 1990s, the Atlanta Braves farm system was churning out more pitchers than they could handle. Glavine, Smoltz, Avery, Mercker, Wohlers, Stanton and Marvin Freeman all contributed to the 1991 and 1992 pennants. And after being one of the top pitching prospects in baseball and going 3-0 with a 1.17 ERA, Nied looked like the next Atlanta stud.
So with the first pick in the 1993 expansion draft, Colorado slurped him up and he was touted as the pitching cornerstone in Denver.
It didn’t work out that way. Nied got roughed up in the thin Denver air (who didn’t) and actually posted a respectable 9-7 record with a sub 5.00 ERA in 1994. But he only pitched in 8 big league games after 1994 and appeared in his last game in September of 1996… in time to see the Braves win ANOTHER pennant.
I guess I can’t put first round pick Matt Harrington on here because he held out so long that he never even signed with the Rockies or ANY team for that matter!
Detroit Tigers – MIKE DRUMRIGHT
#1 overall pick Matt Anderson would be a prime candidate, except he was drafted to be a bullpen closer.
The Tigers of the mid 1990s had a plan. Like the Braves, they were going to develop their own quartet of aces. Drumright, a first round pick in 1995, the Tigers #1 farm hand and one of Baseball America’s top pitching prospects in 1997, led the group that included Seth Greisinger, Justin Thompson and Jeff Weaver. All except Weaver came down with injuries. At least Thompson and Greisinger saw some time in the bigs.
Drumright never pitched a game in the majors.
Florida Marlins – KURT MILLER
Drafted #5 overall by the Pirates in 1990, he was dealt to first the Rangers and then Florida, with all three teams thinking they had an ace in the making.
Baseball America had him as one of the 10 best pitching prospects for 1991, 1992 and 1993 and cracked the top 100 prospects list in 1994. I mean a player can have one good year in the minors and be a fluke, but this guy kept bringing the goods year in and year out. He was bound for greatness in Miami.
Or not. He made his big league debut in 1994 and after injuries and trips back to the farm he was gone by 1999, throwing a total of 14 games in his final 3 seasons. His career stats include a 2-7 record and a 7.48 ERA.
Houston Astros – WILFREDO RODRIGUEZ
The Astros were perennial contenders in the late 90s/early 2000s and they had another solid pitcher working their way up the ranks. The Venezuelan star was one of Baseball America’s top 10 pitching prospects going into 2000 after his third straight dominating season in the minors.
He finally made the big league squad in 2001 and made a pair of relief appearances, including letting up Barry Bonds’ 70th homer.
It was his last big league game.
Kansas City Royals – JEFF GRANGER
Granger got to live that all around athlete fantasy that usually is reserved for the Chip Hilton’s of the world. He was a quarterback at Texas A&M and briefly the starter. And in baseball he broke a bunch of Roger Clemens’ college strikeout records.
The Royals drafted him #5 overall in 1993 and made his debut during the ’93 season. He was considered to be one of the top 10 pitching prospects in baseball by 1994 and again was rushed up to the big leagues. He got rocked.
By 1995 he was a mess in the minor leagues. In the end he pitched 27 games over 4 seasons, with no wins and a 9.09 ERA. Who knows if rushing him to the bigs derailed his career?
Los Angeles Dodgers – DARREN DREIFORT
Dreifort was picked right after A-Rod in the 1993 draft and made his debut in the big leagues in 1994. It wasn’t prettyas he pitched 27 games out of the pen, went 0-5 with a 6.21 ERA, then missed the entire 1995 season. By 1996 he was back in the bigs as an OK set up man and by 1999 was an OK but unspectacular starter.
Then Scott Boras made the Dodgers among the biggest saps in baseball history. He took a #4 starter with arm trouble and got him a 5 year $55 million contract after the 2000 season (when his 12-9 season with a 4.16 ERA must have blown SOMEONE away.)
Surprise! He had more arm trouble, missed 2 seasons and won 9 games over the course of the contract.
First round Kiki Jones could get some mention here, but Dreifort was supposed to be the next great Dodger arm.
Milwaukee Brewers – TY HILL
The Brewers pick in the first round of the 1991 draft, Hill put together awesome numbers in single A. After striking out 133 in 114 innings, Baseball America listed him as one of the top 5 pitching prospects in baseball (along with Todd Van Poppel and Brien Taylor!)
But he had shoulder reconstructive surgery in 1994 and pitched in 16 minor league games over the next 4 years before his career ended without pitching a big league game.
I almost had Nick Neugebauer on the list… but Ty Hill was a better prospect.
– ADAM JOHNSON
The Twins had the #2 overall pick in 2000 and picked Cal State Fullerton star Johnson. The usually frugal Twins gave him a $2.5 million signing bonus and then rushed him to the bigs in 2001 to show why.
Whoops. He made 4 starts and ended up with a 1-2 record and a 7.20 ERA then went to the pen where he pitched even worse. He clearly wasn’t ready.
In 2003 he returned to the big leagues as a September call up and pitched in 2 games. On September 28, 2003, just 3 years after behing the #2 pick overall, he took the loss on the final game of the season. He let up 6 earned runs in 2/3 of an inning and allowed the Tigers to win the game and avoid 120 losses. It was his last appearance in the major leagues.
I almost put former Red Sox supposed phenom Frank Rodriguez here who the Twins coveted in the Rick Aguilera deal.
Montreal Expos – FLOYD YOUMANS
Youmans always seemed like the poor man’s Doc Gooden. He and Gooden were childhood friends and later teammates in the Mets system. No doubt the Expos hopes that he was going to pitch like his friend when he became the key part of the Gary Carter trade before the 1985 season.
He continued to put up good numbers in the minors and showed flashes of brilliance on the big league level in 1985, 1986 and especially 1987 when he was the NL Pitcher of the Month in July.
Unfortunately he mirrored Gooden in another way as his cocaine addiction started to derail his career. Soon injuries caught up with him and he pitched his final game in 1989 as a member of the Phillies.
New York Mets – PAUL WILSON, BILL PULSIPHER and JASON ISRINGHAUSEN (aka GENERATION K.)
One of the most hyped flops in my memory was Generation K, the mid 1990s Mets attempt to answer Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz.
If I told you in 1996 that then dreadful Mets would be a playoff team in 1999 and win the 2000 pennant, you would have to assume that Wilson (the #1 pick of the 1994 draft), Pulsipher (the top lefty pitching prospect in all of baseball in 1995) and Isringhausen (also one of Baseball America’s top pitching prospects) had all developed into dominating aces.
Man would you be wrong. Wilson was a 5-12 flop with an ERA of 5.38 in 1996what turned out to be his lone season in Queens. Injuries kept him out of the bigs until a comeback stint with Tampa Bay and the Reds. Pulsipher went 5-9 over a season and a half, battled injuries and missed entire seasons and played for 5 organizations over 6 seasons and finished with a career ERA of 5.15.
Isringhausen went 9-2 as a rookie in 1995 but faded, going 9-19 with a 5.38 ERA over his last 2 1/2 seasons with the Mets before becoming a good reliever for the A’s and Cardinals.
So much for Generation K.
New York Yankees – BRIEN TAYLOR
There WAS a time when the Yankees were the worst team in baseball and totally irrelevant in New York. Steinbrenner was in exile but still was loud enough to let the Yankees know that if they didn’t sign #1 pick over all Taylor, someone should be shot.
And Scott Boras, smelling blood in the water, had him hold out for, appropriately enough, “Van Poppel money.”
The Yankees shelled out $1.55 million for who they thought would be a left handed Dwight Gooden. He had the goods but he also defended his brother in a bar fight, injured his shoulder and never saw a game in the bigs. (For the record, not a single player the Yankees drafted that spring played a game for the parent club.)
Oakland A’s – TODD Van POPPEL (And the 4 Aces)
Weren’t we JUST TALKING about Van Poppel?
If you are reading a blog like this one, then chances are you know that Van Poppel was supposed to be the next Nolan Ryan out of Texas. And when the World Champion A’s drafted him despite his commitment to U.T., it was considered unfair.
The A’s signed him to a contract that guaranteed him a big league roster spot… one he didn’t earn and ultimately that ruined his career.
Sure you remember that? Did you remember the A’s had three other first round picks and drafted college pitchers Don Peters, Dave Zancanaro and Kirk Dressendorfer? Baseball America dubbed them the Four Aces and they were supposed to be the foundation of Oakland titles in the 1990s. Only Van Poppel and Dressendorfer made the big leagues. (Dressendorfer pitched 7 games in 1991).
Philadelphia Phillies – TYLER GREEN
Now it might seem strange to put a former All Star on this list… but trust me, Tyler Green is one of the most obscure and head scratching All Star selection in retrospect ever. The #10 pick over all in 1991. He was ranked as one of Baseball America’s top pitching prospects in 1992, 1993 and 1994. By the 1995 All Star Break, he was 8-4 with a 2.81 ERA and represented the Phillies at the All Star Game.
And then in the second half he went 0-5 with a 10.68 ERA. He was in the minors the next year and struggled in 1997 and 1998, his last year.
For half a year, the Phillies got their All Star. I am guessing they were looking for more.
Pittsburgh Pirates – BRYAN BULLINGTON
When a team has the #1 pick overall, they should pick up a legit star. A pitcher selected #1 should be an ace in the making, or at least a solid all around big leaguer.
In 2002, the Pirates could have picked Prince Fielder, Zack Greinke, Joe Saunders, Cole Hamels, Matt Cain, Joe Blanton, Jeff Francis, Joey Votto, Jon Lester, Brian McCann or Curtis Granderson.
Instead they burnt the #1 over all pick (and $4 million) to Bullington. He had terrific seasons in the minor leagues in 2003 and 2004, but it has yet to translate into the bigs. He has pitched 16 big league games stretched out over 5 seasons. He has yet to win a game.
I orginally had Kris Benson here based on being a #1 overall who never panned out. But he was just mediocre (with a hot but crazy wife.)
San Diego Padres – JIMMY JONES
Jones was a high school star in Texas where his coach had him throw 251 pitches over 16 innings in one game. I am guessing he wasn’t on a pitch count. The Padres picked him #3 over all in 1982 and threw a 1 hitter in his big league debut in 1986. With the Padres loaded with young talent, he looked like a potential anchor for the rotation, but it never happened.
He had a couple of mediocre seasons before being dealt to the Yankees in the Jack Clark trade. He was still young enough (25) for the Yankees to think they had a potential ace on their hands. They drank the Kool Aid as well. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)
San Francisco Giants – JESSE FOPPERT
The Giants seemed to have found a star from the University of San Francisco in the second round of the 2001 draft. He went 8-1 in half a season in the minor leagues and before the 2003 season was ranked as the best pitching prospect by Baseball America and he looked like a potential stud for the defending NL Champs.
But he stumbled to an 8-9 record in 2003 in San Francisco. The next year he had Tommy John surgery and only threw in one game all season. He pitched three games in 2005, his last in the big leagues.
Seattle Mariners –RYAN ANDERSON
All due respect to Roger Salkeld who was a dud as a #3 pick over all in 1989, but this is Anderson’s spot.
Picked in the first round of the 1997 draft, he looked like the heir apparent to Randy Johnson. Like Johnson, he was insanely tall (6’10”) and was called “The Little Unit.” He also had another great nickname, The Space Needle, which seemed to welcome his inevitable stardom in Seattle.
It sure SEEMED inevitable. Baseball America listed him as one of the 10 best pitching prospects in baseball in 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2002!
And yet he kept getting hurt… and was slow coming back from injuries… and despite 5 straight years of being trumpeted as one of the elites in waiting in the end he pitched in as many games in the big leagues as Ally Sheedy. (That would be zero.)
He’s now a chef in Arizona.
St. Louis Cardinals – JIMMY JOURNELL
Journell was one of the top pitching prospects in the 1999 draft before he had Tommy John surgery and fell to the 4th round. The Cardinals looked like they got a steal when he went 14-6 with a 2.50 ERA in the highest A ball team in 2001. Baseball America called him the top prospect in the system and he would join the big club under the always steady hand of Dave Duncan.
But his time in the big leagues was short (7 games in 2003 and 5 games in 2005) not effective (he went 0-1 with a 7.43 ERA) and didn’t endear himself to Tony LaRussa when he avoided being optioned back to minors by invoking a loophole in his contract. He last pitched for the independent Bridgeport Blue Fish in 2006 while the Cardinals were busy winning the World Series.
Tampa Bay Rays – MATT WHITE
White looked like one of the top high school pitchers in the country in 1996. USA Today named him player of the year as did Gatorade. So the Giants gobbled him up with the 10th pick of the ’96 draft. But Scott Boras figured out how to make him a free agent. The Giants didn’t send the contract in time and suddenly a stud young pitcher was up for grabs.
The expansion Devil Rays forked over $10.2 million (!!!!) for him and at first it looked like a good investment. Baseball-America listed him as one of the 10 best prospects in baseball for 1997 and 1998. But back problems slowed his progress and he never played a game in the majors.
Did you notice Boras represented Van Poppel, Tayler AND White? He also represents Strasburg… just saying.
Texas Rangers – THOMAS DIAMOND
The Rangers drafted the former University of New Orleans star #10 overall in 2004 and quickly showed he had ability and guts. By 2005 he was striking out batters, winning games and was considered to be the best arm in their system.
But a torn ligament and Tommy John surgery kept him on the DL for all of 2007 and by 2009 he was cut. He has yet to pitch in the majors.
Toronto Blue Jays – MARTY JANZEN
If you trade a reigning Cy Young winner away to a team within your own division, you probably should expect to get a potential ace in return. And when the Blue Jays sent David Cone (who won the 1994 Cy Young while with Kansas City) to the Yankees in 1995, I am sure they thought they had their man in Janzen.
He tore up High Single A and Double A in 1995 and looked like the long term success of the deal will favor Toronto. But in 1996, it didn’t translate to the big leagues. Over 2 seasons in Toronto, Janzen went 6-7 with a 6.39 ERA.
Eventually he was traded back to the Yankees but he never got called to the Bronx, where David Cone pitched for 4 World Series winners.
So there you have it… 30 pitchers who made scouts drool and whose baseball cards are now worth next to nothing.
Enjoy Strasburg’s first game.
I for one am rooting for him. I love dominating pitchers and I think a big star in Washington would be good for the game.
Hey think of it! The minute he throws his first big league pitch he will have already had a longer big league career than Taylor, Anderson, Torres, Drumright, Hill, Diamond and White!
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